Our April 2022 paper on the possible role of dream-sharing in social evolution and human self-domestication.
We have published a follow-up to our papers on dream-sharing and empathy proposing that in human history and pre-history the sharing of dreams contributed to the social evolution mechanism of human self-domestication. This mechanism has been proposed to lead to reduced emotional rectivity between people, greater empathy, and group bonding. The link to this open access article in the International Journal of Dream Research is here:
Our empirical papers that this was based on are here (open access article in Frontiers in Psychology, 2019) and here (in the American Psychological Association journal Dreaming, 2021, not open access).
Abstract for our paper presented at the 5th Dreams, Phantasms and Memories conference, 25th-26th November 2021
Dream-sharing, Surrealism and Human Self-Domestication
Since 2016 we have conducted live performances, in venues or online, in which Mark Blagrove and our audience use the Ullman (1996) method to explore a dream of an attendee, while Julia Lockheart paints the dream during the 90-minute discussion. Examples of artworks and dreams from our public performances can be seen at DreamsID.com and in Lockheart and Blagrove (2019, 2020). Such sharing of dreams increases empathy towards the dreamer (Blagrove et al., 2021). We propose this empathy effect would have occurred in history and pre-history and, as it would have enhanced the cohesiveness and mutual understanding of group members, dream-sharing and features of dream content may have been selected for during human social evolution, alongside story-telling, utilising common neural mechanisms (Blagrove et al., 2019). Dream-sharing hence would have contributed to Human Self-Domestication (Blagrove & Lockheart, 2021), the primary driver of the evolution of human prosociality and reduced intragroup emotional reactivity (Hare, 2017). Artworks based on dreams can cue future discussions of the dream. In our work each painting is made onto two pages taken (with publisher’s permission) from Freud’s (1900) book The Interpretation of Dreams. Pages are chosen on the basis of shapes of the text matching the overall structure of the dream, and words found on the pages/palimpsest are incorporated into the artwork as surrealist found objects. The importance of valuing dreams and the need to find artistic representations for them, as non-linear responses to human and world situations, has been emphasised in surrealism from 1919 onwards (Breton, 1924/1972, 1924/1978, 1924/1996; Jiménez, 2013). The theory and art practice of surrealism are the peak of human playfulness. Domestication in humans and other species requires playfulness of the individual and between individuals. This paper addresses the playfulness of dreams and of dream-sharing, and their relationship to surrealism and human self-domestication.
Blagrove, M., Hale, S., Lockheart, J., Carr, M., Jones, A., & Valli, K. (2019). Testing the empathy theory of dreaming: The relationships between dream sharing and trait and state empathy. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1351. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01351
Blagrove, M., & Lockheart, J. (2021, September 9). Dream-Sharing and Human Self-Domestication. Preprint at https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/7ytn5
Blagrove, M., Lockheart, J., Carr, M., Basra, S., Graham, H., Lewis, H., Murphy, E., Sakalauskaite, A., Trotman, C., & Valli, K. (2021). Dream sharing and the enhancement of empathy: Theoretical and applied implications. Dreaming, 31, 128–139. doi:10.1037/drm0000165
Breton, A. (1924/1972). Manifestoes of Surrealism. Translation by Richard Seaver & Helen R.Lane. Ann Arbor Paperbacks, University of Michigan Press.
Breton, A. (1924/1996). The Mediums Enter, in The Lost Steps (pp.89-95). Translation by Mark Polizzotti. University of Nebraska Press.
Freud, S. (1900/1997). The Interpretation of Dreams. Translation by A.A.Brill. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics.
Jiménez, J. (ed.) (2013). Surrealism and the dream. Madrid: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.
Hare, B. (2017). Survival of the friendliest: Homo sapiens evolved via selection for prosociality. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 24.1–24.32. https://doi.org/annurev-psych-010416-044201
Lockheart, J. & Blagrove, M. (2019). Dream sharing. Sublime Magazine, 2nd November 2019. https://sublimemagazine.com/dream-sharing
Lockheart, J. & Blagrove, M. (2020). Exploring lockdown dreams. Sublime Magazine, 17th July 2020. https://sublimemagazine.com/exploring-lockdown-dreams
Ullman, M. (1996). Appreciating dreams: A group approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Our paper on the first dream that Dora told Freud has been accepeted for publication by the International Journal of Dream Research
Lockheart, J., Holzinger, B., Adler, K., Barrett, D., Nobus, D., Wessely, Z., & Blagrove, M. (2021). 120th anniversary event for ‘Dora’ telling her burning house dream to Freud. International Journal of Dream Research, 14(2)
This paper reports a DreamsID (Dreams Illustrated and Discussed) art science collaborative event held to commemorate the first dream told by Dora to Freud, in November 1900, during her psychoanalysis. As part of the online ‘Main stage’ schedule from the Swansea Science Festival, the event had participation from a worldwide audience, and contributions from expert panel members. That Dora’s dream is a poignant depiction of the distress and persecution in her teenage life can be seen from Dora’s free associations to the dream, but this is often overshadowed in readings of Freud’s case study by his speculative further interpretations of the dream, derived from Freud’s own associations. This paper includes the background to the case study, and the main points, themes and questions raised by the online discussion of the case study. These included the lack of emotion in the dream report; whether the dream was used by Dora to show to Freud the danger that she was in; the relationship between Dora’s dream, with its metaphor of the need to escape from the danger of fire, and dreams more widely of trauma and abuse; and the ethics of Dora’s real-life name having been made known without her permission. The painting produced live during the event is reproduced, with an account of the discussion of how the painting is composed. A link to the film of the event is provided.
The final paper will be uploaded soon. Until then, the accepted manuscript can be downloaded here:
April 11th, 2021
When DreamsID started at the British Science Festival in Summer 2016 we aimed to help people to playfully examine their dreams and possibly get personal insight from them, and gift an artwork by which they could carry on the conversation about the dream with family and friends. Slowly we realised that we, and the audience at each event, were gaining empathic understanding of the life circumstances of the dream sharer. We have just had accepted our second scientific paper on dream sharing and empathy, in the American Psychological Association’s and International Association for the Study of Dreams’ journal Dreaming. (Co-authors include Michelle Carr and Katja Valli.) The manuscript is here https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa56640.
This study replicated and extended a previous finding that the discussion of dreams increases the level of empathy toward the dreamer from those with whom the dream is discussed. The study addressed mediating variables for the empathy effect. Participants were recruited in dyads who already knew each other and were assigned dream-sharer and discusser roles. Each dyad used the Ullman dream appreciation technique to explore the relationship of the sharer’s dreams to recent experiences in the sharer’s life, with a maximum of four dream discussions per dyad (mean length of dreams = 140.15 words, mean discussion length = 23.72 minutes). The empathy of each member of a dyad toward the other was assessed using a 12-item state empathy questionnaire. Forty-four participants (females = 26, males = 18, mean age = 26.70) provided empathy scores at baseline and after each dream discussion. For below median baseline empathy scorers, empathy of discussers toward their dream-sharer increased significantly as a result of the dream discussions, with medium effect size, eta sq = 0.39. Dream-sharers had a non-significant increase in empathy toward their discusser. Change in empathy was not linear across successive discussions, and was not related to length of dream reports, nor length of discussions. These findings of post-sleep, social effects of dreaming, with possibly a group bonding function, go beyond theories of dreaming that have a within-sleep emotional or memory processing function for the individual.
Review of the Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold (2021) article Theater of the Mind in the January 2021 issue of Psychology Today
Zadra and Stickgold’s (2021) excellent article Theater of the Mind in the January 2021 issue of Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/articles/202101/theater-the-mind, summarises ideas from their new book When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep. That book hasn’t arrived yet in the UK and so this piece reviews the Psychology Today article, which, I hope, gets wide readership as it addresses in great detail much of the science of dreaming and the arguments as to whether dreaming has a function. Zadra and Stickgold start their article by noting that dreams can be very wide-ranging and bizarre, but that dreams also have some common themes. Common here means that a large proportion of people will report having had such a theme at least once, such as of falling, or being chased. Given this, they ask the question, what function do dreams serve? Their answer is to propose that dreams explore new associations, often weak associations between memories, so that the dreamer / brain, when awake, understands possibilities for the future. To expand on this they describe empirical findings on the contents of dreams. For example, most dreams have a narrative, and often there is some type of problem that is responded to. There are also some common aspects of content, for example, misfortunes, which are found to be seven times more frequent in dreams than are good fortunes.
When addressing they question ‘what are our dreams for?’, Zadra and Stickgold state that ‘Whatever the function of dreams may be, it cannot depend on remembering them once we awaken.’ They distinguish such a biological adaptive function for all dreams, whether remembered or unremembered, from the uses that we may choose to make of dreams that we do remember. They review then various theories of dream function that encompass remembered and unremembered dreams. For example, Freud’s conclusion that dreams allow the partial expression of repressed wishes, and the views that we may find solutions to personal problems in dreams, or practice overcoming threats, or practice social interactions, or extinguish our fears. Importantly, they also refer to the proposal by Ernest Hartmann that dreams weave emotional memories from the day into existing memories, making broader and looser connections during sleep than the more obvious and strong connections that are prioritized during wakefulness. (See Hartmann, 1996, for more on this.)
They state that each of these theories may be partly true, and allow also for Hobson’s emphasis on randomness in dreams. But they then add a further, memory function for dreams. In this they review the work of Erin Wamsley, conducted with Stickgold, on task learning before sleep and the relationship of subsequent performance to sleep and to dream content. Wamsley and colleagues found that performance was improved across sleep if dreaming of the task occurred, but that the dreams were usually only indirectly related to the task that was learned. For example, in a maze learning task, dreaming of caves was classed as a relevant albeit indirect association. The proposal is thus that in dreams there is a search for weak, novel associations, and so the article gives the example of the experience of being creative during the day resulting in a dream of discovering a new room in one’s childhood home. Zadra and Stickgold conclude that dreams are thus exploring possibilities, which results in gaining new understanding about ourselves and the world.
Zadra and Stickgold are undoubtedly correct to propose that in dreams we explore rarer or newer or novel associations and that this can result in novel possibilities being understood, even if only unconsciously, when we are awake. However, this review gives a caution in deeming that a memory function has been shown in current experiments on dreaming and learning. Wamsley’s work, and her recent (2019) replication with Stickgold of that work, are amenable to an alternative interpretation in that dreaming of the learning task was not only associated with performance improvement across sleep, but also with poor performance prior to sleep! It may thus be that dreaming of the task was related to personal concerns and even embarrassment about poor performance, rather than related to memory consolidation during sleep. But the idea of exploring weak or novel associations during dreams does seem very plausible. Zadra and Hartmann credit Hartmann on this, who, in 1996, wrote that in dreaming we make connections more broadly than when we are awake. Hartmann held that these broad connections are not made at random, but are guided by our emotions. Thus, dreams contextualise our dominant emotions or emotional concerns, thus producing metaphors for the emotional state of the dreamer. According to Hartman this spreading out of excitation in the dream, finding novel connections for our new memories, ‘is probably functional.’ He contrasts our goal-directed waking thinking with the wider connections made in dreams. For Hartmann, this explains his empirical findings that we rarely dream of reading or writing or typing in dreams.
This article by Zadra and Stickgold, and the previous work by Hartmann, rely on the claim that by the exploration of weak associations, dreams leads to improvements in the storing of our memories, as part of the elaborations of memory that occur when memories are processed and evolve during sleep. We must remember though that Hartman cautions that this process is ‘probably functional.’ Hartmann is correct here for two reasons:
I would not go as far as Domhoff has done here in distancing dream imagery from functional brain processes, because there may be complex social cognition brain processes that are evidenced in dream imagery, and Zadra and Stickgold may be correct that sleep and dreaming enable the exploration of novel connections and possibilities in such social cognitive processing. The point here, though, is that Hartmann may well have been correct to say that the dream processes are only ‘probably functional.’
Aside from that caution about the Zadra and Stickgold article, the other concluding comment here is to take issue with their claim that a function for dreaming must hold for unremembered dreams. Our work on dream sharing and empathy (Blagrove et al., 2019) does lead to the speculative possibility that the sharing of dreams across human history has led to the evolutionary selection of fictional and salient dream content, on a timescale similar to the development of story-telling in humans. It may thus be that it is only remembered dreams that are functional and adaptive!
Blagrove, M., Hale, S., Lockheart, J., Carr, M., Jones, A., & Valli, K. (2019). Testing the Empathy Theory of Dreaming: The Relationships Between Dream Sharing and Trait and State Empathy. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1351. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01351,
Domhoff, G.W. (2018). The emergence of dreaming: Mind-wandering, embodied simulation, and the default network. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hartmann, E. (1996). Outline for a theory on the nature and functions of dreaming. Dreaming, 6, 147–170.
Wamsley, E.J., & Stickgold, R. (2019). Dreaming of a learning task is associated with enhanced memory consolidation: Replication in an overnight sleep study. Journal of Sleep Research, 28, 312749. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12749.
Wamsley, E.J., Tucker, M., Payne, J.D., Benavides, J.A., & Stickgold, R. (2010). Dreaming of a learning task is associated with enhanced sleep-dependent memory consolidation. Current Biology, 20, 850-5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2010.03.027.
Zadra, A., & Stickgold, R. (2021). When brains dream: Exploring the science and mystery of sleep. NY: W.W.Norton.
Review of paper in PLOS ONE on comparisons between pandemic and pre-pandemic dreams
A review in The Conversation by Mark Blagrove of a paper comparing Covid-19 pandemic with pre-pandemic dreams, can be seen here. It includes a painting by Julia Lockheart of a Lockdown dream.
Paper by Bergman and co-authors on the dreams of Polish Auschwitz survivors from before, during and after World War 2
Just published & very interesting. Monica Bergman, Oskar MacGregor, Henri Olkoniemi, Wojciech Owczarski, Antti Revonsuo, Katja Valli. University of Turku, University of Skovde, University of Gdansk. Content analysis of dreams of 632 Auschwitz survivors: dreams from before WW2, during imprisonment, & after WW2. The paper is published in the American Journal of Psychology. www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/amerjpsyc.133.2.0143?seq=1
War-related & threat dreams were more common after the war than during imprisonment. Family & freedom dreams were more common during imprisonment than after the war. The paper discusses which theories of dream function & post-trauma nightmares can account for this & which can't, focussing on the emotional processing that the dream is doing at that time. To this discussion we would add that consideration be given to the effects of dream-sharing, such that sharing during imprisonment a dream of one's prior life and identity aids the encouragement of social bonding and empathy during the terrible circumstances of the concentration camp, whereas, after the war, sharing dreams of the concentration camp encourages social bonding and empathy towards the dreamer and for what they have experienced.
New Scientist article on Covid-19, dreaming, and our DreamsID Covid events, 30th April 2020
This New Scientist article investigates the effects of Covid-19 and the Lockdown on dreaming, and includes a description of the DreamsID collaboration and our online events for healthworkers during the Lockdown. The article is illustrated by one of Julia's paintings of a Covid doctor's dream, the quails' eggs dream.
Article on the science and research background to the DreamsID collaboration, in the Autumn 2019 edition of Dream Time, magazine of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.
This book surveys the current science of dreaming, and then details methods, case studies and theories of the use of dreams in psychotherapy. We are honoured that two artworks from DreamsID are reproduced in Chapter 9, Avenues of Exploration: Visual Art and Technology, and that the theory and practice of the DreamsID art science collaboration are described in that chapter.