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What is Consciousness?

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Question: What is Consciousness?

Answer: Consciousness refers to your individual awareness of your unique thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations and environment. Your conscious experiences are constantly shifting and changing. For example, in one moment you may be focused on reading this article. Your consciousness may then shift to the memory of a conversation you had earlier with a co-worker. Next, you might notice how uncomfortable your chair is or maybe you are mentally planning dinner. This ever-shifting stream of thoughts can change dramatically from one moment to the next, but your experience of it seems smooth and effortless.

The conscious experience was one of the first topics studied by early psychologists. Structuralists used a process known as introspection to analyze and report conscious sensations, thoughts, and experiences. American psychologist William James compared consciousness to a stream; unbroken and continuous despite constant shifts and changes. While the focus of much of the research in psychology shifted to purely observable behaviors during the first half of the twentieth century, research on human consciousness has grown tremendously since the 1950s.

What aspects of consciousness to researchers study? Topics such as sleep, dreams, hypnosis, and the affects of psychoactive drugs are just a few of the major topics studied by psychologists.

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