Lucid dreams and metacognition: Awareness of thinking—awareness of dreaming

Lucid dreams and metacognition: Awareness of thinking -- awareness of dreaming
In lucid dreamers, the prefrontal cortex enabling self-reflection is bigger in comparision to other people. Credit: MPI for Human Development

To control one's dreams and to live out there what is impossible in real life - a truly tempting idea. Some persons - so-called lucid dreamers -can do this. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich have discovered that the brain area which enables self-reflection is larger in lucid dreamers. Thus, lucid dreamers are possibly also more self-reflecting when being awake.

Lucid dreamers are aware of dreaming while dreaming. Sometimes, they can even play an active role in their dreams. Most of them, however, have this experience only several times a year and just very few almost every night. Internet forums and blogs are full of instructions and tips on lucid dreaming. Possibly, lucid dreaming is closely related to the human capability of self-reflection - the so-called metacognition.

Neuroscientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry have compared structures of frequent lucid dreamers and participants who never or only rarely have . Accordingly, the anterior prefrontal cortex, i.e., the brain area controlling conscious cognitive processes and playing an important role in the capability of self-reflection, is larger in lucid dreamers.

The differences in volumes in the anterior prefrontal cortex between lucid dreamers and non-lucid dreamers suggest that lucid dreaming and metacognition are indeed closely connected. This theory is supported by brain images taken when test persons were solving metacognitive tests while being awake. Those images show that the brain activity in the prefrontal cortex was higher in lucid dreamers. "Our results indicate that self-reflection in everyday life is more pronounced in persons who can easily control their dreams," states Elisa Filevich, post-doc in the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

The researchers further want to know whether metacognitive skills can be trained. In a follow-up study, they intend to train volunteers in lucid dreaming to examine whether this improves the capability of self-reflection.

Explore further

Can we train ourselves to control our dreams?

More information: Filevich, E., Dresler, M., Brick, T.R., Kühn, S. Metacognitive Mechanisms Underlying Lucid Dreaming. The Journal of Neuroscience (2015) DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3342-14.2015
Journal information: Journal of Neuroscience

Provided by Max Planck Society
Citation: Lucid dreams and metacognition: Awareness of thinking—awareness of dreaming (2015, January 23) retrieved 17 October 2019 from
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Jan 23, 2015
I would give a great deal to be able to dream lucidly more often than I do, and would give even more to fight the tendency to awaken after I become lucid. On the other hand I usually sleep too much as it is, and would never want to get out of bed if I could lucid dream at will. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way. Anyone who can reliably commercialize a way of doing so stands to make a fortune.

Jan 23, 2015
It is also possible that many people who are more self-reflective are also more self-repressing and that lucid dreaming is a coping mechanism for relieving the resultant frustrations.

Anyone who can reliably commercialize a way of doing so stands to make a fortune.

They do, unfortunately selling psychedelics and opium products is illegal.

Jan 23, 2015
Anyone who can reliably commercialize a way of doing so stands to make a fortune.

They do, unfortunately selling psychedelics and opium products is illegal.

Psychedelics and opium don't cause lucid dreaming. Opium in particular can destroy (remembered) dreaming capability entirely, which is why so many people over a certain age who are on pain pills report no dream activity at all.

Jan 24, 2015
Everyone has lucid dreams at some point or another, whether by chance or matter of process. I think think we are are all aware on some level, I think we realize on some level that we are dreaming, but we let the process happen.

Personally, having gained consciousness many times while sleeping, I will say that I would much rather that my subconscious take the wheel and guide me to interesting places. My unconscious mind has the ability to surprise and amaze me, my conscious mind is quite boring.

Jan 24, 2015
During a period of Lucid Dreaming I noticed that I would also watch my daytime mind in an objective manner. What this 'watching' mind thought and what I would actually do and say did not always match up. I noticed that I would speak before this watching part thought of what could be said, so it was always a surprise to hear what I was saying.

This pseudo objectivity can also occur after a period of isolation from others (no communication, no fighting of the isolation) and I have experienced that as well.

Thus the night time dream experience and the day time experience are related, at least in my personal experience, but I wouldn't characterise it as more intense self reflection. It is primarily a different type of self reflection ie it is a difference in kind rather than intensity though one would expect the intensity to be greater because of the novelty of this altered perspective.

Jan 24, 2015
Critically reflecting upon one's axiomatic assumptions is a prerequisite for creativity. "Lucid dreaming" is not. http://thingumbob...eld.html

Jan 24, 2015
In Dr. Charles Tart's "Altered States of Consciousness" there were sections on lucid dreaming, autohypnosis, and other self-reflective or metacognitive states of consciousness. This supplied me the conceptual tools to learn how to invoke lucid dreaming. From there I would experience & try to explore various further states of consciousness. Meditating, for instance, while in a lucid dream relieves one of the burden of distraction from external stimuli and allows for a more penetrating insights or deeper states of calmness. These methods I was later pleased to learn were also cultivated by Tibetan Dzogchen practices of "dream yoga".

I would suggest this study is more about spontaneous lucid dreamers than from those who could learn or master lucid dreaming.

Jan 24, 2015
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Jan 24, 2015
I find that dreaming lucidly happens more frequently when I "prepare my mind" prior to falling asleep. It's basically meditating. Doing this while anticipating the altered state seems to foster some awareness mid-way through the dream.

Still, lucid dreaming probably takes years of practice. Having suffered from nightmares as a child, I often envisioned a small section of stairs I crouched next to whenever I felt threatened. After doing this I was able to exit the nightmare.

Jan 24, 2015
Brain activity is observable.
In about the sixth week of life.

What were those first neurons doing?
And what were those neurons using... to do anything?*
*Assuming no memory or storage of information.

You see?
See what?
How easy it is to challenge the entertainment you label science.

Jan 25, 2015
Do you challenge that your smartphone works? Do you have any idea how many scientific principles and disciplines are embodied in that? They all work together because science isn't based on religious beliefs, it's based on observable facts.

Jan 26, 2015
Ask questions. Simple questions. Forget about lecturing me.
Do unborn babies dream?
Does the research and researchers theory apply there?
Why or why not?
What must be present to determine that "the brain area which enables self-reflection is larger in lucid dreamers." in the unborn?

Does the size difference exist in the unborn too?

How many scientific principles and disciplines are abandoned, declared obsolete or superseded? Is this called science too?

Challenge these researchers and their research. They thrive on questions.

I believe there is a saying that goes:
Put on your critical thinking cap.
All that means is to ask questions in the right direction. Don't ask me what my ideas embody.
Ask what their ideas embody. Make them present observable facts to your questions.

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