n an effort to understand more about the content of dreams, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin have been working for the past 5 years with persons who have the rare ability to consistently lucid dream.
Lucid dreaming was first proven scientifically on April 12, 1975 at the University of Hull, when subject (Alan Worsley) was asked to carry out distinctive patterns of voluntary eye movements at the onset of lucidity while dreaming. Polygraph records during REM showed the pre-arranged eye movement signals, proving that the subject had indeed been lucid during uninterrupted REM sleep.
In a series of ongoing experiments, the researchers have succeeded, for the first time, in analysing the activity of the brain during dreaming.
In the report, Metacognitive Mechanisms Underlying Lucid Dreaming, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, it has been discussed that the brain area which enables self-reflection is larger in lucid dreamers and with this information, the conclusion has been given that lucid dreamers are possibly also more self-reflecting when being awake.
Participants were split into two groups according to their lucidity score, separating those who frequently experience lucid dream states, with those who do not. Researchers observed a larger grey matter volume of activity in those with a higher lucidity score in the frontal cortex, an area that has been associated with improved ability to visualize.
The results reveal shared neural systems between lucid dreaming and metacognitive function, in particular in the domain of thought monitoring. This finding contributes to our understanding of the mechanisms enabling higher-order consciousness in dreams. No previous study has tested a link between lucidity and metacognitive ability at the neural level.
Together, these results support the main hypothesis and show, for the first time, a neural link between dream lucidity and metacognitive function.
By definition, lucid dreaming denotes the successful reflection on the current state of mind, i.e., an act of metacognition and the data indicate that lucid dreaming may be a specific form of metacognition, relying on neural mechanisms akin to thought monitoring. Although this result has been previously suggested based on dream reports and theoretical arguments, these results provide the first confirmation of this link from a neuroscientific perspective.
The Journal of Neuroscience, 21 January 2015, 35(3): 1082-1088; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3342-14.2015