Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Dream Incubation Technique (1) - Theory & Background

This article is based on  the theory of dream incubation, which is the method of ‘planting a seed’ in the mind so that a specific dream topic appears. Dream incubation refers to a variety of techniques that purportedly aid practical problem-solving or creativity. Dream incubation has an ancient history (at least 5000 years, it is estimated, although many scholars suggest it dates back to the lost civilisation of Atlantis – see below) as well as modern use (see Barrett, 2001; Blagrove, 1993, 1996; Bulkeley, 2000; Delaney, 1996; Dement, 1999; Flowers, 1995; Hartmann, 1998; Krippner, 1981; Reed, 1976; Saredi, Baylor, Meier, & Struach, 1997; Strunz, 1994; Van de Castle, 1994) and we know that dream incubation has been used for spiritual guidance/healing purposes for thousands of years. Derived from the Latin verb incubare (in meaning 'upon'  and cubare 'to lie'), the term connotes the support and nurturance provided by a laying mother bird for her developing egg.

A historical overview of dream incubation techniques
We have many historical sources which shed light on how our predecessors used dreams as a source of guidance for their daily lives and moral/spiritual dilemmas. In exploring the grassroots of the dream incubation technique, we see that not only does the practice have an extensive temporal history, but also a cross-cultural one as well – almost every ancient culture or religion placed some degree of emphasis on messages thought to be received via dreams.

The tiny Maltese islands, located just south of Sicily, are home to the oldest megalithic freestanding stone structures that exist on Earth today. These intriguing structures, many of which resemble the shape of a woman's body, predate the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. One famous artefact found in these ancient sacred sites, the Sleeping Lady, is thought to be representative of the Goddess religion practiced on the islands. Discovered in the underground, labyrinth-like structure called the Hypogeum, the Sleeping Lady is as much of an enigma as the location in which she was found. Because of amateur and shoddy archaeological practices being employed at the time the Sleeping Lady was found, definitive scientific evidence is lacking about the exact nature and purpose of both The Sleeping Lady and the Hypogeum, but many theories abound – for example, some believe that the Hypogeum was used as a tomb or temple in which to practice the chthonic mysteries of the Goddess. The posture of the Sleeping Lady has led to the conclusion that the site may have been used as a sacred place for dream incubation In Australia, the 'Aboriginal Dreamtime' is that part of aboriginal culture which explains the origins and culture of the land and its people. Aborigines have the longest continuous cultural history of any group of people on Earth, dating back, by some estimates, 65,000 years. Dreamtime is an intrinsic element of Aboriginal religion and culture and contains many parts - it is the story of things that have happened; how the universe came to be; how human beings were created and how the Creator intended for humans to function within the cosmos.  The Australian Aborigines speak of jiva or guruwari, a seed power deposited in the earth. In the Aboriginal world view, every meaningful activity, event, or life process that occurs at a particular place leaves behind a vibrational residue in the earth, as plants leave an image of themselves as seeds. The shape of the land, its mountains, rocks, riverbeds and waterholes -and its unseen vibrations - echo the events that brought that place into creation. Everything in the natural world is a symbolic footprint of the metaphysical beings whose actions created our world. As with a seed, the potency of an earthly location is wedded to the memory of its origin. The Aborigines called this potency the "dreaming" of a place, and this dreaming constitutes the sacredness of the earth. Only in extraordinary states of consciousness can one be aware of, or attuned to, the inner dreaming of the Earth. There is some suggestion that the lost civilisation of Atlantis used dream temples and crystal matrixes to enhance their dreams and connect to other spiritual realms. It is said that to dream of Atlantis is to reconnect with one’s destiny and the geometry of creation.

The earliest direct reference to a pre-sleep method for obtaining dreams by divine revelation is inscribed upon the Chester Beatty papyri - found near Thebes in Upper Egypt - and presently homed in the British museum. The papyrus was authored c. 1350 BC and incorporates material as far back as 2000 BC. It describes a method of invoking the wisdom of Besa (or ‘Bes’ in Egypt), a dwarf deity, helper of women in childbirth, protector against snakes and other terrors, and god of art, dance and music. This simple Egyptian magical rite demonstrates some similarities to the mythology and rituals later associated with temple incubation in ancient Greece, such as the binding of a body part in cloth, to bring an image of the deity in close proximity to the supplicant. The epithet of Besa as a protector against snakes is particularly noteworthy considering how central the symbol of the snake was in the later Greek healing cults, as the preferred manifestation of the incubated gods Asclepius, Trophonius, and Amphiaraos. In ancient Egypt, most ‘temples’ were open to all, however some – such as the temple of Isis were only accessible by persons summoned by Isis herself, in a dream.

Others claim that incubation had an even earlier origin in Babylonian mysticism, since the Greek god Serapis, who was also widely associated with incubation, can be traced to the much earlier Babylonian god Ea of Eridu (also referred to as ‘Sar Apsi’). Still other historical accounts link the Greek incubation tradition to Egyptian deities. There is evidence that scientific and philosophical ideas were traded freely between Greek and Egyptian travellers around the 5th century BC at which time it is believed that Asclepius was imported from Egypt to Greece. The god Asclepius parallels in numerous aspects the earlier Egyptian god Imhotep (c. 2980-2950 BC), who was the principal architect of Pharaoh Djoser (aka Zoser) and built him the first pyramid at Saqqara. Imhotep was later deified and associated with a healing cult that is presumed to have practiced incubation in his temple at Memphis (MacKenzie, 1965).  As of 2011, the tomb of Imhotep has still not been found, despite intensive archaeological investigation in the Saqqara burial ground. The cult of Asclepius first appeared in Greece in Thessaly; Kerenyi has traced the Greek mythology which preceded the cult in this area to approximately 1500 BC. In Thessaly, Trikka was the oldest centre of worship and remained prestigious for its healing cures through the historical centuries. Temples were transferred to Epidaurus (c. 400) and Kos (c. 350), and eventually to all parts of Greece and Rome. Meiers estimates that Asclepian temples numbered 420 in total. The ancient Greeks visited the Temple of Asklepius in order to have a healing dream to cure themselves or loved ones from illness. Asklepius was the god of healing and the cult of Asklepius was very popular around 350 BC and incubating dreams (or ‘curing dreams’) were believed to be sent to them from directly from the god Asklepius himself. If visitors to the temple (known as ‘sleeping in a sacred precinct’) experienced dreams during their stay, upon waking, temple priests assisted them in understanding the dreams and the healing messages so they could rid themselves of illnesses. Due to the perceived spiritual or other-worldly nature of this dream phenomenon, dream incubation is often referred to as ‘prophetic dreaming’ and the technique formed an important part of religious worship in Greece for over 1000 years. Epidaurus was the most distinctive and favoured of all the ‘asklepeia’ and most of the available information about temple rituals and festivals were preserved here on large stone steles in its porticoes. Two other oracular deities, Amphiaraos (at Oropos) and Trophonius (at Lebadeia) were closely related to the chthonian origin of Asclepius and were also the focus of intensive incubation rituals for several centuries. The Egyptian cults of Isis and Serapis also established temples that flourished in Greece and Rome. These temples grew to surpass in number and fame those of any other god because of the rapid spread of incubation during the 1st centuries of the Christian era (Hamilton, 1906a). Because of their far-reaching reputations for miraculous health cures and also because of their beautiful countryside environments, many of the asklepeia, and especially the exemplary temple at Epidaurus, evolved into thriving health resorts. Although Asklepius became the Greek deity most commonly associated with dream incubation, academics have suggested that initially the ancient Greeks believed only Zeus could be summoned through dream incubation. However, over time, the Greeks began to associate various other deities (including Athena, Hera, Artemis, Asklepios, Hermes, and Pan - who was known as the 'conductor of dreams'). Two further gods were identified as significant forces in the realm of sleep and dream – Hynos (ruling sleep) and his son, Morpheus (ruling dreams). The Greeks also believed that dreams were actual events and the gods were capable of punishing wrongdoers by sending them a false dream. These dreams would be very uplifting and often contain advice to perform certain acts. One famous example of the ancient Greek false dream is that of King Agamemnon - Zeus sent him the dream because Agamemnon had stolen a slave girl from the warrior, Achilles. In the dream, the king's trusted counsellor appeared to him and told him to march on Troy - assuring that victory was imminent. The king followed the advice given to him in the dream and was defeated. The Greeks also believed in the reality of negative dreams and took measures to avert the misfortune foretold in these dreams. Remedies included bathing in cold water to telling the dream to the sun and performing sacrifices to protective deities. A number of writings on Greek dream interpretation still exist today - in fact, the 'father' of modern medicine - Hippocrates - used his patients' dreams as diagnostic tools. He believed that while some dreams could be divinely inspired, most were a result of things going on inside the body. In interpreting these dreams, he along with many other Greek interpretators, used a standardised method of interpretation. It wasn't until Artemidorus wrote his 5-volume  Oneirocritica around 140 BCE that each individual was taken into account when their dreams were interpreted. Artemidorus was the first person to insist on knowing a little background about a person before interpreting their dreams - their name; occupation; birth-date; health; marital status; and wealth were all taken into consideration. From this standpoint, dreams could be more intimately and accurately interpreted.

Greece and Egypt dream lore were also major influences in  ancient Rome - so much so that Rome practically adopted everything they could get their hands on and claimed it as their own. Dreams and dream divination were considered to be so important, emperor Augustus proclaimed that anyone dreaming of Rome must describe it publically in the market lest some prophecy of the wellbeing of Rome be hidden within it. There were some who claimed the dreams were nothing more than a reply of the day's events but most who held these ideas were philosophers who rejected everything that was religious in nature. Before the adoption of foreign deities, the ancient Romans attributed two deities to rule over dreaming. Fauna, later also called ‘Bona Dea’ – (the ‘Good Goddess’) was worshipped by women who considered her to send oracular dreams. Her brother, or husband, Faunus was also ruler of dreams. He was worshipped by men who also asked him to bless their crops. Once Greek and Egyptian deities began to be worshipped, Isis and Serapis proved to be very popular in Roman dream rituals. Dream incubation and interpretation continued until Rome embraced yet another foreign deity and converted to Christianity, at which point, anything considered 'pagan' was forbidden.

Christianity wasn't exempt from dreaming, however. The Bible contains quite a few references to divine dreams and of people interpreting them and both the Old and New Testament refer to dreams as ‘visions of the night’. In fact, the Isrealites had a single word for both 'to dream' and 'to see'. The book of Genesis contains the story of Joseph, who was sold into Egyptian slavery by his eleven brothers when he told them of his dream of  the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowing down' to him. He gained his freedom by interpreting a dream that the Pharaoh’s own counsel could not decipher. Later, when Joseph's parents and eleven brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, the dream that got him sold into slavery came true since he now had higher status than any of them. Despite these records, however, the idea of dreaming being evil flourished throughout the Christian world - St. John Chrysostom declared that people were not responsible for their dreams, but they should still be ashamed for anything that was dreamed throughout the night. Martin Luther considered dreams to be ‘of the devil’ because the Church only interpreted God's word and anything that came from dreams could not possibly have anything to do with Him.

Thus, we see from this brief summary of its historical foundations in antiquity, that dream incubation can be largely understood to be a form of spiritual quest - an attempt to bring oneself physically closer to a spiritual presence in preparation for a dream. If the sense of a spirit presence could be felt vividly prior to sleep through the incubation procedures, the presence might be induced to appear later in a dream bearing its treasured response. The pre-sleep ritual could be seen as an enactment in miniature of the desired closeness to the deity that was desired in the dream. This aspect of the spiritual attitude - the production of a feeling of ‘spiritual presence' through pre-sleep manipulation renders many of the seemingly esoteric incubation rites in the historical literature more comprehensible, i.e. as ways of promoting a physically felt closeness of a deity. Such felt closeness was cultivated both by the manipulation of icons and by sleeping in the ‘sacred precincts’ of the deity.

The motif of sleep in sacred precincts is seen in numerous other traditions as well:
  • The Berbers of Northern Africa tried to obtain dreams wherein they could meet spirits and receive news of absent relatives and friends by sleeping in tombs that were constructed by a former race; the tombs were large, elliptical, surrounded by heaps of stones, and believed to have concealed treasure (Basset, 1967).
  • The earliest Greeks to practice incubation (the Dodonian Selloi) slept upon earthen beds to procure prophetic dreams (Homer, Iliad, xvi; Bowcott, 1959; Messer, 1918).
  • The North American Indians frequently chose mountain-top, hill-top, or tree-top beds during their vision quests.
  • Seekers to the Trophonian incubation oracle in Greece slept swaddled and banded in linen upon freshly-slaughtered ram's hides (Meier, 1989).
Modern science sheds some light on how sleeping in sacred precincts may have enabled the induction of healing and problem-solving dreams. The well-known 'first-night effect' refers to how sleep and dreams are influenced when patients or experimental subjects sleep in the laboratory for the first time. They experience disrupted sleep, especially REM sleep, and altered dream content. Their sleep becomes more fragmented, with more awakenings and REM sleep may occur; dreams come to include more references to the laboratory situation. The latter finding strongly corroborates the idea that pre-sleep incubation affects dreams. In addition to the sense of closeness to the deity or spirit that such changes induced, many kinds of pre-sleep and in-sleep bodily stimulation were also likely induced. The body may have been exposed to unexpected cutaneous and kinesthetic sensations, such as novel textures from the sleeping garments and covers, strange sleep postures required by irregular sleeping surfaces, atypical night time routines, frequent night time awakenings, and so on.

The practice of bringing an image or icon of a deity into closer proximity to the body may have had as an objective the induction of a sense of physically felt closeness to the deity. An example of this type of ritual is cited above for the incantation designed to invoke the wisdom of the fertility god Besa. In this case, the seeker would seem to cultivate an attitude of closeness to the deity by drawing the icon directly on the skin and then by binding it to the hand with cloth. Throughout the pre-dormitum period and during awakenings at night, sensations in the hand from this procedure could serve to remind the incubant of the deity's proximity. By suspending speech, the seeker may have further facilitated the salience of bodily sensations, which are known to be incorporated more readily into dream content (Nielsen et al, 1993). Images of the deity Besa were also frequently carved or engraved upon stone Egyptian pillows (Foucart, 1967), presumably to bring the deity into closer physical proximity with the dreaming soul. In a similar fashion Egyptians placed images of deities inside of their pillows. Although sleep in a novel locale likely always induced some change in cutaneous stimulation during the night, more specialised forms of cutaneous stimulation were also used in conjunction with incubation. Some of these may only have had mild effects on the body and thus on subsequent dreams. Among these were the practices of purificatory bathing required in some North American Indian groups, in Greek Asclepian temples, and in the later Christian churches (Hamilton, 1906b). Other methods were likely more moderate in their effects on both bodies and dreams. These included the practices of pre-sleep bathing in cold or salty water in the Trophonian oracles, of rubbing the face with mud, suet, or charcoal among some Indian groups (Radin, 1936), of rubbing both the face and body with ashes or certain calcarous substances which induce the appearance of the 'pallid hue of a ghost' among very primitive groups (Eliade), and of rubbing the body with red liquid by initiates of the Dutch Guiana Caribs to make them 'handsome and worthy to enter the presence of the spirits' (Eliade).

Finally, some harsher procedures likely had quite extreme effects on bodily processes and subsequent dreams. The first, used by pre-Christian druids, was a complex ritual for procuring dreams that often culminated in a sleep posture consisting of crossing the arms and placing the palms against the cheeks. Prior to sleep, the druid would chew the raw flesh of a pig, cat or dog before taking it with him to bed, where he would then sacrifice it to an ‘idol god’. A second procedure, involving even more vigorous manipulations of the skin, was performed in healing rites by Quechua Indians of Peru. These Indians fell victim to soul loss or 'Susto' (Spanish for ‘fright’), after some traumatic encounter with lightning, a snake, or a malevolent earth spirit. Symptoms of the soul loss were weight loss; emotional imbalance; disturbed sleep; and nightmares. The healing rite was to result in the patient dreaming of a particular form of spiritual presence, specifically, the lost soul returning to the body in the shape of a tame animal. The pre-sleep incubation started with the patient being rubbed from head to toe with a living guinea pig in such a way that the guinea pig died at the end of the procedure. The creature was then skinned and a diagnosis read from its blood and entrails. In a second session, the patient was again rubbed with a mixture of various flowers, herbs and the flour of several grains. The medicine man wrapped the remaining mixture in a piece of the patient's clothing and used it to mark a trail to where the initial trauma had taken place, or else to some other dreaded place. The patient, meanwhile, remained in a darkened house with the door left open. The lost soul was expected to follow the trail back to the sleeping patient (Rosas, 1957). Rosas reports that he observed several cases of abrupt improvement or recovery after 1 or 2 applications of this treatment, even though medical physicians were unable to effect change in the patients. The most severe incubation procedures were those which inflicted bodily pain on the aspiring incubant.

The associations between the striving for spiritual closeness and the infliction of pain are many. First, the direct stimulation of the body may in and of itself have been a symbolic gesture of closeness to the deity. The chopping off of one's own finger joint or strip of flesh as an offering to the spirits during the vision quest of the Crow Indians  (Lincoln, 1970; Tylor, 1903) can be seen as such a gesture of closeness. However, the net effect of such sacrifices may have been equivalent to the less destructive ritual of offering small terra cotta icons of afflicted body parts to the deity in temples of Asklepius – i.e. that of enhancing a sense of bodily closeness. Second, the pain manipulations may have been designed to arouse emotional responses, and thus to attract the closeness of the deity. Rubbing with nettles or whipping (Eliade, 1960) might have served just such a purpose. Krickeberg (1993) describes the general case of the Delaware Indian puberty fast in which the boy or girl (around age 12) is taken to a prearranged place in the forest and left to their own devices – in the hope that the child will implore the spirits to take pity and grant them with a vision. Finally, painful methods of dream incubation may have been pursued because they induced a state of exhaustion and lightness, presumably qualities which freed the seeker's soul to approach the spiritual presence. For example, one Indian elder stated that the benefit of fasting was to produce a sense of lightness of the body. The following dream of an Ojibwa youth after 5 successive days of puberty fasting suggests how such lightness might be incorporated directly into dreams.

"[the spirit and I] looked into each others hearts, and guessed and gazed on our mutual thoughts and sensations. When he ordered me to follow him, I rose from my bed easily and of my own accord, like a spirit rising from the grave, and followed him through the air. The spirit floated through the air. I stepped as firmly as if I were on the ground, and it seemed to me as if we were ascending a lofty mountain, ever higher and higher, eastward." (Radin, 1936)

Other Native Indian vision quest procedures seem allied with this theme of induced lightness, the choice of sleeping high in trees or on hill-tops, for example. Similarly, in some dramatic procedures, individuals would manipulate the muscles beneath the skin by passing splints and ropes through the flesh and suspending themselves from a high place or the ropes and splints might be used to drag about a sacred object, such as a buffalo skull (Spaulding, 1981).

Four varied classes of ancient incubation ritual have been described in an attempt to illustrate how bodily experience played a central role in both waking and dreaming aspects of dream incubation in ancient times. Although the specific rituals described may not be appropriate for contemporary times (i.e. pain infliction), the underlying principle of bodily effects on dream content may be found to have some utility for bodily-oriented dream-work.

Dreams incubated in contemporary times using a technique modelled on the ancient Asclepian incubation rituals (Reed, 1976) demonstrates the same ‘theme’ of spiritual presence. Incubants using this procedure were often visited by strange presences, and after they awakened, they would be confused as to whether the visitation really happened. One of the most vivid dreams reported in this experiment demonstrates this reality of presence:

“She awoke, startled to find that a strong wind was blowing, and that the tent had blown away. A small, old woman appeared, calling out the incubant's name, and commanded her to awaken and pay attention to what was about to happen. The woman said that she was preparing the incubant's body for death and that the winds were spirits which would pass through her body to check the seven glands. The incubant was at first afraid, then took comfort in the old woman's aura of confidence and authority, and finally yielded her body to the experience, almost pleased with the prospect of death...”

The kinesthetic presence of this image of an old woman became manifest in the dreamer's bodily feelings of wind blowing and in her emotions of comfort, confidence, and authority. These were likely a major reason for the dream's realistic quality (Nielsen, 1991) and for the incubant's ability to finally yield bodily to the experience of death. Moreover, Reed describes several audio-visual and bodily techniques that were used in the incubation procedure to induce such visions. Contemporary dream-workers, inspired by the Asclepian traditions, have attempted to induce vivid healing dreams using a variety of methods and this ‘return’ to the ritualistic roots of this once-sacred technique pays tribute to the rich cross-cultural history of dreaming.

Famous examples of dream incubation
Many approaches to using dreams to promote well-being, enhance creativity, and solve personal problems have been popularised in recent years – particularly following anecdotal evidence of enhanced creativity and invention. Collectively, these ‘applied’ approaches to dream use are referred to as 'dream-working' (Krippner & Dillard, 1988) and appear to be a new force in the helping professions. Some of these (Gendlin, 1986; Mindell, 1982, 1985)  are 'bodily oriented' approaches in the sense that they work with the bodily awareness arising in dreams to promote self-transformation. Dream reflection presumably facilitates personal growth or problem-solving by revealing bodily dimensions (i.e. kinaesthesia, proprioception, emotion) by which problems and concerns remain animated in private experience. Body-oriented dream-work might be enhanced if it is applied together with dream incubation methods which yield dreams rich in bodily themes. A recent laboratory experiment suggests that such dreams are easily induced. We found that when dreamers were given kinesthetic stimulation during REM sleep, their dreams gave prominence to motifs of bodily transformation (Nielsen, 1986). Moreover, the participants reacted to their altered dreams with great excitement, as if further personal change was imminent. It seems worthwhile, then, to explore ancient methods of dream incubation with an eye to uncovering how to induce dreams of bodily change. Indeed the idea of using sleep and dreaming to enhance problem-solving and creative processes has a long legacy within the scientific and creative professions. The French surrealist/symbolist poet, St Paul Roux (1861-1940) and American writer John Steinbeck (1902-1968) both spoke of the creative benefits of what Steinbeck referred to as the ‘committee of sleep’. Deirdre Barrett (Barrett, The ‘Committee of Sleep’: A study of dream incubation for problem-solving, Dreaming 3(2) (1993)) suggests that most accounts of problem-solving during sleep are reported to occur during REM dreams or hypnogogic imagery – supporting the findings of other dream scientists who make a connection between REM sleep and dream incubation. 

Famously, German organic chemist Friedrich August Kekulé von Stadonictz (Kekulé) (1829-1896) reported that his Nobel-prize winning realisation of the structure of the benzene molecule as hexagonal rather than straight came after dreaming of a snake grasping its tail in its mouth (Ramsay and Rocke, 1984). Russian chemist and inventor Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev (1834-1907) described dreaming the periodic table of the elements in its completed form (Kedrov, 1957) and the Nobel-prize winning experiment demonstrating the chemical transmission of nerve impulses (as opposed to electric impulses, which was initially thought to be the relevant process in this particular heart function) to a frog's heart was conceived by German pharmacologist Otto Loewi (1873-1961) in a dream (Dement, 1974). African-American hair-care entrepreneur, Madame CJ Walker (1867-1919 - cited as the first American female self-made millionaire) stated that she ‘dreamed’ of an African man who showed her the ingredients for her revolutionary hair loss remedy during an incident of dream incubation. Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan (1887-1920) was one of India's greatest mathematical geniuses. He claimed that inspiration and insight for his work came to him in his dreams on numerous occasions. A Hindu goddess, Sri Namagiri Lakshmi of Namakkal, Ramanujan's family deity, would appear and present mathematical formulae which he would subsequently verify after waking. Such dreams often repeated themselves and the connection with the dream world as a source for his work was constant throughout his life.

Inventions as varied as American Elias Howe’s (1819-1867) sewing machine needle - with the hole at the pointed end (Kaempffert, 1924) and J. B. Parkinson's computer-controlled anti-aircraft gun (Fagen, 1978) have reportedly been conceived in dreams. William Blake (1757-1827) described being told by his dead brother in a dream about a new way to engrave his illustrated songs which he found worked effectively (Diamond, 1963). Coleridge (1772-1834) states in the preface to Kubla Khan (1895)  that the poem appeared complete in an opium-induced dream, and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) dreamed the two key scenes of his novel,  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1925). Music pieces which were heard by their composers in dreams include Tartini's Devil's Trill (Ellis, 1911), and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. German-American scholar Herman Hilprecht (1859-1925) reported that he dreamed an Assyrian priest came to him and revealed the accurate translation of the stone of Nebuchadnezzar (Van de Castle, 1971). In modern times, Jack Nicklaus credited a crucial improvement in his golf game to dreaming of a new way to grasp his club (Dement, 1974) and further, it is widely reported that best-selling author Stephanie Meyer conceived her hugely successful Twilight sagas whilst dreaming.

Dream psychologists and historians take a variety of stances toward such anecdotes. Wotiz and Rudofsky (1984) have suggested that Kekulé confabulated or lied about the snake image long after publishing his benzene paper to conceal his reliance on earlier chemists' work, although Ramsay and Rocke (1984) have documented that Kekulé described a dream image from his first presentation of the paper; appropriately cited his predecessors; and that much of Wotiz and Rudofsky's argument rested on flawed translations of German documents. Blagrove (1992) asserts that, on principle, none of these anecdotes could be accurate. He argues that dreams, by their very nature, cannot even intend to solve a problem, much less do so: “[as] the place for problem-solving is the waking, social world”. Others not only believe such problem solving occurs spontaneously, but also advocate cultivating it by dream incubation.. (Garfield, 1974; Reed, 1976; Delaney, 1979). Garfield writes: “Once your dream state has provided you with your own poem, or painting, or solution to a problem, you know. Ever after you will be able to seek inspiration and help from your dream state.  Those who do not believe in dreams... have only nonsensical ones”.

The empirical study of dream incubation: a literature review
Several research studies have examined different aspects of problem-solving and dreams. Wile (1934) addressed the incubation issue when he measured how long it took children to self-induce a dream on a desired topic. The average time was 5 weeks; the shortest was two weeks, the longest six months. Wollmering (1978) found that in an even shorter period of time, 38% of young adult subjects could learn to alter the outcomes of their dreams in ways they selected before sleep. 

Cartwright (1974) had subjects try to solve three types of problems: crossword puzzles, word association tests, and story completion. Before giving their answers, they were given either a sleep period that included at least one REM interval or an equivalent amount of waking time. The first two types of problems were judged for correctness, and no differences were found between having sleep-with-REM vs. a waking interval. Story completions were judged for optimistic vs. negative ending; sleep with REM produced more negative endings. However the experiment did not attempt to evaluate the quality of stories.

Dement (1974) gave 500 undergraduate students three ‘brain-teaser’ problems to read over before going to sleep and to note whether they had solutions in their dreams that night. Of 1,148 attempts at solving problems, 87 dreams addressed the problem without finding a solution. Seven students reported dreams which solved the problem and a few others had dreams which seemed to hint at the solution without the waking subject catching the hint. An example of the latter was dreamed in response to the problem: "HIJKLMNO: what one word does this sequence represent?" The subject reported: “I had several dreams all of which had water somewhere..."   and described the water in each dream. However his guess at the solution to the problem was ‘alphabet’ rather than ‘water’ (=H2O). Morton Schatzman (1983a, 1983b, 1984, 1986) has repeated this experimental paradigm, giving brain-teasers to huge numbers of people in England via the mass media. He has received dozens of examples of dreams solving those problems although he has no way of ascertaining the total number of people who may have been trying to incubate the solutions. Like Dement, he has observed some dream examples which seem to contain solutions without the dreamer having realised this.  

Incubation techniques share a common feature  - using methods of focusing attention on a particular problem prior to sleep in the expectation that cognitive or affective dream processes might then be engaged in a way that assists problem resolution. For example, Hill (1996) reviewed research indicating that focusing on dreams is helpful in preparing clients for psychotherapy. Meanwhile, Barrett (2001) presents a wealth of mostly case material from a variety of artistic and scientific fields that suggests dreams might be useful in creative problem-solving.

There has been little research that demonstrates that an incubation technique leads to efficient problem-solving creativity or problem-resolution. Barrett (1993) asked college students to incubate a specific ‘problem of personal relevance with recognisable solution(s)’ using Dement’s incubation method of thinking about the problem for 15 minutes prior to sleep. Subjects recorded their dreams for a week and indicated which ones they thought addressed ‘any aspect of the problem or attempted any solution of it’. Of those recorded dreams, subjects then indicated the ones they ‘believed contained a satisfactory solution’. In addition, two judges also rated the dream reports on both criteria - and achieved substantial agreement  - both with each other and with the subjects’ own ratings. Subjects rated 49% of their dreams as relevant and 34% of them as containing a solution while judges corresponding ratings were 51% and 25% respectively. The judges’ choices of solution-containing dreams were more literal and less metaphorical than the subjects’ choices and Barrett’s method did not allow for assessment of the relationship between the dream solutions and more objective measures of eventual problem outcomes. Saredi et al (1997) also report that for a small sample of subjects in a sleep laboratory study, thinking of a question related to a current problem prior to sleep increased the likelihood that dream content reflected the problem, but that this effect was weakened when dream length was controlled. Cartwright’s (1974) complicated  experimental design (see above) in which subjects were presented with three different types of problems - crossword puzzles; the Remote Associates Test (RAT); and Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) pictures. Subjects slept in a sleep laboratory and a different problem type was chosen for each night. Problem-solving outcome was assessed after either an interval of wake or an interval of sleep and compared to baseline measures of problem-solving outcomes taken prior to sleep. There was no specific incubation technique used, but subjects worked on similar problems for a baseline period before sleep, which is similar to Barrett’s use of Dement’s ‘thinking about’ incubation technique. Results indicated that compared to baseline, subjects produced more successful outcomes for TAT pictures after a period of REM sleep than after a period of wakefulness. There was no effect on puzzle or RAT measures. Cartwright offered several explanations for this finding, including the possibility that for ‘problems of an emotional nature’, dreaming provided “additional associations . . . and possibilities previously unattended making them more available for later conscious consideration" (Cartwright, 1974).

Domhoff (2003)  points out several problems with the problem-solving paradigm of dream function, including the possibility that studies such as those conducted by Barrett and Cartwright (and others, i.e.  Saredi et al, 1997) fail to separate the effects of waking thought (as well as non-dreaming ‘thought’ which can occur during sleep) about the problem from putative dream processes. Blagrove (1993, 1996) suggested that dream cognition does not have reflexive and intentional components necessary for problem-solving. Since waking cognition can affect dream content, correlations between dream content and problem improvement may reflect waking cognition rather than a causal effect of dream processes. Both Domhoff (2003) and Blagrove (1993, 1996) note that waking reflection on the meaning of a dream that yields insight or direction into problem-solving is not evidence that dream processes account for the insight but rather may merely reflect waking cognitive processes. Hence, interpretation of previous dream incubation research is very problematic.

For Barrett’s (1993) experiment, she explored how dream incubation would assist  with solving problems of the subjects’ own choice. Although these lack a definitive criteria for quality of solutions, they have an immense advantage in terms of relevance and motivation. They parallel spontaneous, and especially clinical, uses of problem solving much more closely than ‘brain teasers’. Barrett enlisted 76 college students (47 females, 29 males; aged 19-24 years, modal age  =  21 years) were asked to incubate dreams addressing problems as a homework assignment in a class on dreams. They were instructed to select a problem of personal relevance with recognisable solution(s). It could be of a personal, general objective, or academic nature. They were asked to write out the problem in a simple fashion and to follow the dream incubation instructions of Dement (1974) – a template commonly ‘borrowed’ by other dream incubation researchers. Immediately prior to the first night of dream incubation, the subjects had attended a lecture summarising the literature on problem solving in dreams. This included details of many of the studies outlined in this article and a detailed description of the dream incubation techniques of Dement (1974); Garfield (1974); Reed (1976); Delaney (1979); and Schatzman (1983a). Subjects followed this procedure nightly for one week or until they experienced a dream which they felt solved the problem. They recorded all dreams they recalled during this week and noted which ones they thought: A) were on the topic of the problem, including addressing any aspect of the problem or any attempted solution of it; and B) of these, ones they believed contained a satisfactory solution to the problem. Two raters then judged all dreams in the week's journals on criteria A and B above. Dreams deemed by both judges to address or solve problems were used for analysis. Agreement between judges ranged from 88 to 100%. Agreement of judges with subjects ranged from 75 to 100%. Approximately half of the subjects recalled a dream which they felt was related to the problem. 70% of these believed their dream contained a solution to the problem. The majority of subjects selected problems of a personal nature for dream incubation and virtually all of these were either relationship dilemmas or educational/vocational decisions. These problems of a personal nature were much more likely to be viewed as solved by the dreamer than ones of an academic nature. The two objective problems of a medical nature were so much more clearly addressed in the dreams than any other type of objective problem that they are were analysed as a separate sub-category. Independent judges rated slightly fewer dreams as either addressing or solving the problems than did the subjects, but the trends of their conclusions followed the same patterns as those of the subjects. 

The following personal problem example is representative of those which judges and subjects agreed addressed a problem and presented a solution:

 Problem: I have applied to two clinical psychology programs and two in industrial psychology because I just can't decide which field I want to go into. Dream: A map of the United States. I am in a plane flying over this map. The pilot says we are having engine trouble and need to land and we look for a safe place on the map indicated by a light. I ask about MA which we seem to be over right then and he says all of MA is very dangerous. The lights seem to be further west. I wake up and realise that my two clinical schools are both in MA where I have spent my whole life and where my parents live. Both industrial programs are far away, Texas and CA. That was because originally I was looking to stay close to home and there were no good industrial programs nearby. I realise that there is a lot wrong with staying at home and that, funny as it sounds, getting away is probably more important than which kind of program I go to.

A few dreams were much more literal depictions of problems and their solutions as the following example agreed upon by judges and subjects:  

Problem: I'm accepted at a medical school that is asking that I pay $500 to secure my place by a date before my top three medical schools will have answered. Dream: It was winter and I was getting rejections from everywhere, so I decided I should pay the $500.

The dreams rated by subjects (but not by judges) as addressing and solving problems were usually more metaphoric as in the following examples: 

Problem: I'm trying to decide whether to be on the softball team again this spring. I love it, but practice does take time away from my studies. I could just go to watch the games this year and still see my friends from the team. Dream: I'm camping in an open place in a tent that doesn't come all the way to the ground. People are all around staring at me. I feel very uncomfortable and exposed. Solution: The dream reminded me of the phrase “a watcher rather than a doer” which has very negative connotations for me. I don't think I'd be happy with just going to the games. 

The only two medical problems resulted in dreams viewed as both addressing and solving those problems by judges. The first one was viewed as presenting a solution by the subject also. The second one constituted the only time the judges viewed a dream as presenting a plausible solution while the subject viewed it as only presenting the problem: 

Problem: I've been having major problems with my menstrual cycle and my doctor can't figure out what is wrong. Dream: my doctor told me I was having a reaction from being on a diet and exercising more than I ever have. In the dream, my doctor gave me medicine to correct this and I would be fine if I took this medicine. In waking life, he did ask about diet and I didn't tell him how much I'm dieting; he's never asked about exercise. I guess I should tell him about the diet and exercise, huh?

Problem: Whether I had taken my medicine. I'm supposed to take just one of these pills a day; it's bad if I take more than one or miss one. I couldn't remember this day if I had taken it and I was really worried. Dream: I was drinking water and swallowing pills over and over, it just went on with me drinking and taking pills for a long time. 

The only non-medical objective problem that was judged to be solved was the following: 

Problem: I recently moved from one apartment to a smaller one. Every way I try to arrange my bedroom furniture in the new room looks crowded. I've been trying to decide if there is a better way or if I have to get rid of something. Dream: I come home and all the boxes are unpacked and the pictures hung. Everything looks real nice. The little chest of drawers is in the living room up against a wall like a sideboard and it blends right in there. I'm puzzled because I didn't remember doing this. I can't figure out if I moved the chest and unpacked or if someone else has, but I like it. Awake: The chest actually fit there real well when I tried it, so I left it there. 

Subjects in Barrett’s (1993) study were unusually interested in dreams and had been exposed to some problem-solving success stories. Obviously they are unrepresentative of the general population and therefore one would not expect Barrett’s study to typify what happens by way of spontaneous problem-solving in dreams. However, these subjects' characteristics and preparation make them highly comparable to clients of therapists who use these techniques and to readership of self-help books which advocate such techniques. The results of the Barrett’s study would lead one to expect that about half of such therapy clients or self-help practitioners would experience themselves as influencing their dream content toward a specified problem and about a third of them would report a solution appearing in a dream. Barrett’s findings are indeed very similar to the conclusions drawn by scholars in earlier studies (Wile, 1934; Wollmering, 1978). 

The types of problems viewed as solved in the Barrett’s (1993) study are consistent with dream anecdotes which feature personal problems much more so than academic ones. Personal problems are the ones to which most psychotherapists apply dream incubation techniques (Garfield, 1974; Reed, 1976; Delaney, 1979.) Another category which looks strong in Barrett’s study, but is far too limited to generalise from is that of medical problems. Again there are many anecdotes about such problems (Garfield, 1991) and some preliminary research to suggest the body can sense (Smith, 1990), and even present solutions (Kasatkin, 1967) to health problems.

Although Barrett’s (1993) study was not set up to rigorously evaluate the quality of the solutions, many of them appear to be ones of which the dreamers were not already consciously aware. The solutions seem to be in line with the subjects' waking abilities. The dreams help when dreamers are stuck in their waking decisions but do not represent dramatically different intellectual faculties. This is consistent with the anecdotal literature. Dream novelty is optimal in open-ended problems, without known solutions, such as the furniture arranging example quoted above. Problems framed as a dichotomous choice between two already conceived solutions obviously have a better chance of the dream ‘offering’ a solution but less likelihood of novelty. However, some dreams on dichotomous problems did offer novel solutions as in the example of choosing between two types of graduate programs being reframed into the issue of their locations vis-a-vis separation from family and home. Other dichotomous problems were answered with dreams that favoured one choice over another. Some of these afforded their dreamers a sense of resolution. Here the ‘solution’ aspect lay in emotional release from one side of their ambivalence rather than from novelty. There are potential dangers in automatically taking a dream as the ‘right answer’ in making decisions. Class lectures and reading had emphasised dream solutions only as material to examine from a waking perspective - however, Barrett’s (1993) experiment occurred at a religious college and several of the responses indicated a firm conviction that dreams came from God and that therefore, a dreamed solution should definitely be followed. That dreams on dichotomous problems could occur arbitrarily on either side of the ambivalence was illustrated best by the following example: 

Problem: My boyfriend plans to join the army full-time after graduation (he's in the reserves right now). He has asked me to marry him and wants me to go with him wherever he is assigned. I don't know if I want to be an army wife. I am very scared and confused about what to do. Dreams: The first night I was incubating this problem. I dreamed we were with his mother and her seven foster children. We were happy and holding hands. The second night I incubated it, I dreamed we were at the country club where I work having our wedding reception. Everyone was laughing and dancing, just having a good time. He had a tux on and I had a wedding gown on and I was very much in love with him. I thought that was a solution. Several nights later after I had stopped incubating the problem, I dreamed we were about to get married and I was begging the people that were with me not to make me do it. I kept saying “Please don't make me do it! I don't want to marry him! PLEASE!” I remember feeling very frightened and very alone. I felt like if I married him my life would end. 

Although we have thus far been referring to dreams as ‘solving problems’,  one of the more interesting qualities of these dreams is that they appear more to be presenting to the dream ego a solution which has been arrived at by the start of the dream. One does not see the problem being struggled with except in a few of the examples judged to be addressing but not solving the problem. Sometimes the dream ego gets the point late in the dreams as in the example of the clinical vs. industrial graduate school map; however some other agency in the dream (in this case the pilot) seems to have prepared the solution in advance. In the furniture arranging example, the dream ego arrives home to find the solution that has already happened. This is consistent with previous examples cited by Dement (1972) and Schatzman (1983a, 1983b, 1984, 1986). Some of their longer examples of objective logical solutions being presented begin with subtle hints building toward more obvious ones until the dream ego ‘gets it’. Barrett (1993) concludes that perhaps the “committee of sleep” may have workers outside of REM and the ‘spokesperson’ role of the dream may be more than a metaphor. Even more likely, given what is known about cortical activation, the problem may get solved by some part of the waking mind and communicated to consciousness only in the dream state. In summary, Barrett argues that there remain many questions about the mechanism of problem solving in dreams and about the quality of these solutions compared with waking ones. It is clear, however, that dream-interested persons incubating problems can often dream what they feel to be solutions of which they are not consciously aware and that such dreams can provide them considerable personal satisfaction. 

In Brian Winkler’s doctoral study, Dream incubation: An experimental inquiry into the practice of petitioning dreams for guidance, healing, and problem solving (Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, 1990) subjects attended four weekly meetings. For the first two weeks they learned and practiced one dream interpretation method involving dialoguing with a dream symbol. They also learned how to apply dream insights to daily life. By the second week, about half the subjects had dreams that related to their focus problem, but less than one-fifth had taken steps to actually resolve their impasse based on a dream or had awakened with a sense of resolution. For the second two-week period, subjects practiced a specific dream incubation routine. Each person created a personal mantra that phrased the essence of the focus problem. After writing in a journal at bedtime about the desire to resolve the problem, the subject repeated the personal mantra while sitting up in bed, then continued to repeat it while falling asleep. The subjects were to perform this incubation procedure for the first three nights of the week, rest for two, then use it again for two more nights. On the fourth week of the study, the subjects met to assess the effect of the dream incubation procedure on problem resolution. After two weeks of dream incubation, close to three-fourths of the participants had recalled a relevant dream and almost one-half had made efforts based on a dream to resolve their focus problem. This result was significantly higher than that observed during the initial two weeks of the study prior to engaging in dream incubation. At the conclusion of the four-week, problem-solving period, Winkler individually interviewed the subjects and assigned them to three categories. One-third had resolved or partially resolved their impasse. One-third had received dreams that shed light on their impasse, but had achieved no resolution. Another third had made no progress. Certain findings gave clues about why some subjects were successful at dream incubation while others were not. Successful dream incubators were working on internal problems, while all those who made no progress were working on vocational issues. These also focused their problem-solving efforts toward the external world, while the successful dream incubators focused their efforts on in­sights or self-change. The successful dream incubators had more dreams that were related to their focus problem and reported more problem-solving efforts than did those who were not successful. Winkler noted that there were several instances of dreams that contained messages from the subject’s higher self. The beneficial effect of fo­cusing the problem-solving ability of dreams by attending to dream incubation procedures clearly was worth the effort for those whose personal attempts showed they were ready to move past their point of impasse. 

Dutch Jungian dream analyst, Robert Bosnak developed a model based on dream incubation theory, which is known as ‘Embodied Imagination’ – a creative and therapeutic method of working with dreams. The technique was influenced, not only by the work of Carl Jung, but also American archetypal psychologist James Hillman (1926-2011) who argued that the ‘soul’ was comprised of a simultaneous multiplicity of autonomous states.

The technique of embodied imagination takes dreaming as the paradigm for all work with images. While dreaming, everyone experiences dreams as embodied events in time and space – i.e. the dreamer is convinced that he or she is experiencing a real event in a real environment. Bosnak describes how a dream “instantaneously presents a total world, so real that you are convinced you are awake”. So from the perspective of dreaming, the image is a place, or an environment, in which we find ourselves. Based on this notion, the dreamer can re-enter the landscape of the dream and flash back into its images to more fully and deeply explore and experience them. The dreamer explores the images of the dream while in a hypnagogic state - a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. While in this state, the dreamer is asked a series of questions that help him or her to re-experience the dream by describing details of its landscape and image. Once fully immersed in the images that the dream environment presents, the dreamer is then also invited to feel and identify the feelings and sensations manifested in the body from a variety of dream perspectives. Perspectives explored are both that of the dream ego as well any “others” that appear in the dream. These ‘others’ may be, for example, another person, an animal, or a physical object. Approaching dream figures in this way is consistent with Hillman’s prescription for therapeutic work in regard to the phenomena of psychic multiplicity. Drawing upon Jung’s realisation that “the ego complex is not the only complex in the psyche”, Hillman described the psyche to be not a singular unified whole defined by the ego point of view, but rather a self-organising multiplicity of autonomous selves. In the technique of embodied imagination, for each of these ‘selves’ or ‘states’ representing various perspectives, the dreamer then feels, identifies, and locates the feelings/sensations in his or her body. At the conclusion of the dream-work session, the dreamer simultaneously holds in conscious awareness these differentiated and complex states of embodied feeling and sensation. The act of holding these multiple disparate states at the same time creates a psychical tension from which a completely new image or feeling state spontaneously emerges from the dreamer's psyche. This new image or state presents a completely new and previously unknown awareness to the dreamer, one through which the dreamer often feels changed, transformed or greatly expanded in the ability to embody and feel intensely. Ariel’s transformation is typical of those who practice this method of working with dreams. Using the technique of embodied imagination in dream-work, the body becomes the theatre for a vivid complexity of states, which leads along ‘alchemical’ lines to profound psychical transformation. Bosnak’s technique of embodied imagination has simple rules and an emphasis on group work, leading to many practical applications. It is used in both therapeutic treatment and in the creative industries – for example as a rehearsal method for actors. 

The experimental work of Gregory L. White and Laurel Taytroe (see White & Taytroe, Personal problem-solving using dream incubation: Dreaming, relaxation or waking cognition? Dreaming 13(4) (December 2003) empirically tests the dream incubation theory. I have written up their experiments and results in detail as their research is some of the more contemporary discourse in this field of dream psychology.

In Experiment 1 – 96 frequent dreamers were randomly assigned to ‘control’ or ‘experimental’ conditions. All subjects rated waking and dream moods over a period of 10 days and recorded their most vivid dream for each night. On the 1st and 10th day the subjects rated the levels of stress and solvability of up to 8 specific personal problems. After 10 days they also rated degree of  improvement and problem-solving effort for each nominated problem. All ‘experimental’ subjects also cognitively reviewed one particular focal problem each day; and further, were also randomly assigned to either a ‘dream incubation technique’ (Delaney, 1996) either just before sleep or immediately upon waking; or to use a simple relaxation technique (before sleep or upon waking). Night dream incubation subjects were particularly likely to report reduced problem distress; greater problem solvability; and improvement in their focal problem. Compared to control subjects, the night dream incubation subjects had a significant decrease in anxiety/depressed moods over the 10 days. The main impetus for Experiment 1 was to provide a more substantial test of the hypothesis that dream incubation might lead to better problem outcomes. In order to produce a better test than previous literature it would be important to take into account waking cognitive activity; possible expectancy effects; and the relaxation component of dream incubation methods. 

In Experiment 2 – subjects predicted how they would have been affected by either the night of morning dream incubation instructions used in Experiment 1. The results did not support expectancy interpretation of Experiment 1.

In Experiment 1, all experimental subjects followed a structured cognitive problem-solving procedure while control subjects did not do so. Hence,  comparisons among experimental conditions were expected to show the effects of incubation instructions beyond the effects of waking attention; and further, comparisons of incubation vs. non-incubation conditions to controls could similarly show effects of incubation plus waking cognition relative to controls. As another means of assessing the effect of dream processes vs. waking cognition, in Experiment 1 some subjects were randomly assigned to practice an incubation technique just prior to sleep while others were assigned to practice the technique just after wakening. It was expected that if dream processes are actually involved, then at a minimum, the night dream incubation subjects should show improved problem outcomes relative to morning dream incubation subjects. There is some previous research that suggests, however, that morning dream incubation techniques could improve problem-solving, but these techniques clearly do not induce dreams during the day (Houtz & Frankel, 1992).

Another problem is that a dream incubation technique may induce relaxation. There is substantial evidence that relaxation training can improve psychotherapy outcomes and personal problem-solving (Lehrer & Woolfolk, 1993; Lehrer, Carr, Sagunaraj & Woolfolk, 1993). It is possible that dream incubation techniques might be effective if they produce greater relaxation (thus, decreasing anxiety; stress-levels; or negative moods), regardless of their impact on dream content or process. In order to rule out this possible interpretation of incubation effects, in Experiment 1 some subjects were randomly assigned to a dream incubation technique while others were assigned to a relaxation technique.

It is also possible that subject’s expectations about the usefulness of dreams in problem-solving may lead to improved problem-solving independently from any dream process. Positive expectations might decrease anxiety about the problem because of greater hope - and perhaps like a relaxation component - decreased anxiety could lead to improved problem-solving either through attentional or reflexive cognitive processes (Blagrove, 1996; Olson, Roese, & Zanna, 1996; Snyder, Michael & Cheavens, 1999). Experiment 2 was conducted to provide evidence about the likelihood that such expectancy effects could account for the results of Experiment 1.

Finally, several theorists within the problem-solving paradigm have noted that dream processes may be most likely engaged to solve emotionally relevant problems as opposed to abstract puzzles used in some research designs (Barrett, 1993; Cartwright 1996; Dement, 1999; Domhoff, 2003; Hartmann, 1998; Revonsuo, 2000; Schatzman, 1984). Accordingly, it may be expected that dream incubation techniques are more likely to produce improved problem-solving for emotionally relevant problems. Further, if dreams function to solve problems, then problems that seem insoluble may not successfully engage dream resolution and incubation of such problems might lead to waking or dream distress (cf. Hartmann’s discussion of post-traumatic dreams and nightmares - Hartmann, 1998). Experiment 1 used a procedure by which participants nominated a specific current problem that they believed was potentially solvable by their own efforts within the time frame of the study.

Based on the above considerations, White & Taytroe hypothesised that if dream incubation engages dream processes that might lead to better problem-solving, subjects who practiced a dream incubation technique just prior to sleep should report improvement in the problem that is the focus of the dream incubation; should be less distressed about the problem; and should report the problem as more solvable compared to subjects who merely relaxed; subjects who practiced the incubation technique in the morning; and to controls who were not actively focused on problem-solving. Further, this night dream incubation effect should improve problem outcomes beyond any effects of waking cognition directed towards problem resolution.

One hundred frequent dreamers were recruited by White & Taytroe in order to increase the number of recalled dreams available for analysis. All subjects were randomly assigned. Previous research has generally indicated that dream frequency is not strongly related to personality traits, especially when gender effects are partialled out (Blagrove & Akehurst, 2000; Domhoff, 2003; Schredl & Montasser, 1996; Strauch & Meier,1992; Wolcott & Strapp, 2002). Data from four subjects were discarded due to failure to follow directions, leaving 96 participants, 19 males and 77 females. Each subject was given instructions including pre and post participation Problem Surveys. Between these two surveys were 10 identical sections, one for each day of participation. Each section had a daily rating of moods;  a cognitive review form and instructions; experimental instructions for the condition the subject had been assigned to; a dream record; and finally, a dream moods measure. However, participants in the Control condition did not receive cognitive review forms, instructions or experimental instructions. The pre and post participation surveys required subjects to record problems which caused them moderate distress; and were potentially solvable with some effort or deliberation by the subject. Eight categories of potential problems were listed -  Interpersonal Problems (not of a sexual nature); Academic Performance; Financial Difficulties; Problem with Parents; Problem with Health; Problem with Academic Direction; Problem with Physical Appearance; and Moral Dilemma, with two examples provided for each category. Subjects recorded specific problems, then rated on 7-pt. scales the extent to which the problem was ‘probably unsolvable’ to ‘probably solvable’ and ‘mildly distressing’ to ‘very distressing’. The post-participation survey asked subjects to again record the specific problem in each category as they had originally indicated on the pre-participation survey, and then  rate problem solvability and distress based on their ‘current feelings and opinion’, which may or may not be different from that indicated by the subject in the earlier survey. In addition, on the post-participation survey each problem was rated on the extent to which the problem had become ‘much worse’ to ‘much better’ using a 12-pt. scale. Subjects also rated their effort in problem-solving over the participation period, using a 7-pt. scale with endpoints labelled ‘little effort’ to ‘great effort’.

Daytime moods were assessed using the Profile of Mood States (POMS) test (McNair, Lorr & Droppleman, 1992) - a 65-item questionnaire widely used in research, including dream research (i.e. Cartwright et al. 1998) to measure mood. Items are summed to yield six emotion factor scores of Anxiety; Depression; Anger; Vigour; Fatigue; and Confusion. Subjects were instructed to rate their feelings and complete the POMS test each night. 

Domhoff’s (1999) template for dream recording was used in this experiment. Subjects were directed to record their most memorable and vivid dream if they recalled more than one dream on any particular morning. They were also instructed to record their dreams immediately upon waking. If they recorded a dream on a particular day, participants were instructed to rate how they felt during the dream using the 65 items of the POMS. Dream frequency is the number of dreams the participant recorded over the 10 days of the study and hence could range from 0 to 10 dreams. Unfortunately, these dream records have not been content analysed by White & Taytroe due to lack of resources to transcribe and analyse them. 

Control subjects were not instructed in any way to review their problems. Subjects in the four experimental conditions were presented with 10 identical cognitive review forms that were labelled ‘data sheet’. For each day of participation, subjects were asked to take 5-10 minutes to consider the questions; record their specific personal focus problem and to briefly review their activities of the previous day. They were instructed to think about the focus problem and then answer questions. These questions were modifications of a process suggested by Delaney (1996) prior to use of her specific dream incubation technique and also correspond to typical cognitive problem-solving activities that Blagrove (1992, 1996) has suggested may account for dream incubation effects. 

Subjects were instructed individually or in groups of 2 or 3 if they were assigned to the same condition. Anonymity was achieved by using codes, rather than names, on all questionnaires. The researchers did not discuss the purposes of the study, but did provide a means for participants to find out the purposes of the study after their participation was over. Specifically, they did not tell participants that the study was concerned with the effect of dream incubation techniques on the content or frequency of dreams. The researchers then reviewed each section of the research paperwork and subjects were required to complete the pre-participation Problems Survey.

Subjects then chose one of the specific problems they had identified to be the ‘focus problem’. The only restriction was that the problem they chose had to be ‘moderately solvable’ and ‘moderately distressing’. This restriction was done to minimise ceiling and floor effects and to produce a focus problem with some possibility of improvement over the period of the study. 47 experimental subjects (62.8%) chose an interpersonal problem as their nominated problem of focus; 19 (24.4%) nominated an academic problem, while the remaining 12 (12.8%) subjects chose a financial, health, academic direction or physical appearance problem. No subject chose a parental problem or a moral dilemma as a focus problem. There were no differences among experimental conditions in likelihood of nomination of an interpersonal or academic problem. 

Control subjects did not choose a focus problem. However, for purposes of data analysis, it was necessary to contrast night-incubation (NI) and control conditions on measures concerning focus problem distress, solvability, improvement and effort. To make these comparisons it is desirable that the NI subjects’ focus problems were the same problems as those being rated by the control subjects. Two methods, yoked and averaging, were used to conduct these contrasts and both yielded essentially similar results. For the yoked method, it was noted that for the 22 subjects in the NI condition, 13 chose an interpersonal problem and 5 chose an academic problem. The 18 control subjects were then yoked to the NI subjects by randomly choosing 13 interpersonal problems and 5 academic problems of the control subjects as the ‘focal’ comparison problem (though control subjects had not nominated a focus problem), with the constraint that the control subject had in fact listed a specific interpersonal or academic problem on their initial Problem Survey. This yoked method was repeated three times and each time the statistical results revealed the same patterns of significance. For the averaging method, the mean of all specific problems listed by each control subjects was used as the focal comparison problem for contrasts between NI and control conditions. For 10 days over a period of 12 days all control and experimental subjects rated their daily moods, recorded their most vivid dream and rated their dream moods after recording any dream. Subjects in the experimental conditions were instructed to do a cognitive review of their focus problem after recording their daily moods. At the end of their participation period they completed the final Problems Survey. Subjects assigned to the four experimental conditions were instructed to use the dream incubation technique just prior to sleep (Night Incubation—NI); to use the incubation technique soon after waking up (Day Incubation—DI); to use the relaxation technique just prior to sleep (Night Relaxation—NR); or to use the relaxation technique soon after waking (Day Relaxation—DR). The subjects assigned to the two Day conditions still conducted their cognitive problem reviews in the evening before going to sleep. For all 10 days of participation, subjects assigned to the experimental groups were explicitly reminded of their experimental instructions immediately after each daily cognitive review.

Delaney (1996) reported in detail the method of dream incubation she has used in therapeutic settings for many years. While there are no experimental studies validating this specific technique, it was chosen as the incubation technique since it is relatively well known; has been used in counselling settings; and was relatively easy to translate into an experimental research paradigm. Subjects assigned to the incubation condition were directed to follow instructions modified from Delaney (1996) either ‘15 minutes before going to sleep’ (NI) or ‘15 minutes after waking up’(DI). Subjects assigned to the relaxation condition were directed to follow instructions similar to those used in research on meditation and relaxation (Lehrer & Woolfolk, 1993) either ‘15 minutes before going to sleep’ (NR) or ‘15 minutes after waking up’ (DR).

There were no differences in reported dream frequency among the five experimental conditions – i..e control; NI; DI; NR: and DR. Overall, subjects reported a mean 5.92 dreams over the 10 day period of the study. The actual number of recalled dreams was probably larger as subjects were instructed to record only the most memorable and vivid dream each morning. As aforementioned, a content analysis was performed on the dream records due to lack of resources. Previous research indicates that occasionally a problem-solver may have a dream which is manifestly related to a problem solution, or which has been interpreted by the dreamer as related to a problem (Barrett, 2001; Delaney, 1996; Hill, 1996; Van de Castle, 1994). A non-blind review was conducted of the reported dreams for explicit, specific commentary in the dream record that the dream was either about the focus problem or had provided a specific solution to the focus problem – cf. Barrett (1993), where subjects were not explicitly asked to indicate if their dreams were related to their focus problem. There were few such spontaneous comments in the dream records and they were equally likely to be reported in all of the experimental conditions. 

Gender differences were assessed for all variables by independent ‘t’ tests. The number of significant tests was less than 5%, or chance levels, of all tests. Since males were only 19.8% of the sample, tests for interactions of gender with experimental variables lack in power and were therefore not explored further by White & Taytroe within the remit of this particular research. 

The researchers then analysed correlation among problem solvability; distress; effort; and improvement measures. As might be expected, pre and post solvability and pre and post distress scores were correlated. Pre solvability and distress were not correlated with improvement ratings, while post solvability and distress were correlated with improvement in expected directions. Effort was significantly correlated both with post solvability and improvement. No other correlations among problem measures reached significance. There were no significant correlations between reported dream frequency and ratings of distress, solvability, effort or improvement. Dream frequency was positively correlated with dream anxiety, dream depression, dream anger, dream vigour and dream fatigue. Frequency was negatively correlated with day fatigue, but was uncorrelated with any other daytime mood. The analysis yielded two significant effects for pre/post and incubation/relaxation. Problems were judged as more solvable at the end of the experimental period rather than at the beginning and solvability in the incubation condition was rated higher than in the relaxation condition. These are qualified by the expected interaction of incubation/relaxation, day/night, and pre/post. Analysis by White & Taytroe suggests that solvability increased the most in the night/incubation condition compared to the other three conditions (mean increases of 1.09 for NI vs. .024 for NR, .06 for DI, and .43 for DR). Planned contrasts indicated that post solvability was greater in the NI condition compared to the other three experimental conditions. Planned comparisons between NI and yoked control conditions indicated no difference in pre solvability, while yielding a significant difference in post solvability. Analyses yielded a main effect of pre/post, with less distress reported at the end of the study. There were also significant interactions of incubation/relaxation with pre/post and with day/night. These two-way interactions are qualified by the expected significant interaction of pre/post, incubation/relaxation, and day/night. Examination of the data suggests that distress decreased the most in the night/incubation condition compared to the other three conditions (mean decreases of 1.93 for NI vs. .11 for NR, .25 for DI, and -.13 for DR). Planned contrasts indicated that post distress was less in the NI condition compared to the other three experimental conditions. Planned comparisons between NI and yoked Control conditions indicated no difference in pre distress, while yielding a significant difference in post distress. More improvement was reported in the incubation than the relaxation conditions. There was a near significant effect of day/night, with more improvement reported in the night than the day condition . Again, these are qualified by the expected interaction of day/night and incubation/relaxation. Planned contrasts indicated that improvement was greater in the NI condition compared to the other three experimental conditions.  Improvement was also greater for the NI condition than for the Control condition. There were no significant effects found in the ANOVA. However, the interaction of day/night and incubation/relaxation was near significant). Post-hoc range and multiple comparison tests indicated no significant differences among means for the four experimental conditions. Effort was no greater for the NI condition than for the control condition.

Comparisons were drawn between data relating to NI subjects and control condition subjects on mood measures. Because the analyses of the problem measures supported the predictions of the efficacy of the NI condition vs. all other conditions; and because significant interactions with no consistent patterns were found for mood data for the experimental conditions, mood analyses were conducted by White & Taytroe, simply comparing the NI and control conditions. Each of the six POMS mood measures (Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Vigour, Fatigue and Confusion) was submitted to a ANOVA test (analysis of variance between groups) crossing NI/control groups with ‘time’ ( in the case of this experiment, 10 days). Analyses were conducted separately for day moods and dream moods. Both day and dream anxiety decreased over time. A main effect of time was found for day anxiety, and the linear trend for this effect was significant. There was a near significant effect of time for dream anxiety, and the linear trend for this effect was significant. However, NI/control interacted with time for day anxiety. There was no effect of time on control day anxiety, while the effect of time on NI day anxiety was significant and linear. NI/control and time did not interact to affect dream anxiety scores. Day and dream anxiety were positively correlated. There was a trend for the effect of time on day depression  and this trend had a linear component. The interaction of time and NI/control was not significant. However, the effect of time on NI day depression also showed a trend and this trend also had a significant linear component  while for control day depression there was no significant effect of time or of any trend. There were no effects on dream depression. Day and dream depressed mood were also correlated. There was no effect of time, NI/control, or their interaction on either day or dream anger. Day vigour was higher in the NI condition than the control condition. Dream vigour and was nearly significantly higher in the NI condition as well. There were no trends, linear or otherwise, associated with these effects. Day fatigue decreased over time and this decrease was linear. There were no other effects on either day or dream fatigue. Both day confusion and dream confusion decreased over time Both trends are linear. There were no other effects on either day or dream confusion.

White & Taytroe argue that their results support the contention that dream incubation techniques can lead to reported improvements in personal problems and moods. Relative to other experimental conditions and to controls, subjects in the NI condition reported that their focus problem had become more solvable; that it had improved; and that they were less distressed by it. Further, the NI condition produced a linear decrease in anxious and depressed moods over a 10-day period of nightly use of the incubation technique, relative to the control condition. The results are particularly useful in that some possible confounding factors were controlled or limited by White & Taytroe’s experimental design. Since all experimental subjects engaged in the same cognitive review of their focus problem, the observed interaction effects cannot be explained by differential engagement of waking cognitive problem-solving in different conditions (Blagrove, 1996; Domhoff, 2003). The failure of relaxation instructions to produce problem improvement weakens the argument that the incubation technique merely produced greater relaxation thereby reducing unpleasant moods that could otherwise impair problem resolution. The pattern of results supports the contention that it is something about the dream process itself than can lead to problem improvement. One alternative explanation for these results is that subjects in the NI condition may have expended greater effort to solve the problem independent of dream process, and that the greater effort could account for reported problem improvement. However, although effort was correlated with post-participation solvability and improvement scores, there were no differences among experimental conditions in reported effort to improve the focus problem and also no difference between NI and control conditions in effort ratings. Likewise, the NI effect cannot be explained by variables related to dream frequency, as there were no differences among experimental and control conditions in dream frequency. Another alternative explanation for the results is that subjects’ belief in dream problem-solving efficacy reduced anxiety that was interfering with solving the focus problem, leading to improvement. The NI condition may be the condition in which belief in dream efficacy was most likely activated as it is most consistent with a belief that dreams can solve problems. Even though subjects were not told anything about the purposes of the study, if they believed that a dream incubation technique followed by sleep would be helpful in solving problems, then their mood might improve regardless of any mediating role of dream process. Experiment 2 was conducted to assess the possibility that expectancy effects could have produced the pattern of data reported in Experiment 1.

A sample of 30 student subjects volunteered for an experiment open only to ‘frequent’ dreamers; this was the same recruitment announcement as used for Experiment 1. Subjects reviewed the instructions given to all participants in Experiment 1, including those for collection of data over 10 days, the exact instructions for cognitive review, personal problem rating and selection, and instructions for the dream incubation technique. Half of the subjects were randomly assigned to review the instructions for the NI condition and the other half reviewed the DI condition instructions. All subjects were then asked carefully read the instructions and to imagine that they were an actual subject in the study they reviewed.

Subjects were asked to respond to a number of questions concerning their expectations of how they would have reacted if they had been a subject in Experiment 1. Solvability, distress and effort questions used the same rating scales as in Experiment 1.

Univariate ANOVA tests on each dependent variable yielded two effects of Day/Night among the six possible effects. Compared to subjects who read the NI instructions, those who read the DI instructions indicated that they expected the dream incubation technique to be more likely to make the problem better over the course of 10 days compared to the level of the problem at the start of the experiment and that they would expect to put in more effort. There were no differences between the NI and DI instructions on imagined solvability, imagined level of distress at the end of 10 days or the degree to which the incubation technique would be personally helpful or helpful to people in general in problem-solving. The two significant differences were contrary to predictions that the NI condition would have created unique expectancies of positive outcomes. The failure to find any other significant effects also weakens the expectancy prediction. This data therefore does not support an alternative explanation that the NI instructions capitalised on an expectancy that night-time dream incubation would be particularly effective in helping solve personal problems. 

The dream incubation technique used in White & Tayroe’s study required subjects to think of a focus problem related to a personal problem; to repeat that problem question over and over while maintaining attention to the ‘question’; and then to fall asleep. Conceivably either thinking of a focus question, its repetition with full attention - or both - could account for the observed effects. However, since the cognitive review was identical for all experimental conditions, and since thinking of a focus question was not a time-consuming or elaborate cognitive activity relative to the cognitive review, it seems more likely that attentive repetition or an interaction of repetition and review might account for the results.

If dream process rather than waking cognition produced the reported problem improvements in the current study, what specific mechanisms might account for the effect? One possibility is that attentive repetition might increase the production of counterfactuals in dream content. Counterfactual thinking involves reconstructions of past events in terms of alternative actions or conditions that could lead to different outcomes. Different types of counterfactuals have been shown to either improve mood or to improve performance (Roese, 1994, 1997). Work on counterfactual thinking has been integrated with more general models of cognitive reflection and evaluation that are central to problem solving (i.e. Markman & McMullen, 2003). McNamara has suggested, and provided evidence, that dream content may also contain counterfactuals (McNamara, 2000; McNamara et al. 2002) which may serve as simulations of problem resolution. This model is similar to Revonsuo’s (2000) functional theory of dream cognition as preparation for coping with threat - except McNamara does not necessarily invoke an evolutionary basis for dream counterfactual thinking. It may be possible that dream counterfactuals, (possibly operating through metaphoric rather than literal rehearsal), independently contribute to either mood improvement or improved problem solving. Perhaps the nature of the dream incubation question could influence whether dream counterfactuals affect mood or performance (Roese, 1994). Posing a question in and of itself implies alternative endings or conditions, and the attentive repetition of a question may trigger dream counterfactual thinking which persists through the night. Future research should address how dream incubation techniques might affect the quantity and quality of dream counterfactuals.

It is possible that the specific moods affected by night dream incubation would depend on the nature of the focus problem. It is reasonable to assume that for student subjects in this sample, interpersonal and academic problems (by far the most likely focus problems chosen) might have produced anxious and depressed daytime moods. However, the differential efficacy of incubation on specific mood states has not been researched. Unlike previous research, White & Taytroe found that dream frequency was unrelated to daytime level of anxious, depressed, or angry moods or daytime vigour and confusion. Fewer dreams were recalled if daytime fatigue was high. It might be that the lack of correlation between day mood and dream frequency in White & Taytroe’s study is related to the use of a non-clinical sample while others have usually used clinical samples (Cartwright et al. 1998; Hartmann, 1998; Strauch & Meier, 1992; Zadra O’Brien & Donderi, 1998). However, dream frequency was positively correlated with mood self-ratings of dream anxiety, dream depression, dream anger, dream vigour, and dream fatigue. Since there was no difference among conditions in dream frequency, dream frequency in itself cannot account for the effectiveness of night dream incubation. However, the correlations suggest that the intensity of emotional processing in dreams is related to the frequency with which dreams are recalled.  It would be desirable in future research to replicate the effect of dream incubation techniques on more objective measures of problem-solving processes or problem outcomes. Such measures would be more useful if they took into account the idiosyncratic nature of subjects’ specific focus problems. In the realm of clinical assessment, it has proven easier to devise objective measures of improvement in mood or cognition than for improvement in specific problem features presented by clients (Haynes, Nelson & Blaine, 1999). Further, White & Taytroe’s study does not address whether the dream incubation technique would be effective without use of a waking cognitive review. Delaney (1996) employs a cognitive review prior to use of the attentive repetition of a focus question method used in this study. In clinical situations it would be unusual if there were not some degree of cognitive review prior to the use of any incubation technique. Comparison of night incubation vs. control conditions does not resolve this problem since in this study such comparisons confound incubation technique and cognitive review.

Please see my post outlining simple instructions for the dream incubation technique.

No comments:

Post a Comment