Introduction to Psychology



• William James (1890):

– Consciousness is a constantly moving stream of thoughts, feelings, and emotions

• Consciousness can be viewed as our subjective awareness of mental events

• Functions of consciousness:

– Monitoring mental events

– Control: consciousness allows us to formulate and reach goals

• Consciousness may have evolved to direct or control behavior in adaptive ways

Cortex and Consciousness

• The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is activated during conscious control tasks

– Subjects asked to name the ink color in the Stroop task below have difficulty when the word name and color are different

– This color-naming task was associated with activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex


• Our conscious awareness is limited in capacity and we are aware of only a small amount of the stimuli around us at any one time

• Attention refers to the process by which we focus our awareness

• Three functions of attentional processes:

– Orienting function toward the environment

– Control of the content of consciousness

• I will think about this issue but not that one…

– Maintaining alertness

Subliminal Perception

• Notion that brief exposure to sub-threshold stimuli can influence awareness

• Study: subjects are shown aggressive (A) or positive

(B) stimuli

– and then rate a neutral stimulus (C)

– Subjects shown panel A first subsequently rated the boy in panel C more negatively

(Figure adapted from Eagle, 1959)

Unconscious Cognitive Processes

• Information-processing view can be extended to analyses of unconscious processes

• Notion is that many brain mechanisms operate in parallel

– Some of these mechanisms operate outside of the level of consciousness

• Functional significance of unconscious mechanisms:

– Are efficient and rapid

– Can operate simultaneously

– Operate in the absence of consciousness?

Neurology of Consciousness

• Consciousness is distributed throughout the brain

– Hindbrain and midbrain are important for arousal and for sleep

– Damage to the reticular formation can lead to coma

– Prefrontal cortex is key for conscious control of information processing

Sleep and Dreaming

• Behavioral characteristics of sleep

– Minimal movement

– Stereotyped prone posture

– Require a high degree of stimulation to arouse organism

• Physiological characteristics of sleep

– Brain wave activity (seen in the EEG)

– Paralysis of muscles (seen in the EMG)

– Cardiovascular changes (alternating cycles of arousal)

Function of Sleep

• Memory consolidation

• Energy conservation

• Preservation from predators

• Restoring bodily functions

– Sleep deprivation can alter immune function and lead to early death

– Sleep deprivation can also lead to hallucinations and perceptual disorder

EEG Stages of Sleep

(Figure adapted from Cartwright, 1978)

REM Sleep

• Characteristics of REM sleep

– Presence of rapid-eye-movements

– Presence of dreaming

– Increased autonomic nervous system activity

– EEG resembles that of awake state (beta wave)

– Motor paralysis (except for diaphragm)


• Psychoanalytic view: Dreams represent a window into the unconscious

– The latent content (meaning) can be inferred from the manifest content (the actual dream)

• Cognitive view: Dreams are constructed from the daily issues of the dreamer

• Biological view: Dreams represent the attempt of the cortex to interpret the random neural firing of the brain during sleep


• Evolutionary view: on-line threat simulation and behavioral rehearsal system

• Virtual reality training center

• Problem solving Perspective

Lucid Dreaming

1) Dream journaling – note dream signs

2) Reality testing

3) Relaxation techniques

4) Pre-sleep suggestions

5) Sleep in a different place or position

Lucid Dreaming

Suggested Readings

Garfield, P. (1974). Creative Dreaming. New York:


LaBerge, S. (1985). Lucid Dreaming. Los Angeles:

J. P. Tarcher.

LaBerge, S. & Rheingold, H. (1990). Exploring the

World of Lucid Dreaming. New York: Ballantine.

Zadra, A.L., Donderi, D.C. & Pihl, R.O. (1992)

Efficacy of lucid dream induction for lucid and non-lucid dreamers. Dreaming, 2, 85-97.

Zadra, A.L., & Pihl, R.O. (1997). Lucid dreaming as a treatment for recurrent nightmares.

Psychotherapy Psychosomatics, 66, 50-55.

Altered States of Consciousness

• Changes in consciousness can be brought on by

– Meditation

– Hypnosis

– Drug ingestion

– Religious experiences


• Focused Breathing

• Physiological responses

• Cognitive responses

• Attentional Focus

• Quieting the mind (self-talk)

• Alpha waves (EEG)


• Hypnosis is a state of consciousness characterized by

– Deep relaxation

– Suggestibility

• Effects observed during hypnotic state:

– Age regression

– Change in pain perception

– Ability to recall memories into consciousness

• Dissociation?