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Memory Biases & How They Affect Dreaming

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dreamosis
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Memory Biases & How They Affect Dreaming
PostPosted: Sat 13 Oct, 2012  Reply with quote

Much has been written about tips for better recall and interpretation, but I've never come across a discussion of memory biases and dreaming. Thus, I've begun this thread.

Here are a few common memory biases which relate to dreaming. They all came from Wikipedia (link at bottom).

Consistency bias: incorrectly remembering one's past attitudes and behaviour as resembling present attitudes and behaviour.

* Guarding against this bias is helpful in our interpretation of our own dreams. For instance, we might dream of a person whom we don't get along with well. Awake, we might retrospectively graft our waking thoughts and feelings about this person onto the dream character, possibly ignoring that, ITD, we felt quite differently about him or her. Also, we might judge some specific behavior we performed (like screaming at a parent) as bad, ignoring that, ITD, our attitude was that it felt quite good. If we ignore what our attitude was ITD, we risk misinterpreting the dream.

Context effect: that cognition and memory are dependent on context, such that out-of-context memories are more difficult to retrieve than in-context memories (e.g., recall time and accuracy for a work-related memory will be lower at home, and vice versa).

* What this means to me is that recalling a dream will be easier if we identify and hold firmly in our minds the context of the dream, and work outward from there. Human memory of space (spatial memory) is actually quite remarkable. You might have noticed that if you can't recall details of a dream, you can still recall that you were: outside, in daylight, on a street, with tall buildings around you, and that there were mountains in the background, etc. From the spatial context, you can move on to the social context, i.e, who was there.

Focus upon the context of the dream.

Egocentric bias: recalling the past in a self-serving manner, e.g., remembering one's exam grades as being better than they were, or remembering a caught fish as bigger than it really was.

This is sort of a rehash of the Consistency bias. Basically, it does no good to gloss over your dark or gross or uncivil behavior in a dream. That you did something socially unacceptable in a dream doesn't mean you will do it IRL, but to truly understand a dream you have to be honest about what you really did.

False memory – a form of misattribution where imagination is mistaken for a memory.

False memories within dream sequences can be created during recall when we "reach" for specifics that aren't immediately clear to us. It's better to write "I was with an older, dark-haired woman," than to assume that it was your mother because she has dark hair. If you can't recall a sequence, don't write that "We left X and then went to Y." Simply put "..." in your journal, honoring the fact that you can't recall how you got from point X to point Y.

Levels-of-processing effect: that different methods of encoding information into memory have different levels of effectiveness.

This has huge application in dream recall. Some ways of reviewing recent dreams before writing them down, or saving them for journaling later in the morning, are better than others.

Mood congruent memory bias: the improved recall of information congruent with one's current mood.

I believe this means that if we stay in the mood of a dream, it will be easier for us to fully recall it. I suspect it also means that getting frustrated with poor recall hurts your recall even more. Stay with the mood of the dream. Don't let yourself be flustered by vagueness.

Self-serving bias – perceiving oneself responsible for desirable outcomes but not responsible for undesirable ones.

This is important when interpreting negative content in dreams. It's easy to see terrible nightmare sequences as being completely disconnected from yourself--to see them as something that happens to you from without. We feel this way about nightmares because nightmares, I think, spring up from very deep in our subconscious. The thoughts and feelings associated with the nightmare are so repressed, we've shoved them down so far, that they feel separate from us. Also, after lucid nightmares, we tend to blame dream villains even when our behavior toward them was atrocious.

Von Restorff effect: that an item that sticks out is more likely to be remembered than other items.

Everyone who works with dreams recognizes this effect. Highly strange events and objects will be remembered almost automatically. If we can't recall a whole dream narrative, then maybe if we focus on the "Von Restoroff," we can piece more of the dream together.

A good recall strategy might be: Von Restoroff, context-place, context-people.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_memory_biases



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Shaper
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PostPosted: Sat 13 Oct, 2012  Reply with quote

Great stuff, definitely good reading for anyone learning to improve their dream recall!

Also one thing to bear in mind is that one of the toughest things about remembering dreams is that we seem to be biologically programmed not to remember them. I read this once in a Stephen LaBerge book, and I'll try to paraphrase it here. Essentially it boils down to the danger of confabulating (that is, getting mixed up) dream memories from waking memories. In the present day this doesn't seem like a huge deal, but for most of our evolutionary history we humans had to contend with the dangers that came with a hunter gatherer lifestyle, as did other mammals through which we can trace our descent. Not getting mixed up between dreams and reality would help our ancestors keep up a more consistent experience of the world, which is easier and safer to cope with.

LaBerge uses a cat in his example: say there is a cat who lives in a house, but likes to go outside sometimes. Next door, there is a dog, which the cat knows to stay away from. Now, let's say the cat dreams the dog dies, or runs away. The next day if the cat ventures into the neighbour's yard, it might just be eaten by the dog. This is a pretty simple example, but it illustrates the sort of dangers we face with dream/waking life confabulation if you look at it through a Darwinian lens.


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dreamosis
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PostPosted: Tue 16 Oct, 2012  Reply with quote

Thanks!

What the Dreams-Aren't-Meant-To-Be-Remembered theory doesn't account for is lucidity. If you are lucid during a dream, you do not easily confuse what happens with waking physical reality.

Also, your response made me wonder...Do animals have lucid dreams? Certainly, many animals have their own level of consciousness, so, can they be conscious in their dreams?



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Shaper
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Oct, 2012  Reply with quote

dreamosis wrote:
Thanks!
What the Dreams-Aren't-Meant-To-Be-Remembered theory doesn't account for is lucidity. If you are lucid during a dream, you do not easily confuse what happens with waking physical reality.


That's true, but I guess it depends on how critical you are, either awake or asleep. I remember, for example, when I was child and would sometimes wake up from a dream, thinking that what had transpired had really happened, only to realize once I'd woken up a little more that it was a dream. If an animal were to confuse the two for the same reason -- i.e. that is was less critical or incapable of being as critical as required -- then I suppose they might still confuse the two. Of course, this depends on how the next question can be answered...

Quote:

Also, your response made me wonder...Do animals have lucid dreams? Certainly, many animals have their own level of consciousness, so, can they be conscious in their dreams?


That's a good question. And if they do, how could we tell? That aside I suppose that it might be possible, though I would suspect that if it were, it might be limited to certain of the social mammals like the Great Apes, Elephants or Cetaceans. These seem to be the most 'self-aware' animals, and you need self-awareness to have a lucid dream for sure. Of course what kind of self-awareness animals have is up for debate...I've heard arguments that chickens have self-knowledge simply by virtue of their being able to identify things like food in their environment, move toward it and eat it...and kind of relative self knowledge to the bit of food or something. In any case, the animal in question would have to be 'smart' enough to realize, in some way, what dreams are are how they are different than its waking experience, or so I would imagine.


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dreamosis
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Oct, 2012  Reply with quote

I'm digressing from the thread-theme, but your comment about dreams being biologically "designed" to be unmemorable makes me wonder about imagination. Sometimes the body cannot distinguish between imagination and reality. The classic example of this is what happens when we imagine smelling or tasting a lemon: our mouth waters. Why? We weren't confronted with a "real" stimulus, only an imaginary one, and yet our body responded as if food were present.

From the lemon example, we can quickly see that the bodymind effect of the imagination can be dangerous too. The imagination of an argument with a loved one can actually raise our blood pressure and release stress hormones into our bloodstream. We can literally harm ourselves with our imaginations (and our nightly dreams).

Why have we evolved this way, with capacities that can delude and harm us?

The obvious answer, I think, is that benefits of imagination and dreaming outweigh the dangers. Imagination allows us intelligent species to problem-solve efficiently. Dreaming must allow the same.

The cat may be harmed by dreaming of the dog next door dying, on the chance that the cat may believe its dream to be real, but the cat is also helped enormously by dreams of how to evade the dog if he should encounter it.

Returning to the subject of dream recall, recall may be poor in our civilization simply because of its routines. I know in the US that a majority of the population undersleeps. It's easiest to recall dreams from the last round of REM, and many North Americans don't have that last, long REM period because they sleep less than seven hours per night.

The ultimate dream recall secret is to sleep longer. The ultimate lucid dreaming secret is to sleep longer.

Sleep deprivation impairs the memory, too. So by undersleeping, you diminish your chances of remembering dreams on a cumulative basis.



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Shaper
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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012  Reply with quote

dreamosis wrote:
I'm digressing from the thread-theme, but your comment about dreams being biologically "designed" to be unmemorable makes me wonder about imagination. Sometimes the body cannot distinguish between imagination and reality. The classic example of this is what happens when we imagine smelling or tasting a lemon: our mouth waters. Why? We weren't confronted with a "real" stimulus, only an imaginary one, and yet our body responded as if food were present.

From the lemon example, we can quickly see that the bodymind effect of the imagination can be dangerous too. The imagination of an argument with a loved one can actually raise our blood pressure and release stress hormones into our bloodstream. We can literally harm ourselves with our imaginations (and our nightly dreams).

Why have we evolved this way, with capacities that can delude and harm us?


Given the above dangers that you've pointed out, I think it makes that much more sense not to remember our dreams on an evolutionary perspective. If just imagining an argument can raise my blood pressure, what if I dreamed of an argument, and thought that it was real? It might continue to colour my mood and affect my physiology in the way you've described here. It would be like false-positive on my 'stress detection radar.' I'm not sure if this is correct or anything though, it's just a thought I had.

Quote:

The obvious answer, I think, is that benefits of imagination and dreaming outweigh the dangers. Imagination allows us intelligent species to problem-solve efficiently. Dreaming must allow the same.

The cat may be harmed by dreaming of the dog next door dying, on the chance that the cat may believe its dream to be real, but the cat is also helped enormously by dreams of how to evade the dog if he should encounter it.


You could be right, but then that makes me wonder why we forget so many of our dreams beyond some of the reasons you've given below. I think the figure is something like 95% of our dreams are forgotten. Even experienced lucid dreamers will have trouble remembering them unless they are very affective, or the dreamer wakes up immediately after a REM period. I've just got to wonder, why should we have so much trouble remembering them?

Quote:

Returning to the subject of dream recall, recall may be poor in our civilization simply because of its routines. I know in the US that a majority of the population undersleeps. It's easiest to recall dreams from the last round of REM, and many North Americans don't have that last, long REM period because they sleep less than seven hours per night.

The ultimate dream recall secret is to sleep longer. The ultimate lucid dreaming secret is to sleep longer.

Sleep deprivation impairs the memory, too. So by undersleeping, you diminish your chances of remembering dreams on a cumulative basis.


I agree, but it's still interesting that we lose so many of our dreams from earlier in the night too. I that lack of dream recall fits best with the 'dreams aren't meant to be remembered' idea that I outlined. Of course by sleeping longer we can overcome part of this. But the dreams we have throughout the night in those other REM cycles might continue to be forgotten, unless you've got the presence of mind to stay awake and recall what you've dreamed. Most of us would probably be so tired from not yet having slept enough that we'd forget to do this too.


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PostPosted: Sat 20 Oct, 2012  Reply with quote

Interesting topic.

I agree with the comment about not getting enough sleep though I'd argue it isn't just Americans. Humans now live very differently in terms of following (or rather, Not following) our natural circadian cycle. I don't remember what book I read it in but the author made an interesting point about imagination and dreaming over time. When we still lived in caves and the darkness of night dictated our waking and sleeping we slept differently. He argues that a "normal" night's sleep would include long moments of wakefulness between sleep cycles. Probably everyone has experienced it at some point or another: that surreal and trance-like moment when you are awake but your imagination is still in dream-mode. Plenty of people get their best ideas or solve some nagging problem in the middle of the night.

On those rare weeks where I get enough sleep I've become more aware of waking between sleep cycles. My DR gets a boost as well since I always wake right after my dreams. Sometimes I even write them down before going back to sleep. It's developed to the point that I even felt frustrated at not being able to simply fall asleep and lose all awareness until morning; annoyed that I would always wake up multiple times a night with new dreams clamoring to be remembered.

I've meandered far off topic. I think there's some truth to our brains being programmed to forget dreams. Though I'm inclined to think it is largely due to the mind prioritizing memories as well as the highly scheduled lives that modern humans lead.

All I know is that getting more sleep increases my chances of remembering my dreams. And once I establish a pattern, it's hard not to remember them since writing down one often leads me to remember other ones (if I forgot them in the first place).

If I'm no longer making any sense or if I forgot to add a point to all that monologue above, then my only excuse is that I should be asleep right now.

*EyesWide stops thinking coherently.


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dreamosis
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PostPosted: Mon 22 Oct, 2012  Reply with quote

Well, look, how much of our supposed tendency to forget our dreams is attributable to our civilization?

Consider the following:

* many modern people are underslept

* many modern people don't get enough sunlight and have low levels of melatonin at night (a hormone associated with dreaming)

* many modern people don't try to recall their dreams because they think they're unimportant

* many lucid dreamers consider their dreams to be ultimately unimportant (just "brain barf")

* last, many modern people hardly exercise their memory capacity at all because we have books, smartphones, and tablets which will remember everything for us

How much more memorable would our dreams be, if...?

* we all got eight plus hours of sleep

* we all got plenty of sunlight and exercise

* our culture valued dreams and it was common to ask other people what they dreamed about

* we saw dreams as important psychological artifacts

* we all did memory exercises (or didn't have any mnenomic props)

I know from personal experience that my recall easily doubles when I get more exercise and sleep, and it gets an obvious boost from my simply paying attention and being invested in my dream content.

For the last months, on average, I've remembered 3 dreams per night. On some nights I've remembered 4, 5, 6 or (once or twice) 7.

Often the fourth and fifth dreams are only fragments, maybe two or three sentences in my dream journal. This is because I don't get up out of bed to write down everything I recall as it's too disruptive to my schedule. Instead, I only jot down keywords or I use a memory palace to store a few key images.

Add:
Bringing the thread back to the subject of how memory works, it's crucial to recall that emotional investment is important to memory. To wit, we'll remember fewer dreams if dreams aren't important to us. That's how concentration works. It's exceedingly difficult to concentrate on anything you don't care about, and it's hard to remember anything you haven't concentrated on.

Last, I feel we ought to consider that there might be a two-way effect with dream recall. Perhaps the subconscious is simply more giving to those people who listen to it?



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