Electric Dreams

On the Tips our Tongues: 
Clues from Dreaming Research to Enhancing Control and Understanding of Dream Recall

Richard Catlett Wilkerson

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Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1995 April 15). On the Tips our Tongues: Clues from Dreaming Research to Enhancing Control and Understanding of Dream Recall. Electric Dreams 2(6). Retrieved July 31, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

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 of repression.


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 results:


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, egostrength)

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 sleep."


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 & Cited articles:


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), 1-10.


Cohen, David B. (1979). _Sleep and Dreaming: Origins,

 Nature 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.