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Defining consciousness

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Defining consciousness

Consider your surroundings for a moment. Are you aware of the people around you or the weather outside? You are currently reading this page, but what were you thinking about just a few moments ago? Maybe you were thinking about your weekend plans or where you'd want to have lunch later. All of these mental activities are manifestations of your consciousness.

  • What is consciousness?
  • What are different types of consciousness?
  • What are the characteristics of consciousness in psychology?
  • What are the four levels of consciousness?
  • What is the hard problem of consciousness?

Definition of Consciousness in Psychology

Defining consciousness is challenging due to its subjective character. Despite decades of scientific studies, definitions, explanations, and debates, consciousness remains perplexing. Experts have made significant advances in their knowledge of brain activity and how it influences human behavior but have not explained how the information translates into sensations, emotions, and experiences. Defining consciousness Woman sitting outside at a coffee shop on her laptop StudySmarterConsciousness, pexels.comConsciousness cannot be seen, touched, or measured but can be explained and understood through psychological constructs. The English philosopher and physician John Locke wrote a famous work on consciousness called "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (1690) which is generally credited for defining consciousness as the awareness of what passes in a man's mind.

Consciousness refers to the awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, as well as the surroundings.

The conscious definition comprises feelings and thoughts in a normal waking state. This awareness is personal and unique to an individual. Consciousness directs and governs our behavior, assists us in thinking clearly about issues, communicating with others, setting objectives, planning activities, and monitoring our life's progress. It is also essential to our sense of morality since we have free will to do virtuous acts while avoiding immoral behavior.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, popularized the concept of consciousness by theorizing the conscious and unconscious elements of behavior. The prevailing consciousness theory nowadays is known as the dual-processing theory. It is divided into two levels: implicit and explicit.

The implicit portion of your mind is the part that reacts without conscious thought. An example is when a person sees a sad face. He doesn't need to think to know the feelings expressed on that face.

The explicit portion is the part of your mind that is truly conscious and controllable. An example would be solving a math problem or learning a new skill. These two processes can happen simultaneously but in different ways.

Different Types of Consciousness

Consciousness varies in terms of both stimulus and content. There are two different types of consciousness: phenomenal, or at the moment, and access, which recalls memories.

Phenomenal Consciousness

Phenomenal consciousness is a quality aspect of a mental state or a subjective experience. According to Ned Joel Block, a philosopher who made significant contributions to the study of consciousness and cognitive science, sensory experiences like hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling pain, perception, thoughts, and emotions lead to phenomenal consciousness. Defining consciousness woman sitting outside playing a guitar in a crowd StudySmarterQuality of consciousness, pexels.com

Phenomenally conscious experiences and occurrences are those that we can recognize in ourselves based on how they make us feel or how they present themselves to us subjectively. Many philosophers use the term qualia, often referred to as experience's distinctive characteristics.

The sensation of seeing a red wall differs from seeing a green wall. Similarly, hearing a musical note performed by a piano and hearing the same musical note played with a guitar is not the same thing. The qualia of these experiences give them their distinct "feel" and differentiate them from one another.

Access Consciousness

Access consciousness is characterized by logical, cognitive attitudes, belief, memory, and reasoning. Access awareness can be used to direct behaviors, speech, and thought. Ideas, views, and desires are examples of access consciousness.

Block believes that phenomenal and access consciousness generally interacts but that access consciousness can exist without phenomenal consciousness.

Levels of Consciousness in Psychology

The conscious level of your mind deals with facts regarding your present circumstances. What are you focused on right now? The conscious level includes everything you know, including information about yourself and your environment. Your ideas, sensations, and perceptions from the outside world, as well as the memories you bring into your mind, are all part of your conscious experience.

Defining consciousness a woman dialing a number on a digital phone StudySmarterConscious processing, pexels.com

The preconscious level is the part of your brain that we aren't aware of, is not being utilized, and is inactive. The subconscious mind retains information that the conscious mind may not process entirely, but it stores the knowledge for later retrieval when remembered by the aware mind. Preconscious activity is the retention of facts that are recalled to awareness.

A person may not be thinking of his phone number yet easily recalls it when asked. In this state, consciousness is not present but the information is stored.

The subconscious operates as a barrier, filtering information and storing it for later retrieval. Acting as a secondary brain unit allows a person to do things automatically without thinking about it.

There is a significant difference between using a game controller for the first time and using it repeatedly. You don't have to continually glance at where the buttons are after a few weeks or even days of using the controller; it becomes natural, but you're still aware that you're pushing the correct buttons.

This occurrence is also true for a person's gut instincts, fear, pain, and other emotions and thoughts. Even if a person wants to change or pursue something, his subconscious may tell him otherwise, preventing him from succeeding.

The unconscious level stores information that isn't readily available or accessible and involves a more complex cognitive process. This level is buried underneath a person's consciousness yet can impact behavior. The Freudian slip is one such case. A Freudian slip occurs when a person makes an error from memory or verbally reflects hidden thoughts and feelings. Theoretically, the more suppressed a person's thoughts and feelings are, the more likely he or she is to make speech inaccuracies. Conditioning is an essential component to consider when figuring out where our unconscious behaviors come from.

Do you recall a time when you were engrossed in what you were doing that you entirely forgot about other crucial tasks you needed to complete? In trying to understand everyday conscious experiences, knowing the different characteristics of consciousness in psychology may better understand how these things occur.

Characteristics of Consciousness in Psychology

Experiences of consciousness are unique from one person to another, but there are four basic characteristics or principles of consciousness that are important to consider. They are unity, intentionality, selectivity, and transience.

Unity

Unity of consciousness refers to the idea that multiple conscious states of a person in any given situation are treated as a whole.

A girl studying at a coffee shop is conscious of what she is reading, the music being played, the smell and taste of coffee as she sips while reading.All this information is unified into a single state of consciousness. There are several different types of unified consciousness, each with its characteristics.

Defining consciousness two people sitting in a coffee shop smiling at each other StudySmarterConscious unity. pexels.com.

Conscious Unity of Objects

Unity of consciousness of objects means to consciously experience a group of items as a whole. This concept of the unity of items as a single conscious experience allows us to compare items of one group to another from a different group which is also fundamental to our cognition. When you're stuck in traffic, you are conscious of the car in front of you and the car next to it. These two consciousness experiences of both cars are unified, and you can compare the size, color, and shape of the two cars. However, there are instances where difficulties in comparison may appear due to disorders of consciousness, and those who are affected may suffer from cognitive deficits.

Conscious Unity of Representation

There is also unity in the consciousness of many representations of a single item across the five senses. It's one thing to see something and another to touch it. Visual consciousness of a balloon may tell you that it looks smooth, with no bumps or rough edges, but touching it gives you another conscious experience of how smooth the balloon feels. Combining visual and tactual representations of the balloon allows you to compare how it is to see one as to how it feels. The same is true for emotions. Feeling happy is different from doing things that make you happy.

Conscious Unity of Self

In unified consciousness of self, oneself is a subject of all conscious experiences taken together to form one conscious identity. This identity awareness reflects a unified representation of the self that is made up of various variables and mixtures that are influenced by what we've seen or experienced.

Conscious Unity of Focus

In a conscious experience of a single item, a unified focus indicates that a person can pay attention to all of the features of that item. This oneness entails understanding the various aspects of a thing concerning oneself.

This ability to focus demonstrates that a person is still in a single state of consciousness while being aware of various characteristics of an item. For example, when driving, you learn to focus and become aware of your driving, the condition of your automobile, the dangers of being on the road, and the fact that you must arrive at your destination. You pay attention to all of these factors and use your cognitive ability to figure out how to get to your goal safely.

Intentionality

The content or subject of your consciousness is referred to as intentionality of consciousness. This trait indicates that people want to concentrate on something external or internal. Their motivation influences the content of a person's awareness.

Goals help determine what a person plans to focus on; for example, if your goal is to buy a property in Colorado, you will direct your thoughts toward that goal. If your goal is to buy groceries, you are actively considering going to the shop to accomplish that goal.

Selectivity

The term selectivity of consciousness refers to a person's ability to narrow their concentration. As impacted by internal and external factors, this selectivity displays a person's capacity to filter out extraneous information and focus on one area. Because a person's capacity to pay attention to all stimuli at once is limited, they choose what is important and focus on it.

One example is the cocktail party phenomenon wherein a person can focus solely on the other person or group of people he is conversing with within a room full of people chatting and conversing. Everything else was merely background noise to him.

Defining consciousness women of different ages at a party together drinking alcohol StudySmarterSelective consciousness, pexels.com

A dichotic listening task, in which a person listens to dual messages at once, one in the left ear and the other in the right ear, and is asked to pay attention to either one, is another technique that exemplifies selectivity. If the individual chooses to concentrate on the left ear, he will repeat what was said and respond to inquiries about what he heard in the right ear. It turns out that the person may only have a poor understanding of the message in the right ear. This activity demonstrates how narrow our focus can become.

Transience

The transience of consciousness describes our awareness as fleeting or constantly moving. What appears to be significant one instant may no longer be relevant the next, and our attention is drawn to another stimulus or piece of information. The idea that our consciousness is always shifting happens in everyday situations.

When crossing the street, you continually change your attention to keep an eye out for cars and other vehicles on the road. You make sure to focus on what is essential from time to time to keep yourself safe when walking down the street.

The Hard Problem of Consciousness

Many specialists have examined consciousness, and they ran into a dilemma when they tried to define it. Defining consciousness involves the hard problem of consciousness, which is the attempt to explain how something physical becomes a subjective experience for a human.

You are aware of the chocolate cake you are eating. The cake is physical, and when you eat it, you may describe it as rich, moist, and wonderful, which is entirely subjective. What's tough to explain is the process that leads to the chocolate cake seeming wonderful to you. A person's perception, emotions, and cognitive abilities are subjective and cannot be accessed by others, this process is difficult to measure or define precisely.

Defining consciousness is hard, not only because of its subjective nature but also it cannot be observed and measured. There is no one specific objective evidence of consciousness. Science can try to explain the functional qualities or biological reactions resulting from a conscious state such as anxiety, which may signal a high cortisol level. Still, it can never fully explain why anxiety seems to a person in a way that is unique to his subjective conscious experience.

Defining consciousness - Key Takeaways

  • Consciousness refers to the awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, as well as the surroundings.

    • Phenomenal consciousness is a quality aspect of a mental state or a subjective experience.

    • Access consciousness is characterized by logical, cognitive attitudes, belief, memory, and reasoning.

  • There are four levels of consciousness: conscious, preconscious, subconscious, and unconscious.

    • The conscious level of your mind deals with facts regarding your present circumstances.

    • The preconscious level is the part of your brain that we aren't aware of, is not being utilized, and is inactive.

    • The subconscious operates as a barrier, filtering information and storing it for later retrieval.

    • The unconscious level has stored information that isn't readily available or accessible and involves a more complex cognitive process.

  • There are four basic properties of consciousness: unity, selectivity, intentionality, and transience.

  • The term selectivity of consciousness refers to a person's ability to narrow their concentration.

Frequently Asked Questions about Defining consciousness

Consciousness refers to the awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, as well as the surroundings.

The four basic properties of consciousness are unity, intentionality, selectivity, and transience.

Defining consciousness is challenging due to its subjective character. 

Defining consciousness is hard, not only because of its subjective nature but also because it cannot be observed and measured. There is no objective evidence of consciousness. 

The four levels of consciousness are conscious, preconscious, subconscious, and unconscious.

Final Defining consciousness Quiz

Question

_____ is the act of changing a person's state of consciousness.

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Answer

Hypnosis

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Question

____ can alter perceptions about feelings, behaviors, or thoughts.

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Answer

Hypnosis 

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Question

______ have been shown to help with asthma, headaches, and stress.

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Answer

Posthypnotic suggestions

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Question

_______ is often used to help with unwanted behaviors or reactions to daily life stresses or even anxiety and depression.

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Answer

Hypnotherapy

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Question

_____ has been shown to have the ability to inhibit pain-related activity within the brain.

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Answer

Hypnosis

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Question

______ theory of hypnosis suggests that perhaps people are caught up in playing the role of the hypnotized person and following the suggestions of the hypnotists.

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Answer

Social influence

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_____ is a split in consciousness as there is the allowance of thoughts and behaviors to occur simultaneously.

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Answer

Disassociation

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Question

_____ is another form of divided consciousness and is suggested to be a helpful and hypnotic pain relief measure.

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Answer

Selective attention

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Question

Disassociation was proposed by ___.


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Answer

 Ernest Hilgard.

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Question

True or False: 

Selective attention is not able to block pain receptors in the brain but may help remove the attention to the painful stimuli.


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Answer

True

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Question

True or False: 

The phenomena of hypnosis are an extension of cognitive and normal social processes.

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Answer

True 

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True or False: 

Past surgical experiments have shown that those patients who were hypnotized were able to recover faster, required less pain medication, and even left the hospital more quickly than those who were not hypnotized.


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True

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True or False: 

Statistical analysis has shown a negative correlation for those who had therapy that also included hypnosis.

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False

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True or False: Hypnosis is a form of mind control

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False

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True or False: 

According to the social influence theory, the phenomena of hypnosis are an extension of cognitive and normal social processes.


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True

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Question

Which of the following statements define consciousness?

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Answer

Consciousness refers to the awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, as well as the surroundings.

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Question

Choose the best example of conscious level?

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A student is composing a speech and deciding how to begin the opening.

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Which of these statements define the preconscious level of behavior?


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The preconscious level is the part of our brain that we aren't aware of, is not being utilized, and is inactive but can be recalled to awareness.

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What type of consciousness is characterized by logical, cognitive attitudes, belief, memory, and reasoning?

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Access consciousness

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Which statement defines phenomenal consciousness?

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Phenomenal consciousness is a quality aspect of a mental state or a subjective experience.

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This level of consciousness involves reflexes and automatic behavior essential to daily living.

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Subconscious

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Question

Freudian slip is an example of this level of consciousness.

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Unconscious

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Question

________ is an important component to consider while trying to figure out where our unconscious behaviors come from.


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Answer

Conditioning

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Question

What basic property of consciousness refers to the idea that multiple conscious states of a person at any given situation are treated as a whole?

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Answer

Unity

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The content or subject of your consciousness is referred to as ________ of consciousness.

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Intentionality

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Which is not true of the selectivity of consciousness?

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Impacted only by internal factors

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Seen in the cocktail party phenomenon

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Transience

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What is the hard problem of consciousness?


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The attempt to explain how something physical becomes a subjective experience for a human

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Which statement is not true about defining consciousness?



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It can be observed and measured

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Question

This theory or phenomenon shows a person can focus solely on the other person or group of people with whom he is conversing in a room full of people chatting and conversing.

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Answer

Cocktail party

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Question

Posthypnotic amnesia is 

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forgetting selected events by suggestion.

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True or False: Many psychologists think

hypnosis involves highly focused awareness and intensified imagination.


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TRUE

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According to the _____ theory, hypnotized individuals experience two or more streams of consciousness cut off from each other.

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dissociation

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Ernest Hilgard said that the ____  remains in the background monitoring behavior.


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“hidden observer"

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One of the most important practical applications of hypnosis are in ____ which is used in surgery, childbirth, and dentistry.

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Answer

analgesia (pain control)

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True or False: Consciousness directs and governs our behavior, assists us in thinking clearly about issues, communicating with others, setting objectives, planning activities, and monitoring our life's progress. 

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Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Which psychologist popularized the concept of consciousness by theorizing the conscious and unconscious elements of behavior? 

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Answer

Sigmund Freud 

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Question

True or False: The prevailing consciousness theory nowadays is known as the dual-processing theory. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

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How many levels is the dual-processing theory divided into?

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Two 

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Fill in the blank: The _______ portion of your mind is the part that reacts without conscious thought.  

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Answer

implicit

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Question

Fill in the blank: The _________ portion is the part of your mind that is truly conscious and controllable.

Show answer

Answer

explicit

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How many different types of consciousness are there? 

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Answer

Two 

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Please select the TWO different types of consciousness. 

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Phenomenal 

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Fill in the blank: The __________ level is the part of your brain that we aren't aware of, is not being utilized, and is inactive.

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Answer

preconscious

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Question

Fill in the blank: The ___________ level stores information that isn't readily available or accessible and involves a more complex cognitive process.

Show answer

Answer

unconscious

Show question

Question

When crossing the street, you continually change your attention to keep an eye out for cars and other vehicles on the road. You make sure to focus on what is essential from time to time to keep yourself safe when walking down the street. 


The scenario above is an example of which characteristic of consciousness?  

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Answer

Transience 

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Question

Fill in the blank: The ________ level of your mind deals with facts regarding your present circumstances.

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Answer

conscious

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Question

True or False: The term selectivity of consciousness refers to a person's ability to narrow their concentration.

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Answer

True 

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Question

Select the four basic properties of consciousness. 

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Answer

Unity

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Question

True or False: In a conscious experience of a single item, a unified focus indicates that a person can pay attention to all of the features of that item. 

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Answer

True 

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