Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Lucid dreaming & cognitive performance

A recent study by Patrick Bourke and Hannah Shaw of the Psychology Department at the University of Lincoln, entitled 'Lucid Dreaming and Insight' (2014),  and published in the Dreaming journal, has found that those who lucid dream (i.e. those who are consciously aware that they are dreaming) are significantly better at cognitive problem-solving in their waking lives. The research suggests that the insight experienced during the lucid dreaming state may relate to the underlying cognition required in the waking state.

The researchers divided a sample of 68 undergraduate students (aged 18 - 25 years) into three groups based on their self-reported frequency of lucid dreaming - never, occasionally and at least once a month. The participants were then asked to perform compound remote association tasks in which they were shown three apparently unrelated words and then asked to find the word with linked them together. These puzzles show the insight of the participant because they require thinking 'outside the box' and breaking free of certain perceptions which may hinder them from finding the solution. The study found that those who frequently experience lucid dreaming were 25% better at solving the cognitive tasks than those who did not become lucid during their dreams. Although it is not clear why some people are more prone to lucid dreaming that others, the phenomenon is more common in children and young persons. Although lucid dreaming is often spontaneous, it can be induced by the dreamer - or in experimental settings. 

Dr Allan Hobson, a psychiatrist and sleep researcher at Harvard University found that he and his colleagues were able to induce lucidity in dreamers by zapping their brains with 40 Hertz of electrical current for 30 seconds, moments after the participant entered a dream state - with a 77% success rate in inexperienced lucid dreamers. Electrodes were placed on the scalps of 27 participants, with the electrical current stimulating their frontal cortex to produce gamma brain waves. The results of the electrical stimulation were observed by using EEG to monitor brain function. Lower levels of gamma activity were observed when 25 Herz of stimulation were applied, and other frequencies produced no effect on gamma activity or lucid dreaming. The study, Voss et al, 'Induction of self-awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity' (2014) Nature Neuroscience 17, 810 - 812, suggests that consciousness is a brain function and gamma brain waves are related to synchronisation of brain activity and an important component of consciousness. and may even be responsible for consciousness. This is an important step in understanding the complex relationship between the brain and mind, an issue which has been debated by philosophers and scientists for centuries and as yet, remains unsolved.

Previous research findings claim that persons possessing certain cognitive abilities may be predisposed to lucid dreaming and there is evidence that lucid dreamers may be better at performing in psychological tests which simulate real-life decision-making.

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