People who realise they are in a dream while they are dreaming — a lucid dream — have better problem-solving abilities, new research finds.
This may be because the ability to step outside a dream after noticing it doesn’t make sense reflects a higher level of insight.
Around 82% of people are thought to have experienced a lucid dream in their life, while the number experiencing a lucid dream at least once a month may be as high as 37%.
Flash of insight
The study, published in the journal Dreaming, recruited participants into three groups (Bourke & Shaw, 2014):
- Frequent lucid dreamers: those who experienced a lucid dream more than once a month.
- Occasional lucid dreamers: those who had had a lucid dream at least once in their lives.
- Non-lucid dreamers: those who had never experienced a lucid dream.
All the participants were given a test of problem-solving which required a flash of insight.
Each problem was made up of three words which led to another word or phrase.
For example, one problem gives you the words ‘mile’, ‘sand’ and ‘age’.
What other single word can be combined with all three to create three new words or phrases?
The answer is ‘stone’, which can be combined with the three words to produce ‘milestone’, ‘sandstone’ and ‘Stone Age’.
The results showed that in comparison to those who had never had a lucid dream, the frequent lucid dreamers solved 25% more of these insight problems.
Dr Patrick Bourke, who led the study, said:
“It is believed that for dreamers to become lucid while asleep, they must see past the overwhelming reality of their dream state, and recognise that they are dreaming.
The same cognitive ability was found to be demonstrated while awake by a person’s ability to think in a different way when it comes to solving problems.”
Lucid dreaming and solving insight problems may tap into similar cognitive abilities, the authors suggest:
“‘Insight’ can be seen to be related to other demonstrated cognitive correlates of lucidity in dreaming.
The tendency towards ‘field independence’ for example allows people to ‘step back’ from perceived reality, reflect on it and evaluate the perceptual evidence.
For the insight that leads to lucidity, people also seem able to step-back from the obvious interpretation and consider a remote and at the time implausible option – that it is all a dream.” (Bourke & Shaw, 2014)
How to start lucid dreaming
If you’d like to increase the chances you’ll catch yourself dreaming while asleep, here are three tips:
- During the day, repeatedly ask yourself if you’re dreaming.
- When you’re asleep, try to identify any signs or events that would be weird in real life. As you know, dreams are usually chock full of them.
- Keep a dream journal to help you focus on your dreams. Write down whatever you can remember when you wake up.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: i k o