States of Consciousness, Self-Awareness & the Unconscious Mind

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  • 0:30 Self-Awareness
  • 0:47 Consciousness
  • 2:50 Altered States of…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Polly Peterson
Consciousness is your awareness of how and why you react to your surroundings. As you watch this video, you may realize that you pass through multiple states of consciousness during any given day.

Humans are self-aware. Do you remember your first day of school? Walking through the halls, alone or maybe with a parent or sibling? Think back to that time, and think about how much you have changed from that small child. What you have just done is practiced your self-awareness.


Our awareness of ourselves is called consciousness; consciousness is a concept that refers both to our self-perception and to our responses to the world around us. We think. We make choices and consider our actions. We alter our behaviors based on what we know. We do not live our lives solely on instinct. We not only act, but we also reflect on our actions.

What this means is when you're texting your friends, you're conscious that your message is being recorded, and you know how you express your opinions. Knowing your personal point of view and being mindful of how you communicate your beliefs to others is self-awareness.

It is through consciousness that we choose to act, instead of just acting on the stimuli around us. Without consciousness, there would be no culture, no language and (most importantly) no reality TV.

Since consciousness is fundamental to the experience of being human, psychologists have studied it from several angles. For example, Freud focused on the power of the unconscious mind to influence our conscious behaviors. According to Freud, a central conflict in your mind is the one between your repressed, unconscious desires and your controlled, conscious behaviors. Of course, most people don't do everything that pops into their heads. Freud's theory makes this struggle the fundamental one of consciousness.

Modern-day psychologists study conscious deliberate behaviors (like texting your friend to go to the movies) and unconscious automatic behaviors (like your unconscious anxiety about whether your friend likes you). Psychologists also consider the role of dreams and drugs in altering consciousness. It might seem obvious, or even trivial, but some psychologists follow in the footsteps of Freud and try to understand how we can use these altered states to understand the conscious and unconscious mind. Humanistic psychologists focus particular attention on our sense of self-awareness.

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