A team of scientists studied dreamers in different locations around the world.
Lucid dreaming, or dreams where the subject is aware they're dreaming, has been the subject of fascination by scientists and psychologists around the world. Now a team of scientists have been able to communicate with dreamers in the midst of a lucid dream.
As published Thursday in the issue of Current Biology , a team of scientists recruited subjects in the United States, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. The subjects were a broad range of people, with experienced lucid dreamers, a narcoleptic, and people unfamiliar with deep dream states. They were taken to sleep study centers, where electrodes were placed on their temples, scalps, and chins to verify that the subjects had entered REM sleep.
From there, the dreamers would communicate with the scientists using pre-arranged facial expressions and eye movements. For instance, the researchers asked an 19-year-old American participant to subtract six from eight while he was in a lucid dream, and he correctly signaled the answer “two” with two eye movements from left to right. When asked again, he repeated the correct answer. Roughly 18 percent of the trials resulted in this level of clear and accurate communication from the dreamer; 17 percent produced indecipherable answers, 3 percent ended with incorrect responses, and 60 percent did not provoke any response at all.
“There are studies of lucid dreamers communicating out of dreams, and also remembering to do tasks,” said Karen Konkoly, a PhD student at Northwestern University and first author of the paper, in a call. “But there's a fairly limited amount of research on the stimuli going into lucid dreams.”
“One thing that surprised us is that you could just say a sentence to somebody, and they could understand it just as it actually is,” she added.
“It's amazing to sit in the lab and ask a bunch of questions, and then somebody might actually answer one,” Konkoly said. “It's such an immediately rewarding type of experiment to do. You don't have to wait to analyze your data or anything like that. You can see it right there while they're still sleeping.”
Upon awakening, dreamers would describe the scientist's voices as a voiceover narrator or a radio speaker coming from outside of their dreams.
“We’ve thought of so many experiments we could do with this,” Konkoly said. “I think one predicate that we're working on now is: how can we optimize the procedure? How can we have this happen more? How can we have people have more lucid dreams? How can we communicate more reliably?”
“We have a lot of different ideas,” she concluded, “and we're excited to test them.”