Experiential Psychology and the Stream of Consciousness

Experiential, or introspective psychology, is a branch of psychology that attempts to study consciousness in its raw form, as well as through altered states of consciousness, and higher states of consciousness.  This field attempts to break away from the behaviorism’s view that psychologists should only study overt behavior. Experiential psychologists understand that just because something cannot be seen, it does not mean it does not exist or play an important role.

To start, I’ll take a developmental approach to consciousness and explain the origins of complex mental processes in children, through the stream of consciousness and metaphor.

The stream of conscious is the continuous flow of mental content in the conscious person.  Children and adults have been tested on their understanding of this stream of consciousness.  Young children (around the age of 4) tend to think that if someone is waiting somewhere, their mind is completely empty and blank of all thoughts (Flavell et al., 1993).

Vygotsky proposed that children’s stream of consciousness originally manifests itself through egocentric self-speech.  If you listen closely to children playing together, you’ll notice that they’re not really talking to each other, they’re each carrying on their own conversation with themselves.  As they grow older, this self-speech diminishes and more of it starts integrating itself inside their minds, until eventually it is all inside.

The idea of self-speech can be seen as an example in answering this simple math equation: “what is 20 plus 10, divided by two minus 5?” … how much did you talk to yourself to answer that question?  This example shows that everyone has self-speech, but in adults it becomes internalized and referred to as our stream of consciousness.

Some theorists have also proposed that metaphor works in a similar way.  Young children assume that any moving object has a personality, and will say things like “poor sad cup” if a cup is knocked over, of if they’re in a foggy place, they may say “the fog is whispering”.  These seem very metaphoric in nature, but to children they’re meant literally.  As they grow older however, this outward manifestation is integrated into metaphor, which happens around adolescence.

When attempting to study the consciousness, it is important to study normal consciousness, as well as abnormal (or altered) states of consciousness to determine the differences between them.


  • Flavell, J., Green, F. L., & Flavell, E. R. (1993).  Children’s understanding of the stream of consciousness. Child Development, p. 387-398.

-Posted by Alyssa

    • psychologyrulez
    • March 29th, 2010

    I’m confused. Sounds like you’re saying consciousness develops by internalizing self-speech (after being manifested in children through outward self-speech). You then conclude by saying it’s important to study normal + abnormal states of consciousness. Are you saying that children have an abnormal state of consciousness? If all kids have this, is it really abnormal? I’m not sure that self-speech = consciousness anywayz.

    • I think it means that to understand what is normal states of consciousness you must study abnormal states such as sleeping or zoning out, compared to vigilance. and that a child’s consciousness is more external than that of an adult who is more aware of the world

    • Alyssa
    • March 30th, 2010

    Hey sorry about the confusion. I’ll try and clarify things a bit.

    The first paragraph is just introducing the topic of experiential/introspective psychology and explaining a bit about it. Then I’m explaining not the development of consciousness, but the development of “stream of consciousness” which is the constant flow of thoughts in the mind.

    So the post is about the development of stream of consciousness in children, and then I talk about how metaphor becomes integrated as well.

    The last paragraph about abnormal or altered states of consciousness is just kind of leading up to more posts from the same perspective.

    Hope that clarifies things 🙂

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