Altered States of Consciousness


Dissociation is the experience of feeling detached from reality.

Learning Objectives

Distinguish between non-pathological and pathological forms of dissociation

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The term " dissociation " describes a wide array of experiences, from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience.
  • The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality.
  • Dissociative experiences can be placed on a continuum from non- pathological to pathological.
  • Non-pathological forms of dissociation include daydreaming, coping mechanisms, and the use of psychoactive drugs.
  • Pathological forms of dissociation include the dissociative disorders, like dissociative fugue or depersonalization disorder.

Key Terms

  • daydream: A short-term detachment from one's immediate surroundings.
  • pathological: Relating to or caused by a physical or mental disorder.
  • maladaptive: Showing inadequate response to a new situation.

The Continuum of Dissociation

In psychology, the term "dissociation" describes a wide array of experiences, from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality. Although some dissociative experiences involve memory loss, others do not.

Dissociative experiences can be placed on a continuum from non-pathological to pathological, where pathological means "caused by a mental disorder." At the non-pathological end of the spectrum, the term "dissociation" can be used to describe events as common as daydreaming during class. Further along the continuum are altered states of consciousness which can lead to dissociation. At the pathological end of the dissociation spectrum are the dissociative disorders.

Non-Pathological Dissociation


Daydreaming, experienced while awake, is a short-term detachment from one's immediate surroundings, during which a person's contact with reality is blurred and partially substituted by a visionary fantasy, especially one of happy, pleasant thoughts, hopes, or ambitions imagined as coming to pass.

There are many types of daydreams, and there is no consistent definition among psychologists, but all daydreaming meets the criteria for mild dissociation.


Coping is expending conscious effort to solve personal and interpersonal problems, and seeking to minimize or tolerate stress or conflict. Psychological coping mechanisms are commonly called coping strategies or coping skills. In mild instances, dissociation is regarded as a coping mechanism designed to master, minimize, or tolerate stressors like boredom or conflict. Coping through dissociation is often associated with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Altered States

Psychoactive drugs can often induce a state of temporary dissociation. Substances with dissociative properties include ketamine, nitrous oxide, alcohol, LSD, tiletamine, marijuana, dextromethorphan, PCP, methoxetamine, salvia, and muscimol.


Daydream by Paul César Helleu: Daydreaming is a mild form of dissociation in which a person experiences a short-term detachment from one's immediate surroundings.

Pathological Dissociation

Pathological dissociation involves the dissociative disorders, including dissociative fugue and depersonalization disorder. Dissociative disorders are sometimes triggered by trauma, but may be preceded only by stress, psychoactive substances, or no identifiable trigger at all. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders groups all dissociative disorders into a single category.

Dissociative disorders are typically experienced as startling, autonomous intrusions into a person's usual ways of responding or functioning. Due to their unexpected and largely inexplicable nature, they tend to be quite unsettling.

Dissociation has been described as one of a constellation of symptoms experienced by some victims of childhood trauma, including physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. This is supported by studies which suggest that dissociation is correlated with a history of trauma. Dissociation is much more common among those who are traumatized (this is called "high specificity" to history of trauma), but at the same time there are many people who have suffered from trauma but who do not show dissociative symptoms (this is called "low sensitivity" to history of trauma).


Meditation is the practice of training the mind in order to induce relaxation or an altered mode of consciousness.

Learning Objectives

Describe meditation within the context of psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Meditation has a variety of health benefits, including lowered stress levels, increased immune-system function, and decreased muscle tension.
  • Techniques of meditation vary from person to person and from culture to culture.
  • Meditation can be personalized to fit a person's needs and daily schedule, as it can be done anywhere and at any time of day or night.
  • Breathing meditation involves focusing on the breath entering and leaving the body.
  • Devotional meditation involves focusing on a particular object or concept.
  • Relaxation meditation involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups to achieve relaxation of the mind and the entire body.

Key Terms

  • mantra: A sound, word, or phrase repeated to assist concentration during meditation; originated in Hinduism.
  • consciousness: The state of being aware; awareness to both internal and external stimuli.
  • meditation: A practice in which an individual trains the mind and/or induces a mode of consciousness to realize some benefit; a devotional exercise of, or leading to, contemplation.

Meditation is the practice of training the mind to think in a particular way or to induce some mode of consciousness. This is done to obtain a particular benefit, such as relaxation, or as an end in itself. Meditation encompasses a variety of techniques that help a person achieve relaxation, build internal energy, or develop compassion and patience. Techniques of meditation vary from person to person and from culture to culture.

Daily meditation can be helpful for a variety of reasons. Western studies are beginning to show what other cultures have known for centuries—namely, that meditation helps to reduce stress, assists individuals in gaining perspective, enhances focus, and contributes to physical and psychological health and well-being. Meditation can be done any time of the day, and it can take as few as five minutes or as long as several hours.

Techniques and Varieties of Meditation

Different meditation techniques include meditation of breath, devotional meditation, and relaxation meditation. Meditation of breath can be described as the most traditional form of meditation, in which a person sits comfortably and focuses on his or her breath entering and leaving the body. The concentration involved in this type of meditation helps clear a person's mind and allows him or her to enter a state of deep relaxation and clear mind.

Devotional meditation is very similar to meditation of breath, except instead of focusing on the breath entering and leaving a person's body, the focus is on a particular object or concept. Many ancient religions of the world have a tradition of using some type of prayer beads as tools in devotional meditation. The object chosen assists the individual in focusing and calming his or her mind, often through repeated movements. Meditation may also involve repeating a mantra and closing one's eyes.

Relaxation meditation, also known as progressive muscle relaxation, allows a person to fully relax his or her entire body. This kind of relaxation involves systematically and rhythmically tightening and relaxing various muscle groups. By tightening and relaxing the various muscle groups in a person's body, often working from one end of the body to another, relaxation (both physical and mental) is achieved.

Health Benefits of Meditation

There are a variety of health benefits associated with meditation, and research continues to show more evidence of these benefits in studies involving meditation. Though this is not an exhaustive list, some of the health benefits include the following:

  • increased blood flow to all parts of the body;
  • lower blood pressure;
  • reduced anxiety;
  • decreased muscle tension;
  • lower rates of depression due to increased serotonin levels;
  • enhanced immune system.


Meditation: Meditation allows a person to achieve a mental and physical state of relaxation.

Research on Meditation

Research on the effects of meditation is a growing subfield of neurological research. Modern scientific techniques and brain-scan instruments have been used to see what happens in the bodies of people when they meditate, and how their bodies and brains change after meditating regularly.

Studies have shown that rumination and worry contribute to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and that meditation-based interventions are effective in the reduction of worry, even in such extreme cases as panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These interventions also appear to bring about favorable structural changes in the brain. A recent study found a significant cortical thickness increase in individuals who underwent a brief eight-week training program, and that this increase was coupled with a significant reduction of several psychological indices related to worry, anxiety, and depression. Another study describes how meditation-based interventions target neurocognitive mechanisms of addiction.


Hypnosis is a trance-like state in which a person experiences heightened suggestibility.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the role of hypnosis in psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Hypnosis can be used for many things, including pain management, addiction management, and weight loss.
  • When a person is in an altered state of perception under hypnosis, it is thought that they can be guided to experience a reduction in pain, change ineffective cognitions or beliefs, or remember forgotten memories.
  • The three main components of hypnosis are absorption, suggestibility, and dissociation.
  • A trance is an induced mental state that facilitates the acceptance of instructions or suggestions.

Key Terms

  • hypnosis: An artificially induced trancelike state in which a person has heightened suggestibility and may experience suppressed memories.
  • dissociation: A defense mechanism in which certain thoughts or mental processes are compartmentalized in order to avoid emotional stress to the conscious mind.
  • trance: A state of concentration, awareness, or focus that filters information and experience; for example, meditation, possession, etc.

Hypnosis is a trance-like state in which a person experiences heightened suggestibility. When a person is in this altered state of perception, it is thought that he or she can be guided to experience a reduction in pain, alter ineffective cognitions or beliefs, or remember forgotten memories, among other things.

Theories of Hypnosis

Three main theories of hypnosis exist:

  • Role theory is when a person is not actually in an alternate state of consciousness, but rather is acting out the role of a hypnotized person.
  • Altered-state theory occurs when a person is actually hypnotized and is therefore in a different, or altered, state of mind.
  • Dissociation theory states that hypnosis causes a person to actively or voluntarily split their consciousness.

Controversy exists regarding which of these theories is true, and research has yet to illuminate exactly what occurs in hypnosis, or how.

Components of Hypnosis

There are three main components of hypnosis:

  • Absorption is the amount of investment a person has in the hypnotic state or hypnosis session. Generally speaking, the more suggestible a person is, the more he or she can dissociate and become absorbed in the task at hand. This is known as mental concentration.
  • Dissociation is when a person's behavioral control is separated from his or her awareness. The individual in a dissociated state is likely to respond with autonomic, reflexive behaviors.
  • Suggestion is the act of focusing the conscious mind on a single idea. A point person (usually the psychologist/hypnotist) guides the hypnotized person's thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, helping the person change ideas of their choice. It is important to note that suggestion is not the same thing as trance. A trance is when an induced mental state facilitates the acceptance of instructions or ideas.

Uses of Hypnosis

Hypnosis serves many purposes. It can be used for pain management when traditional methods do not seem to be working. For example, some women engage in what is known as hypnobirthing, thereby reducing the need for pain medication during labor.

The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is referred to as hypnotherapy, while its use as a form of entertainment for an audience is known as stage hypnosis. Hypnotherapy has been used to address addiction, weight loss, fears and phobias, and to release repressed memories, which may have given rise to negative effects. Hypnosis has also been used to treat physical ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome and psoriasis, and it has been successfully used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.


Hypnotic colors: The use of colorful images can help people relax into a hypnotic state.

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