New research finds high correlation between lucid dreaming and problem-solving abilities in waking life
Individuals capable of lucid dreaming may possess above average problem solving abilities, according to a study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Dreams. Researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK found a significant correlation between regular experience of lucid dreams and high insight-based problem solving abilities during waking life.
According to lead researcher Dr. Patrick Bourke, “It is believed that for dreamers to become lucid while asleep, they must see past the overwhelming reality of their dream state, and recognize that they are dreaming.”
This implies that the ability to “see past” the fog of a dream state requires an above average level of insight and a familiarity with the workings of one’s own mind. Bourke examined 68 participants between the ages of 18 and 25 with different self-reported levels of experience with lucid dreaming. They were given a 30-item evaluation of insight-based problem solving. The results showed that those who experienced lucid dreams regularly scored 25% higher on the evaluation.
Bourke theorized that “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.”
The most interesting question raised by this study is whether naturally high insight causes lucid dreaming, lucid dreaming causes an increase in insight, or a third, unidentified variable causes an increase in both lucid dreaming and insight. Dr. Bourke’s research finds an important correlation, but no directional causation. This research is groundbreaking, as it unlocks the possibility to identify the mechanism that links lucid dreaming to high insight.
Scenario 1: Above Average Insight Causes Lucid Dreams
This scenario suggests that a high level of familiarity with one’s own thoughts allows the mind to more easily recognize that it is dreaming, thus becoming lucid. Problem solving is also linked to the ability to analyze and connect seemingly unrelated sensory information into a larger, cohesive picture. This skill, which may be developed during waking hours, is vital to the recognition of dreams.
Past research shows that high levels of activity in certain parts of the frontal and temporal lobe occur during lucid dreams. These regions are linked to insight, executive function, and evaluation of complex ideas. Researchers have been able to create lucid dreams in sleeping participants by stimulating these brain regions with an electrical current.
This shows that for lucid dreams to occur, brain regions that are usually dormant during sleep must become active. For an individual with above average insight in waking life, it may be easier to maintain activity in these brain regions during sleep. Like a strengthening muscle, neurons that are accustomed to activity develop increasing connections with other neurons, and become activated more readily.
Scenario 2: Lucid Dreams Cause Above Average Insight
Some scholars suggest that the opportunity to explore the mind safely within the dream space causes a development in insight and problem solving ability. This implies that either the first lucid dream occurs spontaneously, or the skill is developed through intentional practice. The lucid dream is regarded as a sort of advanced meditation, in which one can examine thought, imagery, and memory as if on a Holodeck. It also allows the mind to simulate complex scenarios, another ability linked to advanced executive function and an important aspect of problem solving.
Those who have experienced frequent lucid dreams, like advanced meditators, may have unlocked deeper levels of insight while dreaming. According to Hebbian theory, neurons that fire together wire together. This applies during sleep as well, so the executive regions become more deeply linked with the primitive, visual- & memory-centric networks that are active during standard dreams. This connection carries over to waking life, manifested as advanced insight and problem solving abilities.
Scenario 3: Outside Variables Cause Above Average Insight & Lucid Dreams
There are infinite possibilities for outside variables to influence both insight and lucid dreaming. Most simply, a person who is likely to take an interest in lucid dreaming may have common shared interests in other self-exploratory practices. Meditation, spirituality and self-cultivation are probable common interests with lucid dreaming, and all of these things may facilitate deeper insight.
There may also be a genetic component. Like many aspects of personality and neurobiology, predispositions for activation of executive regions during sleep and waking may be inherited genetically and then triggered through experience.
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