Altered States of Consciousness: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Consciousness?
  • 0:45 Altered Consciousness Defined
  • 1:50 Examples of Altered States
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah has taught Psychology at the college level and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology.

An altered state of consciousness is any state in which a person's sense perceptions are different than normal. Learn more about this concept with examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is Consciousness?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase 'altered states of consciousness?' Some people have thoughts of Buddhist monks in their temples. Others think of psychedelic drug use at concerts in the 1960s. But before we define what makes up an altered state, it is important to establish what consciousness is. If you are viewing this lesson, you are conscious; you are currently experiencing the world around you, including the words you're hearing or reading and what they mean, as well as your environment, thoughts, feelings, and body. It is also possible to lose consciousness altogether, such as during a coma. While in a coma, a person is unconscious. That person does not act or react normally and cannot be woken.

Altered Consciousness Defined

An altered state of consciousness is a temporary change in one's normal mental state without being considered unconscious. Altered states of consciousness can be created intentionally, or they can happen by accident or due to illness.

Do you remember the last time you had a very high fever? Sometimes during high fevers, sick people can feel dreamy, have hallucinations, or simply be unable to react to their environment in a normal way. Many illnesses can cause altered states of consciousness, such as those that cause sleep or oxygen deprivation. There are also many common experiences that can create altered states of consciousness, such as sleeping or daydreaming, childbirth, sleep deprivation, sexual euphoria, or panic.

Often, people intentionally try to alter their conscious state. There are many reasons people try to attain an altered state of consciousness, including religious and spiritual reasons, relaxation, and even hypnosis to increase health. Let's take a look at a few of the more common altered states of consciousness a person may experience.

Examples of Altered States

Everyone has experienced dreams and can relate to this common altered state of consciousness. Although we are not 'awake' during sleep, we are still conscious and can react to our surroundings. We may awaken from a loud noise or somebody shaking our leg. During sleep, we experience images, sounds, and feelings that are not real. Many dreams are forgotten after waking, but we all know that dreams can feel very real when we are in them. If you have ever had a dream about falling, you can probably recall the influence of this altered state of consciousness.

Daydreaming is also considered an altered state of consciousness. Many people daydream when they are bored. Like dreaming, daydreaming can feel very real and cause realistic images, memories, and feelings, as well as the reactions that go with them.

Psychologists believe that hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness that allows a person to be more open to suggestion. Although people can perform hypnosis for comedy and magic shows, psychologists can also be trained in hypnosis. Psychologists can use hypnosis to help contain unmanageable feelings or to help a person reach a goal, such as losing weight or quitting smoking. Psychologists use hypnosis to suggest new feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to clients while they are in this altered state.

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