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Dream research is just as complicated and nuanced as the vivid, emotional and captivating dreams many of us have experienced. Different cultures, over the course of several centuries, have developed their own unique way of dream interpretation. The neuroscientific approach to this study, however, was first introduced in the 1950s. During this time, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep was first discovered and researchers had noticed small changes in the test subjects’ EEGs, which we now know to be a marker of dreaming. 

The first psychoanalysis on dreams was conducted in the 19th century, where researchers studied questionnaires and surveys. This data showed that visual imagery was most prominent in dreams than the other senses, suggesting that dreams were not generally controlled by the individual themselves. The feedback from study participants also suggested that most dreams are experienced in the first-person perspective, are filled with daily interactions with familiar people and that there are usually very strong emotions involved. You would think that the composition of your dreams would be the one aspect of human nature that is irrespective of gender, but recent studies have proven otherwise. Males generally tend to experience more violent and aggressive dreams than females as observed in surveys and various accounts.

Although we all know from personal experience that our dreams are strange combinations of both the bizarre and mundane, there are currently two hypotheses regarding the science behind this. The continuity hypothesis states that your dreams are representative of the same themes you experience while you’re awake, while the discontinuity hypothesis states the opposite. One of the important criteria used to analyze these two hypotheses is the Dream Report Factor (DRF). The DRF is the number of dreams that are reported by a participant per week. 

A German study conducted in 2009 used test subjects from different races, genders, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Their research showed that people are able to recollect an average of one dream per week, meaning that their DRF would be one. This led to skepticism behind the importance of dreaming. Neurologist Alan Hobson in his research stated that, “Because dreams are so difficult to remember, it seems unlikely that attention to their content could afford much in the way of high-priority survival value. Indeed, it might instead be assumed that dreaming is an epiphenomenon of REM sleep whose cognitive content is so ambiguous as to invite misleading or even erroneous interpretation.” There has not been enough evidence to substantiate his claim, but it is interesting to consider. If we cannot remember our experiences, how important are they? The more interested someone is in their dreams, the higher their DRF tends to be. One study showed that there was a clear correlation between people with a higher DRF and specific personality traits. Individuals with a higher DRF tend to be more open and sensitive than others. 

Dream research remains a question mark in the neuroscience community and until we are able to visualize someone else’s dream while they are asleep, we may never be able to answer our questions. Different studies suggest different ideas and no one really understands what happens when we drift into REM, so maybe we’ll just have to sleep on it.

Rajshri Dakshinamoorthy

George Mason University '22

Hello! My name is Rajshri Dakshinamoorthy and I am majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Forensic Psychology. I enjoy listening to true crime podcasts, baking, drawing mandalas, and trying new foods. I hope to one day work toward furthering research on neurodegenerative diseases or criminal profiling and maybe learn to fly a plane along the way.
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