Intro Psych - Week 6: Consciousness and Sleep

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What is consciousness?

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What is consciousness?

  • A person's subjective awareness (thoughts, perception, experiences of the world, and self-awareness).

  • It's the things that you're aware of, and not what others are aware of.

  • A general state of mind and access to the contents of the mind.

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  • Involves consideration of our own thoughts and behaviours from an insider perspective.

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What does visual perception consist of?

Things that we can process visually, including peripherals.

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Parts of conscious experiences

  • Visual perception

  • Memory

  • Body awareness

  • Decision making

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What does body awareness consist of?

Knowing where parts of the body are, adjusting parts of our body according to environment/situation without conscious thought. (Ex. Walking "stiffer" outside in the winter as opposed to walking in the summer - it isn't planned).

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What's a frequent hurdle/question that must be considered when studying consciousness?

Can we rely on what people tell us about their thoughts?

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Explain issues behind 'intelligence tests'

  • They're created by humans for humans and other animals.

  • They're skewed in favour of things that 'intelligent' humans excel at.

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Explain the Mark test

While unconscious, a red mark is made on the eyebrow/forehead/ear of a certain animal. Subjects is then exposed to a mirror. 'Intelligence' or self-awareness of the subject relies on whether they point at the red mark on themselves, or the reflection of the red mark in the mirror. (Own mark = self-aware, mirrored image = not self-aware).

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Is the Mark test a good test?

It's difficult to say because it could show some aspects of self-awareness, but it's also biased. (Example: Biased towards animals that can point. A dog/dolphin/etc. wouldn't be able to perform this).

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Which animals are tested with the Mark test?

Chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, sometimes gorillas.

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How can we be positive that rats have self-awareness?

A study was conducted where a rat would press one lever (out of many) corresponding to the action they were doing when a buzzer goes off. If the rat is walking when a buzzer sounds, they will select the "walking" lever and be rewarded for being correct.

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What are the levels of awareness?

  • Nonconscious processes

  • Preconscious memories

  • Unattended information

  • Unconscious

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Nonconscious processes

  • Bodily activities in which we are not aware.

  • We can exert some control over these (ex. breathing).

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Preconscious memories

Memories accessible to consciousness after something calls your attention to them. (Not in the stream of consciousness but not lost)

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Unattended information

An unconscious representation of information that's not the focus of your attention. Ex. Being zoned out but snapping into reality when you hear your name, a noise waking you up from your sleep, ...)

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What levels of awareness are unconscious? What does unconscious mean?

Nonconscious processes, preconscious memories, and unattended information are all unconscious. Unconscious means that there is information and processes that influence our behaviour, but we are not aware of.

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What is unattended information (in reference to consciousness)

Information that is in our mind, but we are not currently focusing on. (Ex. Knowing a lot of physics, but not focusing on physics when you're writing a sociology paper).

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Cortical blindness (blind sight)

  • Extensive damage to the primary visual cortex eliminates what we conventionally consider "sight".

  • Some completely blind individuals are able to "guess" the location and/or shape of an objects at higher than chance (50%) levels.

  • Unconscious process.

  • People still don't report seeing anything, but they are able to indicate correctly.

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How is cortical blindness possible?

  • 90% of neurons carrying information from the eyes project to the primary visual cortex.

  • 10% of neurons carrying information from the eyes project to an extrastriatal pathway (not in the regular pathway). The information in this 10% may be enough for blind sight.

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What did Damasio and Bechara do? What did this show?

They examined decision making in patients with damage to the prefrontal cortex vs. controls. This showed that prefrontal damaged patients exhibited worse performance on probabilistic decision making tasks. Controls exhibited increased skin conductance responses prior to "knowing" about the reward probabilities each deck (Iowa Gambling Task).

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What were the "steps" of understanding the Iowa Gambling Task (for participants)

  • Pre-punishment: Before they pulled their first card with a loss.

  • Pre-hunch: "I know the cards I previously liked are bad, but I'm not sure why".

  • Hunch: Playing correctly (choosing the winning cards), but they don't understand why they're choosing them.

  • Conceptual: Understand that lower value cards have a much lower loss.

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What are 2 ways to study consciousness? What is the relationship between these 2 methods?

  • Think-aloud protocol

  • Experience-sampling method These methods aren't in competition with one another, they're just used when focusing on separate things.

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Think-aloud protocol

  • Detailed reporting of the sequence of thoughts someone is experiencing as tasks are completed.

  • Document mental strategies and representations of knowledge. (In short, thought processes).

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Experience-sampling method. Example?

Periodic signals from a device to report what people are feeling and thinking during a task. Ex: Experiencing anxiety during a test.

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Why is consciousness important?

It isn't 100% understood why. It aids in survival - it evolved because it helped people to adapt to their environments.

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What are survival-based aspects of consciousness?

  • Restrictive function: Reduces flow of stimulus input through attention to what is important (important to ignore certain things and focus on others).

  • Selective storage function: Allows you to selectively remember relevant information for further consideration.

  • Planning function: Allows us to set aside desires when they conflict with moral, ethical, or practical concerns (ex. if you have long-term goals/plans, you can set aside short-term issues/emotion/etc. to focus on them).

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What was Julian Jaynes' hypothesis on consciousness? What research did he use to support this argument?

We've only been conscious for about 2000 years. He used examples from the Old Testament and Iliads to prove how people didn't have self-aware tendencies. The people depicted in these older books performed tasks, but did not previously plan on performing these tasks (it just happened). They also described the voice in their head/inner monologue as a god giving them instructions, rather than recognizing that it is themselves.

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What are the two dimensions of consciousness?

  • Wakefulness

  • Awareness

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Wakefulness vs. awareness


  • Degree of alertness

  • Distinguishes between being awake and asleep Awareness:

  • Monitoring of information from the environment and/or one's own thoughts

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What does REM (cycle) stand for?

Rapid eye movement

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What is REM stage brain activity most similar to?

They're in a deep sleep and not moving, but they have brain activity as if they're awake or drowsy.

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  • A state with loss of wakefulness and awareness

  • Assessed using the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS)

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Vegetative state

Activity in reticular activating system (responsible for circadian regulation of wake/sleep cycles) but loss of external perceptual processing. (Not due to paralysis)

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Lucid dreaming

Asleep but aware that one is sleeping and dreaming

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Locked-in syndrome

A disorder in which a patient is aware and awake, but because of an inability to move their body, they appear unconscious. (Not due to paralysis - it's an issue with the brain stem when information can't leave).

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How would the severity of brain injury range in the below examples? (Using Glasgow Coma Scale): a) 13 - 15 points b) 9 - 12 points c) 3 - 8 points

a) Minor brain injury b) Moderate brain injury c) Severe brain injury

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What are circadian rhythms internally driven by (daily)?

Daily cycles of approximately 24 hours (24.18), affecting physiological and behavioural processes.

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What are circadian rhythms regulated by?

The superchiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus in coordination with the pineal gland. Melatonin plays an important factor.

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What is melatonin? How is it produced?

A neurotransmitter. From serotonin (serotonin turned into melatonin before bed, melatonin turned into serotonin when waking).

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What regulates circadian rhythms?

  • Entrainment when biological rhythms become synchronized to external cues (light, temperature, clock, etc.)

  • Endogenous rhythms

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What are endogenous rhythms?

Biological rhythms that are generated by our body (independent of external cues such as light)

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Why do hormones (such as adrenaline), temperature, etc. fluctuate during the 24-hour period of the day?

They aren't used when they aren't needed (ex. they decline at night) in order to conserve energy.

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True or False: Circadian rhythms cannot be adapted/changed.

False. They can be adapted, but they require a certain enough time to do so. This can be an issue in situations such as jet-lag.

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What traits define "sleep"?

  • Periodic

  • Natural

  • Reversible loss of "consciousness"

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What do the stages of sleep consist of?

  • Different forms of brain activity

  • Ultradian rhythms

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How are we able to measure different forms of brain activity?

Electroencephalographic rhythm (EEG)

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What are ultradian rhythms?

Sleep stages/cycles that happen over a time period of less than 24 hours. Cycle < 24hr.

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Why do you sometimes remember your dreams when you wake up, and sometimes don't?

You only remember your dreams as you wake up when you've woken up during your REM sleep

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What sleep stage is important for cognitive awareness?


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Why are most people cranky when they're woken up within the first 4 hours of sleep? (Not including naps)

Because the first 4 hours are when you fall into the deepest sleep cycles (often between stage 2 and 3). This happens less near 5-8 hours of sleep because you're around REM/stage 1 and 2 of sleep.

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What are the theories of (the purpose of) sleep?

  • Restore and repair hypothesis

  • Preserve and protect hypothesis

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What is the restore and repair hypothesis? What is an issue found with this hypothesis?

Idea in regards to why we sleep. The idea that the body needs to restore energy levels, and repair any wear or tear experienced during the day. But, the amount of required sleep (about 8 hours) doesn't correspond exactly to the levels of activity on the previous day.

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What is the preserve and protect hypothesis?

Idea in regards to why we sleep. Suggests two more adaptive functions of sleep:

  • Preserving energy (not exerting energy repeatedly over a 24 hour period).

  • Protecting the organism from harm (humans cannot see as well in the dark).

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What are common types of sleep deprivation?

  • Sleep displacement

  • Jet lag

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Sleep displacement

When an individual is prevented from sleeping at the normal time, although they may be able to sleep earlier or later in the day than usual.

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Jet lag

The discomfort someone feels when sleep cycles are out of synchronization with light and darkness.

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2 theories of dreaming (brief)

  • Psychoanalytic approach

  • Activation-synthesis hypothesis

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Psychoanalytic approach (dreaming). Sub-categories?

Freudian approach. Dreams provide a window into the unconscious motivations and an opportunity for wish fulfillment.

  • Manifest content: Involves the images and storylines that we dream about.

  • Latent content: Actual symbolic meaning of a dream built on suppressed sexual or aggressive urges (urges we can't typically express during the day, but may want to).

  • Dream work: Translation of the manifest to the latent content. Often done by an "expert".

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Activation-synthesis hypothesis (dreaming)

Dreams arise from brain activity originating from bursts of excitatory messages from the pons (part of the brainstem).

  • REM activates certain parts of the brain while inhibiting others (consolidate/develop planning in absence of external stimuli).

  • Recent evidence suggests that stage 2 sleep is also important (but only for relative simple tasks).

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Insomnia, prevalence, and its types

Insomnia: Sleep disorder. Chronic failure to get adequate sleep. Prevalence: About 13% (Canada).

  • Onset insomnia: When it takes someone 30+ minutes to fall asleep.

  • Maintenance insomnia: Someone cannot easily return to sleep if they're woken in the night.

  • Terminal insomnia: AKA early morning insomnia - someone could wake up too early (sometimes hours too early), and be unable to fall asleep again.

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What is it called when someone has insomnia that results from another diagnosed problem?

Secondary insomnia

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Narcolepsy. What is it associated with? Prevalence?

Narcolepsy: Sleep disorder. Irresistible compulsion to sleep during daytime. Associated with cataplexy and automatic REM states. Prevalence: about 1/2000 (Canada).

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Night terrors What is it associated with? Most prevalent population?

Night terrors: Sleep disorder. Terror and increased arousal during the N2 to N3 sleep stage transition. Individual is awake, but non-responsive. They do not remember in the morning. Associated with non-REM sleep. Most common in children.

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Why is it interesting that night terrors are associated with non-REM sleep?

Because REM is when we have dreams, but night terrors which are seemingly bad dreams don't occur within this REM interval.

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Restless leg syndrome

Movement disturbance. The persistent feeling of discomfort in the legs, and an urge to continuously shift them into different positions.

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Somnambulism Prevalence?

Sleep and movement disturbance. Sleepwalking when people leave their bed while remaining asleep. More common in children (7%) than adults (2%).

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REM behaviour disorder

Sleep disturbance. Condition which (atypically), movement is present during REM sleep which results in individuals act out the content of their dreams.

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Sleep apnea Prevalence?

Sleep disturbance. Someone stops breathing during sleep, and they awake to catch their breath. A hormonal response kicks in when oxygen is deprived. Affects about 2% of adults.

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Memory storage becomes more secure due to:

Interactions between the hippocampus and cerebral cortex which can transpire over extended time periods following the initial registration of information.

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What does conscious retrieval depend on?

The activity of elaborate sets of networks in the cortex

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Memory retrieval that doesn't include conscious recollection depends on:


  • Restricted portions of the cortex.

  • On the brain regions separate from the cortex.

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The brain can generate body awareness by registering:

Coincident sensations

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Example of coincident sensations

You rub your own arm. You can see your hand rubbing your arm, but you can also feel yourself rubbing your arm. This way, you know that it is your own hand rubbing your own arm.

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How do infants initially develop the self/nonself distinction?

Coincident sensations

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Body awareness, such as physical sensation, is due to which part of the cortex?

The temporoparietal junction

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What is the sense of volition?

Needing to choose between multiple actions

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Volition is closely associated with our:

Subjective feeling of consciousness

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In which 2 ways do we make decisions?

  • Careful analysis (carefully scrutinizing each option).

  • Gut instinct (unconscious mode of information processing - still depends on the brain).

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What does "consciousness" indicate?

Awareness of the self, body sensations, thoughts, and the environment

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What does the "unconscious" indicate?

Senselessness/a barrier to awareness

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Readily "activating" certain concepts and associations from one's memory

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A state of higher consciousness which includes an awareness of the thoughts passing through one's head

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True or False: Focused attention and less attentive default states have rely on the same neural network.

False. We have neural networks for both.

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