The purpose of these essays is to explore how we can
build our dreaming recall skills by an exploration of the last 50 years of dream
research on recall. I want to mention that many informed dreamers see no need to
increase the number or quality of dreams or build recall skills, and I just want
to say that this essay is not placing a political or psychological value on
recall, but on the self empowerment that comes from informed choices and
options. All of the techniques offered might also be reversed to decrease dream
recall and may thereby be of relevance to nightmare sufferers as well as
dreamers who are seeking more dreams.
Part I: Research on Dream Recall and Repression.
With the discovery of REM sleep and its connection
with dreaming by Aserinsky and Kleitman in the 1950's, empirical sleep research
gave birth to a new child, the study of dreams by respectable scientific
researchers. Now, 40 years later, what have we learned? As often happens, the
researchers are now beginning to confirm what the motivated dreamer has always
known, that the more interest you show towards your dreams, the more you have.
Still, since our hard earned tax dollars went into
this research, maybe we can get a little more from them than just the official
go-ahead to keep being interested.
Generally, dream recall research looks at issues of
*content* or *process*. The content theories include: salience (novelty,
bizarreness, affectfulness, or intensity), its opposite - dream disorganization
(to chaotic to be remembered), interference (example: body movements disrupt
recall), disinterest in dreams, and repression. The process theories are mostly
memory- process oriented, with the inclusion of arousal theories, state
dependent learning and the new neural net connectionist theories.
In this essay, we are going to look at the most
commented on and least clear reason for dream recall failure, the content theory
Due to the strong influence of psychodynamic dream
theory, a major reason postulated for the lack of dream recall is that dreams
contain things we just don't want to remember. This is content that the waking
self just can't handle or would cause too much distress if remembered. This
dream material is referred to as ego toxic. This follows from Freud's notion
that dreams are mediating desires that are pushing for expression and attention
and counter forces keeping those thoughts and impulses from disturbing the
sleeper. Most of the content is disguised before reaching consciousness, but
some gets kept away from the waking ego altogether. Hence the memory loss. Or at
least, this is the theory.
The clinicians feel that the notion is useful and the
process easily observed over time. New patients recall less dreams. As patients
begin to show other signs of less resistance to the material that the dream
content is displaying, more of this dream content shows up. The higher the
repression, the lower the content. However, these ideas are more anecdotal
clinical observations than tested research.
One approach to testing this is by using different
personality measures. Types that use repression as a defense ought to have less
dreams to report, right? The most popular method has been to test
field-dependent types against field-independent types. Generally, field-
independent types are internally cued; they eat and sleep when they feel tired
or hungry and generally don't repress or delay their desires if possible.
Field-dependent individuals are externally cued and eat and sleep (for example)
according to an external schedule and use something like repression/suppression
on internal demands and cues.
Yet the tests are mixed and not really convincing
that it made any big difference what type of field-dependency you had, though
there is a suggestion that field independent people recall dreams a little
better. One interesting notable group. These were field-dependent people who
generally didn't remember dreams if allowed to awaken in their usual way, but
did remember many more dreams when abruptly awakened from REM sleep. It seems
the break in their routine allowed for dream recall to increase. So, if you are
a person who lives by an external schedule and you want to remember more of your
dreams, you might try setting your alarm at random wake up times or have your
schedule interrupted by someone else. Also, if we were to act on this little
evidence of field-independence being of some help in recall, we might take it
upon ourselves to become more internally cued.
Finally, its not at all clear that field-dependence
lack of dream recall has anything to do with repression.
This same mixed results problem was found with
personality tests using the Convergent vs Divergent personalities. Are your
better on multiple choice tests that have one right answer (convergents are
better on these) or loose ended essay questions (divergent personalities)? There
is some indication that divergent personality types recall dream more
frequently, but slight indications only.
More Personality tests in relation to repression
Rorschach index of repressive styles:
In women, the repressors had less dreams. But in men,
just the *opposite* was found.
For those of you more interested in the gender issue,
David Cohen did a study on recall and sex role orientation (1973) where the
issue of gender was shifted to that of sex role orientation. I'm sure the
masculine/agency and feminine/communion connections would now be challenged, but
it is probably a positive alternative to explaining the above Rorschach results
on gender issues.
Repression-relevant questionnaire scales:
(repression-sensitization, anxiety, neuroticism,
A couple, yes, many studies, no. Is the problem that
these studies didn't control for interest and salience, (the two major factors
for predicting dream recall), is personality in general just not a very good
predictor of dream recall, or what? Many researchers now feel that it isn't. But
what about repression in general? Can it still be said to be playing a role if
all the personality measures we use to test for it don't give us any differences
between individuals recalling dreams?
There are a group of studies that use pre-sleep
stress conditions. They predicted that the pre-sleep stress would bring on
repression and less dream recall, which is exactly what happened. But it is
often pointed out that this may also be due to the distraction of attention upon
awakening, which also produces dream recall failure. Still, for those of us
interested in modulating recall, the choice of the evening's entertainment can
be experimented with as a personal factor.
A now famous study (Whitman, Kramer, Baldridge, 1963)
had subjects report dreams both in a laboratory setting and to therapists. The
subjects often withheld dreams from one while telling the other. Sometimes the
therapist, sometimes the lab recorder. Its not clear if they consciously
withheld or repressed the reports. But for us, we might consider that *who* we
share our dreams with may alter our recall.
Cultural repression is such a big issue that I'd like
to unfold these ideas in another essay. But I do want to note that I feel this
is a large factor in recall. I haven't seen any cross-cultural studies on this
in particular, but there are many anthropological studies that talk about the
common practice of daily dreamsharing of various culture's were the parents do
more than we who tell our children "Its just dream, dear, go back to
Summarizing the repression study clues for recall.
Generally, it seems that repression plays a role, but just how it works is not
at all clear. Therapies and activities we take up that reduce our repressive
habits could increase our recall. Becoming more internally cued and allowing for
more divergent activities looks like a possibility. Reducing anxiety before
bedtime may decrease anxious images that could lead to a repressed dream. Not
always telling our dreams to the same person(s) or internal person(s) might open
up new channels of dreams that would be repressed by our habits of dreamsharing
to just one real or imaginary person. Included in this may be re-visioning our
inner mothers to tell us when we have a dream something like "Oh, boy,
that's a great dream, tell me more!" And this may also lead us in another
important direction. If we learn to engage anxiety and imaginal fear a little
more, we will be able to have alternatives to just pushing odd and stressful
things away. It is a useful basic strategy to delay and set aside stressors, but
not a long term solution to everything. And so, one approach, like the child who
is encouraged to tell or draw a dream, is to do so ourselves. Different forms of
storytelling and dreamsharing may allow us to play with material that otherwise
might be too toxic and forgotten as useless.
I feel I have but barely touched upon the idea of
dreams and repression by going through a general summary of the empirical
research. For one thing, we have focused only on *amount* and not on *quality*
of recall. But more important than putting out a perfect summary I wanted to
show that we could as individuals use the available research to our advantage.
In the next essay I want to move through the other
content oriented theories of dream recall, focusing especially on salience and
how dreams that are seen as vivid, interesting and self-involving are the best
content predictors of recall.
A short Bibliography for Dream Recall Research &
Aserinsky, E., & Kleitman, N. (1953). Regularly
occurring periods of eye motility, and concommitant phenomena, during sleep.
_Science_, 118(3026), 273-274.
Aserinsky, E., & Kleitman, N. (1955). Two types
of ocular motility occurring in sleep. _Journal of Applied Physiology_, 8(1),
Cohen, David B. (1979). _Sleep and Dreaming: Origins,
and Functions_. New York: Pergamon Press.
--------. (1974a). Toward a theory of dream recall.
_Psychological Bulletin_, 81(2), 138-154.
--------. (1974b). To sleep, perchance to recall a
dream. _Psychology Today_, 7(12), May, 50-54.
--------. (1974c). Presleep mood and dream recall.
_Journal of Abnormal Psychology_, 83(1), 45-51.
--------. (1973). Sex role orientation and dream
recall. _Journal of Abnormal Psychology_, 82(2), 246-252.
Cohen, D. & Wolfe G. (1973). Dream recall and
repression: Evidence for an alternative hypothesis. _Journal of Consulting and
Clinical Psychology_, 41(3), 349-355.
Freud, Sigmund. (1900/1953). The Interpretation of
Dreams. Standard Edition, 4&5 London:Hogarth Press.
--------. (1965; first published 1900). _The
Interpretation f Dreams._ James Strachey (Trans.). New York: Avon Books.
Goodenough, Donald R. (1991). Dream recall: History
and current status of the field. In : Ellman, Steven J. & Antrobus, John S.
(Eds). (1991). _The Mind in Sleep: Psychology and Psychophysiology._ 2nd editon.
New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Goodenough, D., Witkin, H. A., Lewis, H. B. Koulack,
D. Cohen, H.(1974). Repression, interference and field dependence as factors in
dream forgetting. _Journal of Abnormal Psychology_, 83(1), 32-44.
Gregory, Jill (1988) _Dream Tips_ Novato, CA: Novato
Center for Dreams.
Moffitt, A., Kramer, M., Hoffmann, R. (Eds.). (1993).
_The Function of Dreaming._ NY: State University of New York Press.
Reed, Henry (1995). Encouraging dream recall.
_Electric Dreams_ 2(6), electronic page index.
Tonay, Veronica K. (1993). Personality correlates of
dream recall: Who remembers? _Dreaming,_ 3(1), 1-8.
Van De Castle, R. L. (1994). Our Dreaming Mind. New
York: Ballantine Books.
Whitman, R., Kramer, M., & Baldridge, B. (1963).
Which dream does the patient tell? _Archives of General Psychiatry_, 8, 277-282.