AP Psychology: States of Consciousness Notes

Key Takeaways: States of Consciousness

  1. Since the late nineteenth century, psychologists have investigated consciousness, including the awareness of one’s self and environment, the ways consciousness can be altered, and the various levels and states of consciousness.
  2. Sleep cycles through multiple stages that vary in levels of neural activity, muscle control, biological functions, and dreaming; sleep disorders cause disruptions to these processes.
  3. Contrary to common misconceptions, hypnosis, an altered state of consciousness that can be induced with special techniques, can be a useful therapy for managing pain, anxiety, and unwanted behavior.
  4. Psychoactive drugs, including depressants, narcotics, stimulants, and hallucinogens, affect brain chemistry to alter the perceptions and behavior of users; some psychoactive drugs are used medicinally and/or recreationally, and some have a high potential for abuse.

Key Terms: States of Consciousness

Types of Conscious States

  • Consciousness: A state of being awake and aware of external stimuli and one’s own mental activity.
  • State of consciousness: The features of consciousness experienced by an individual at a particular point in time.
  • Altered state of consciousness: A temporary state that differs significantly from a normal waking state; includes sleep, meditation, a coma, hypnosis, or the influence of drugs.
  • Conscious level: All of the things within one’s awareness at the present moment, including information about one’s self and current environment.
  • Non-conscious level: The body’s automatic biological processes, like breathing and heartbeat, which are controlled by the brain but are generally outside of one’s active awareness.
  • Preconscious level: In Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, all of the unrepressed stored memories, thoughts, and information that can be recalled and moved from the unconscious to the conscious level in a matter of seconds.
  • Unconscious level: In Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, the unconscious mind represents the thoughts, desires, and urges that are actively repressed from consciousness and that affect mental activity outside of active awareness.
  • Subconscious level: Information beyond a person’s conscious awareness that affects mental processes.
  • Priming: When exposure to a stimulus beneath conscious awareness influences a response to other stimuli.
  • Mere-exposure effect: The preference for familiar stimuli over new stimuli, even when exposure to the stimuli does not occur on a conscious level.

Sleep and Dreaming

  • Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep: A period of dreamless sleep divided into four distinct, continuous stages.
  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep: The period of sleep that is most associated with dreaming.
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations: Sensory phenomena, like visions and sounds, that a sleeper perceives in the transition between wakefulness and sleep.
  • Sleep spindles: Bursts of neural activity that take place in stage 2 of NREM sleep and may be important for memory consolidation.
  • Slow wave sleep: Stages 3 and 4 of NREM sleep, the deepest stages of sleep, when neural activity and brain waves are slowest.
  • Paradoxical sleep: Another name for REM sleep, due to the contradictory way in which the brain is active but the body is at rest.
  • Manifest content: The actual events and imagery within a dream that, according to Freud, serves to mask the unconscious thoughts and desires of the dreamer.
  • Latent content: In Freudian terms, the unconscious thoughts and desires underlying the manifest content of dreams.
  • Activation-synthesis hypothesis: The theory that maintains dreams are the brain’s interpretations of neural activity during REM sleep.
  • Information-processing theory: The theory that maintains dreaming is a way for the brain to deal with stress.
  • Night terrors: A sleep disorder that causes the sleeper to wake from NREM sleep suddenly with feelings of extreme fear, agitation, or dread.


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