Conscious Awareness: Definition & Types

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The human ability to be aware of our awareness is a remarkable thing. In this lesson, we are going to explore the levels of conscious awareness and see how they help us understand the world and our place in it.

Conscious Awareness

''I think, therefore I am.'' You've probably heard that phrase before, attributed to French philosopher René Descartes. It's an interesting idea, and the more you think about it, the more interesting it gets.

You see, while humans are not entirely unique in our ability to be self-aware, we are unique in the ability to be aware of our awareness. Think about that for a minute. The human mind is pretty fascinating and many psychologists have dedicated their careers to studying our conscious awareness, or the things we are aware of being aware of.

Humans can be aware of awareness; think about that
the thinker

Minimal Consciousness

The mind operates at various levels of consciousness, ranging from the things it does that we are never aware of to those thoughts we can't ever seem to get out our heads. Today, we'll just focus on the levels of consciousness that we can perceive.

First is minimal consciousness. In psychological studies of awareness, this is the lowest level of conscious awareness (the term should not be confused with the medical condition of minimal consciousness, indicating a near-vegetative state).

Minimal consciousness occurs when you are vaguely aware of something, but it is not a strong presence in your mind. This process is almost always functioning, but the degree to which you are actually aware of it varies.

A common example is a person on a long road trip through someplace really flat, like Kansas. After hours of driving, that person may suddenly realize that they have no memory of the past few hours. They weren't truly paying attention, yet they never drove off the road or stopped moving. Their mind was consciously aware of what they were doing, even if they didn't realize it.

Perceptual Consciousness

Moving further into consistent awareness, we arrive at perceptual consciousness. This is the state of being aware of what's happening in your environment and in your body. Are you hot, cold, tired, energetic, etc? This level of consciousness is something your mind is actively aware of. You can be aware of being hot or cold or hungry or happy.

Perceptual consciousness allows you to be aware of the environment and your body
rainy day

Introspective Consciousness

Finally, we get to the truest level of conscious awareness: introspective consciousness, which describes the ability to be aware of your own mental processes and your individual self. This is where that voice in your head comes into play that allows you to think through situations, critique your appearance in a mirror, or methodically determine a solution to a problem. This is the level of consciousness you are generally most aware of, and it can encompass a variety of elements.

For example, introspective consciousness allows our mind to directly focus on experiences in our environments or bodies. We call this phenomenon sensory awareness. While perceptual consciousness lets your mind become consciously aware of changes in the environment or body, it's your sensory awareness that let's you focus on that situation and evaluate what it means to you. Basically, it's the difference between being aware that you're cold, and thinking to yourself ''I'm cold''.

The other major thing we get out of introspective consciousness is self-awareness and sense of self. To date, only about ten animals in the world have ever passed the mirror test of self-awareness, in which an animal is exposed to a mirror to evaluate whether they can recognize themselves.

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