Brain activities

Another important findings of consciousness in terms of its manifestation in the brain processes come from commissurotomy or “split-brain” patients (Sperry, 1982). The patients undergo a midline surgery of the corpus callosum and other forebrain commissures in a last effort to control severe, intractable epilepsy. This situation has resulted in some effects of disconnecting the two cerebral hemispheres, and hence prevented direct communication between them.

In examining these effects on intelligence, perception, and emotion, researchers found that the surgery left each patient with two separate minds – that is, with two separate spheres of consciousness (Sperry, 1982; Wallace & Fisher, 1987). The dominant left hemisphere showed a clear advantage in both verbal and mathematical tasks. However, the right hemisphere did not prove to be inferior to the left in all respects.

On certain spatial tasks, for example, the right hemisphere showed a clear superiority. In addition, both hemispheres appeared to be equally capable of independently generating an emotional reaction (Wallace & Fisher, 1987). Overall, it can be concluded that what a split-brain patient experienced in the right hemisphere seems to lie entirely outside the realm of experiencing of the left hemisphere.

The third approach to consciousness involves pain control. Within philosophy of the mind, pain is a paradigm example of conscious experience (Chalmers, 1996). In addition, pain sensation is one example of conscious experiences which is very subjective and private, and may differ from one individual to the next (Wallace & Fisher, 1987). Since attention is closely associated with a person’s conscious experience, distraction strategies have been found as effective techniques to alleviate or to reduce pain sensitivity (Kongstvedt, 1987). An example of these strategies is hypnotic imagery which has been demonstrated to be effective in dealing with acute pain (Brink, 1990).

However, it has been found that the effectiveness of hypnosis or any other distracting activities in controlling pain is due to the high level of motivation to overcome pain (Brink, 1990). This means that not everybody will benefit from hypnosis but only those who are able to direct attention away from the pain will feel the difference. These hypnotised individuals do not behave as they normally do because they are in a trance state or an altered state consciousness (Wallace & Fisher, 1987). This explanation appears to provide evidence to the effects of different levels of consciousness on human behaviour.

Consciousness also has been found to help patients with schizophrenia in coping with their disease (Dittmann & Schuttler, 1990). Their study aimed to determine the extent of consciousness in schizophrenic patients and its consequences on the coping strategies in case of psychotic experiences. The results showed that the majority of patients (72%) occupied themselves with their disease. They were aware of the difference between their present state and a former state of well-being, and this state of awareness is called “disease consciousness”. Patients who demonstrated disease consciousness gave a variety of ways of coping in relation to their disease symptoms. This finding proved that patients with schizophrenia are not completely helpless but having a disease consciousness motivate them to cope with their psychotic experiences in individually different ways.

In conclusion, the above discussion has demonstrated that consciousness does have a place in scientific psychology. Scientific findings of consciousness from the study of perception and voluntary movement, brain activities, and pain control provide sufficient evidence that consciousness does have a causal role in the initiation of some behaviours such as intelligent and coping behaviours. Although it is possible for scientists to investigate the causal role of consciousness in the study of behaviour, the conclusion may not be valid. This is because consciousness has different level of manifestation that may affect different types of behaviour. Therefore, future research should identify the effects of each level of consciousness on different types of behaviour.


Baruss, I. (1986-87). Metanalysis of definitions of consciousness. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 6(4), 321-329.

Brink, N.E. (1990). Dealing with pain: the psychological mechanisms that intensify pain. In R.G. Kunzendorf (ed). Mental Imagery (pp.199-206). New York: Plenum Press.

Chalmers, D.J. (1996). The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (pp.1-11). New York: Oxford University Press.

Dittmann, J. & Schuttler, R. (1990). Disease consciousness and coping strategies of patients with schizophrenic psychosis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 82(4), 318-322.

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