The functional psychology excluded consciousness as a field of study and behaviouristic psychology totally eliminated it.
The emergence of psychoanalysis moved in the direction of establishing consciousness and unconsciousness not only as areas of legitimate concern but as those of pivotal importance. But the academic psychologist, by and large, kept away from this. In recent years, psychologists have found a revival of interest in the phenomenon of consciousness, its nature and manifestations.
Advances in clinical psychology, neurophysiology and other disciplines have forced the psychologist to turn his attention back towards consciousness. Many psychologists today are interested in consciousness, altered states of consciousness and other such phenomena. Consciousness, which was supposed to be a simple homogeneous state, appears to be far from being so. Perhaps, there are different states of consciousness apart from unconsciousness.
The psychologist today is very much concerned about altered states of consciousness and is busy investigating them in collaboration with the neurophysiologist, the psychiatrist and other related professional scientists. But his approach today is different from the approach of the early structural psychologists.
Investigations are experimental, multidisciplinary and quantitative. This concern with the phenomenon of consciousness has also taken the psychologists through a renewed interest in the study of phenomena such as yoga and meditation, particularly in relation to their impact on consciousness.
A number of psychologists have developed interests in studying phenomena such as voluntary control of actions. A scientific psychologist of the 1930s would have been shocked at such an interest. This revived interest in the study of consciousness has resulted in very ingenious and well-conducted experiments. It is today realized that there are different stages and states of consciousness ranging from coma at one extreme to hyperactivity or hyperconsciousness at the other.
In between, we have states of consciousness like the hypnotic state, dream state, sleep state, waking consciousness, etc. Thus, today, consciousness has come to be regarded as a complex condition and not a simple homogeneous state or mental condition.
Such variations in the states of consciousness result from a number of factors. For example, sensory deprivation can result in an altered state of consciousness. Hypnosis produces another kind of altered state of consciousness. Drugs like LSD also produce altered states of consciousness. This phenomenon of alteration of states of consciousness has assumed significance from two angles.
Firstly, they produce additional clues for understanding the behaviour of psychotics and other maladjusted people. Secondly, they also help us to understand paranormal phenomena. Experiments on altered states of consciousness make extensive use of recordings of brain activity, eye movements and other forms of physiological evidence. It has been shown that different states of consciousness are associated with different types of activity in the brain like the alpha type, the beta type and the delta type.
Study of Meditation:
An interesting development in this type of research is the increased interest in the study of meditation and its effect on consciousness. Eastern religions, to a very large extent and Christianity to some extent, have for a long time emphasized the role of meditation on reaching transcendental or spiritual consciousness.
Deikman, in offering a possible explanation of the role of meditation, says that what happens under meditation is a deautomatization or a reversal of the normal process of automatized functioning. It frees the individual from stereotyped and established ways of perception so that the perceptual process becomes more free to arrive at new organisations and integration.
Closely related to this are the investigations on voluntary control of physiological activities such as heartbeat. The physiological processes are generally involuntary. Yoga, on the other hand, has always claimed and yogis have demonstrated that voluntary control of the so-called involuntary processes is possible. In recent years, laboratory experiments have been conducted to show that to a certain extent this is possible.
The mechanism of bio-feedback is being made extensively used. The mechanism of bio-feedback basically involves providing information to the subject on his physiological processes and training him to respond to certain signals auditory or visual. Experiments on bio-feedback have shown that individuals can learn to control physiological processes such as cortical activities through voluntary efforts.