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(CNN) –– People can say all kinds of strange things in their sleep, but a new study suggests that someone in the middle of a vivid dream can understand questions and even answer them.
Dreams have been studied extensively and experts are still trying to understand why we have them, how dream scenarios are created, and whether dreaming benefits brain function.
But the dreams that we can remember are often full of details that we forget and of distortions. So the Northwestern University experts wanted to talk to people while dreaming in real time. The goal was to learn more about why dreams happen and how they might be helpful for mental function.
The attempt to talk to people in your lucid dreams
Scientists tried to talk to people during their lucid dreams. While having lucid dreams, individuals report that they are aware that they are dreaming. And they often say that they are capable of directing or manipulating the content of the dream to some degree.
In separate experiments in the US, France, Germany and the Netherlands, scientists studied 36 people with varied experiences of lucid dreaming. To do this, they established two-way communication with the subjects and asked them questions using sensory stimulation. For example, touch, beeps, and flashing lights.
“We asked people questions in the midst of lucid dreams, and they were able to respond with eye movements or muscle contractions,” Karen Konkoly told CNN by email. Konkoly is a Northwestern cognitive neuroscientist and one of the authors of the paper.
The researchers found that the dreamers could follow directions to make simple mathematical equations, answer “yes or no” questions, and differentiate between visual, tactile, and auditory sensory stimuli.
“This shows that it is possible to correctly perceive external stimuli and perform the necessary operations to respond. All while you are asleep, “added Konkoly.
The teams found evidence of two-way communications between researchers and patients belonging to all categories of participants. These included experienced lucid dreamers, healthy lucid-trained people with minimal experience, and narcolepsy patients.
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“Our study showed specific results from several examples of the 29 different times when we received a correct answer to a question from a dreamer,” Ken Paller, director of Northwestern’s Cognitive Neuroscience Program, told CNN. The scientist added that there were also many cases where communication attempts were unsuccessful. Of 158 two-way communication attempts during rapid eye movement sleep, 18.4% produced correct responses, Paller told CNN.
Rapid eye movements (REM) refer to the stage of sleep in which we dream and information and experiences are consolidated and stored in memory.
“We only needed the findings of a handful of people to convincingly demonstrate that two-way communication is possible. Which was our main conclusion. We show that it can even happen in people with minimal previous experience of lucid dreaming, ”Paller said in an email.
Cognitive skills during sleep
“Our results showed that the dreamers could understand the questions correctly. Also keep information in working memory and manipulate information (as in mathematical calculations). In addition to expressing their answers in a coherent way, “he added.
“Therefore, we have acquired knowledge about the cognitive abilities that can be activated during a dream. In this way, it is hoped that further research in this regard will reveal more about conscious dreaming experiences. And how these can differ from waking experiences, “he commented.
The researchers say their methods could be used for future research on memory, nightmare therapy, spiritual development and problem solving.
The research was published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.