Psychobiology of altered states of consciousness

Psychol Bull. 2005 Jan;131(1):98-127. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.1.98.


The article reviews the current knowledge regarding altered states of consciousness (ASC) (a) occurring spontaneously, (b) evoked by physical and physiological stimulation, (c) induced by psychological means, and (d) caused by diseases. The emphasis is laid on psychological and neurobiological approaches. The phenomenological analysis of the multiple ASC resulted in 4 dimensions by which they can be characterized: activation, awareness span, self-awareness, and sensory dynamics. The neurophysiological approach revealed that the different states of consciousness are mainly brought about by a compromised brain structure, transient changes in brain dynamics (disconnectivity), and neurochemical and metabolic processes. Besides these severe alterations, environmental stimuli, mental practices, and techniques of self-control can also temporarily alter brain functioning and conscious experience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Consciousness Disorders*
  • Diet
  • Dreams / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Starvation