It's a shame that so many people will blast studies like these for being too small, but it's the start that needs to happen before we get to the end, and I think it's fascinating work.
I hope to see more detailed investigations like this in future, and a building body of literature on the subject.
Seems a bit similar and might be worth checking out. (One of the authors, Corriere, later lost his licenses to practice psychology -- but it doesn't necessarily invalidate their theory.)
The study includes a total of 14 dreams of which 3 are the author’s.
I’ll take it with a grain of salt.
This paper should not be viewed as an attempt to prove beyond doubt that the function of dreams is to highlight anxieties, but to provide food for thought for future research. There is a neurological basis for the argument put forward and using dreams in this way has been beneficial in my own therapy and in directing my guidance of others. Please play with your own dreams and those of your friends using the methods of interpretation and prediction outlined above and, if you are in the position to do so, consider testing the ideas presented using established research methods. If we do have an inbuilt method of anxiety diagnosis, which means we are not forced into taking such drastic maladaptive actions while awake in order to communicate our anxieties to others, then a great deal of mental pain may be able to be avoided.
During anxious mind-wandering situations which demand avoidant behaviour enter the mind. For example, an individual with obsessive compulsive disorder may visualise that they are contaminated (imagined experience) and therefore must wash their hands (the avoidant action; Mcguire et al., 1994). Alternatively, an individual with social anxiety disorder might im-agine being in a conversation and having nothing to talk about (imagined future scenario) and therefore will avoid entering a conversation (avoidant action; Richards, 2013).
However in dreams I am suggesting that the situations imagined call for un-avoidant behaviour. For example Tim's dream in the paper:
> Tim’s father gives him a large volume of prescription drugs which he knows could kill him if he takes them all. Tim’s father wants him to swallow all the pills at once. Tim does not want to! However, he swallows the pills without protest.
In this situation it is clear that avoiding the confrontation and swallowing the pills is not a sensible decision. The situation calls for un-avoidant behaviour (saying no to his father). It is in this way that I am arguing that dreaming is the inverse of anxious mind-wandering.
It is interesting that those who do a lot of mediation have been seen to be less reactive to norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter associated to stress).
I am still a bit uncertain what you mean with "this way". Are you saying that anxious mind-wandering typically results in a pro-active reaction, whereas in the dream one is passive? That is: an appropriate response and an inappropriate response to the imagined scenarios? (note: this is not the same as whether the imagined scenarios themselves are appropriate)
> It is interesting that those who do a lot of mediation have been seen to be less reactive to norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter associated to stress).
Mediation or meditation?
Some imagined situations create an urge to take avoidant action. For example, let's say you are in a queue of a rollercoaster, but you have a fear of them - you might imagine it getting stuck with you upside down, or you might imagine yourself falling out of the rollercoaster. These are bad futures, and they make you want to take behaviour to AVOID the rollercoaster (like don't get on it in the first place!). If you get out of the queue these scenarios will leave your mind.
In dreaming, the situations are ones where instead of making it obvious that you should avoid something, they make it obvious that you should confront something. Confront is a very delicate word to use, as obvious confrontation (e.g., arguing instead of being passive) is one form of it, but so is being boring if you fear that others will ignore you (by being boring you are confronting the fear that you will be ignored unless you perform).
For example, Curtly's dream from the paper:
> Curtly is in a shopping mall. A young child comes up to Curtly and demands his wallet and phone. Curtly does not want to hand over his possessions, but he does. The young child stands near Curtly with Curtly’s belongings in front of him (accessible to Curtly should he decide to try and take them back).
Having your possessions stolen warrants a confrontational response. This is especially so as the person doing the stealing is a child, as it will be safe to respond with confrontation (the child cannot beat you up!). You can see that, in the opposite way of anxious mind-wandering, this dream situation does not demand avoidant behaviour.
Does that make more sense?
What I'm missing is the discussion of a perhaps too-obvious explanation: coping with feelings of helplessness. While often happening simultaneously with anxiety (being in a helpless situation would make most of us anxious, right?) it is not quite the same, I would say.
I personally rarely remember my dreams, but when I do they tend to be very intense, and during periods of my life that are emotionally turbulent and, indeed, involve feeling helpless about something.
(also, you forgot to answer if you actually meant "mediation" or "meditation", because I'm curious what you mean in case of the former)
For hackerish types exploring Buddhism, I think it's useful to be aware of the concept of upaya, which loosely translates as "skilful" or "expedient". Buddhist teachers consciously make use of metaphors, abstractions and practices that aren't necessarily true, but might aid a particular audience in understanding a difficult concept.
As a result, Buddhist teaching is incredibly diverse, because it's being continually adapted to suit a particular audience in a particular cultural context. One might make an analogy with different programming languages - they all represent the same CPU operations and they're all essentially equivalent via the Church-Turing thesis and the Curry-Howard correspondence, but they often use radically different abstractions.
Personally, I was repelled by what I perceived to be Buddhism on my first exposure to it; I only realised much later that what I understood to be Buddhism was simply an explanation of Buddhist thought tailored for a particular demographic of English-speakers, specifically Californian hippies and new-agers. There was simply a severe impedance mismatch between my mindset and the particular teaching approaches I had been exposed to.
If you think that the Dalai Lama dwells on vapid platitudes or that he's a bit of a smug prick, that's fine - so do a lot of practising Buddhists. He represents a small and rather eccentric school of Buddhism, not Buddhism as a whole. You might gel with the teaching of Ajahn Amaro or Thich Nhat Hanh or Sheng Yen or a multitude of others. You might find it useful to take an ecumenical approach, dipping in and out of various schools to see different perspectives on the same topic.
You're describing conceptual metaphors, which are actually extremely interesting when it comes to making sense of cognition.
The goal being to learn to observe all sensations and thoughts without reacting to them (which seems to require or result in a certain amount of detachment)
I remember more of my dreams when I'm meditating regularly, and I also notice more of my waking thought loops.
This is highly generic and I am skeptical it’s applicable to anyone with off the Wall dreams or people who have specific illnesses that affect the way they dream (eg. Schizophrenics have anecdata about unusual dreams).
But I think in More neurotypical perspectives with certain kinds of dreams this could work as a way to frame interpretation.
What rubs me the wrong way, however, is that the paper also implies that the less anxious you are the more normal you are in your dreams. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
(Some disclaimer: I have a condition that gives me very vivid dreams that are not set in reality. I’ve yet to find a way to suitably interpret them in a way that meshes with academia.)
Hi, thanks for your comment. To be clear, it is not a value judgement by any means. We do not have responsibility for the feelings that we have and how they are surfaced in dreams. I have found it is the case that as an anxiety is worked through (e.g., I was anxious about standing up for myself, and practiced this in real life and found that I did not need to be so scared of it) the behaviour in the dream shifts to suit the demands of the situation more. These changes could be in accordance with the reconsolidation of the fear memory in the retrosplenial cortex (an area of the brain thought to be responsible for storing episodic fear memories which is more active during REM sleep than during waking). However, this is not where the process ends. When an anxiety is dealt with, another one surfaces and the behaviour is again at odds with the demand of the situation. So the 'normality' is short lived (and is not useful).
It is the case that individuals who experience less fear have more positive dream content, such as those with non-functioning amygdalas (Domhoff, 2017), individuals with greater wellbeing (Sikka, Pesonen, & Revonsuo, 2018), and even the Dalai Lama (Mehrotra & Lama, 2005). Those who have greater wellbeing also have fewer recurring dreams (Gauchat, Zadra, Tremblay, Zelazo, & Séguin, 2009). These are not my views, and I do not have an opinion on what type of content is 'better', but they are the results from other studies.
Yes, however, what none of these addresses is when the response is incongruous with reality but normalized in the dream- it establishes there is a specific demand of a situation in a dream that is congruous with how reality would respond as reasonable. My criticism is that this doesn't apply to dreams that explicitly have their own "reasonable" behavior rules as established in the dream- off the wall things.
In a dream where drinking unicorn blood is the norm, is the reasonable behavior to resist doing so or is the reasonable behavior to follow the norms of the dream, and what does it say about onesself to not want to or want to do this goresome act? Imagine that this act is viewed neutrally in the context of the dream.
In a dream where it is dangerous to make friends with pepole, what does it say if you resist and purposefully befriend someone even if you're scared of friendship? It's reasonable to befriend people in waking life, but it's unreasonable to befriend people in a context where friendship is explicitly dangerous. By the paper, it may mean one is anxious about conformity- but in this case conformity is nonsensical/unreasonable.
When I was younger I would have a lot of night terrors, sleep walking, you name it because of a stressful family situation. So I'm really interested to read about the studies, because I never thought about using my dreams to understand how my brain/thoughts are while awake.
I'm totally open to discussing this more with anyone that is interested!
I mean, yes, in some sense the dream encourages someone to confront the anxiety rather than avoid it, but here it feels more like jumping past the real source of anxiety and lashing out against the imagined one.
this is the biggest issue I have with this paper. This assumption is simply false