Information

How do the blind dream?

How do the blind dream?



We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Lately, a friend of mine has been telling me that he's been having recurring dreams involving a certain rabbi, who died around a hundred years ago.
Since there's been some controversy surrounding the truth of several famous pictures of him (some say that the most famous images of him really show someone else), I wanted to ask my friend which picture he looked like.
Luckily, I stopped myself before I did -- this friend of mine is blind.

Therefore, I'd like to know what the blind experience when they dream -- do their dreams contain whatever types of experience they have in real life (ie, purely based on touch, hearing, smell, etc), or might they dream with vision? If they dream with vision, do they see color?
Is this impacted by whether the particular person in question had ever had sight (or partial sight) at any point in their life?


You may want to read Meaidi et al (2014). They obtained dream reports from congenitally blind, late blind, and matched sighted controls. To quote the abstract, they found:

All blind participants had fewer visual dream impressions compared to sighted control participants. In late blind participants, duration of blindness was negatively correlated with duration, clarity, and color content of visual dream impressions. Congenitally blind participants reported more auditory, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory dream components compared to sighted control participants. In contrast, late blind participants only reported more tactile dream impressions. Blind and sighted control participants did not differ with respect to emotional and thematic dream content. However, congenitally blind participants reported more aggressive interactions and more nightmares compared to the other two groups.

Our data show that blindness considerably alters the sensory composition of dreams and that onset and duration of blindness plays an important role. The increased occurrence of nightmares in congenitally blind participants may be related to a higher number of threatening experiences in daily life in this group.

In summarising previous research they note that:

previous studies seem to suggest that individuals who become blind after the age of 7 years retain visual imagery in their dreams, though congenitally blind or early blind (onset of blindness before the ages of 5-7 years) individuals do not.

They cite a number of previous studies that have looked at dreams of blind people that you may want to check out:

[5] Kerr NH. Dreaming, imagery and perception. In: Kryger MH, Roth T, Dement WC, editors. Principles and practice of sleep medicine. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company; 2000. p. 482-90. [6] Amadeo J, Gomez E. Eye movements, attention, and dreaming in subjects with life-long blindness. Can Psychiatry Assoc J 1966;11:501-7. [7] Berger R, Olley P, Oswald I. The EEG, eye movements, and dreams of the blind. Quart J Exp Psychol 1962;14:183-6. [8] Kerr NH, Foulkes D, Schmidt M. The structure of laboratory dream reports in blind and sighted subjects. J Nerv Ment Dis 1982;170:286-94. [9] Hurovitz CS, Dunn S, Domhoff GW, Fiss H. The dreams of blind men and women: a replication and extension of previous findings. Dreaming 1999;9:183-93. [10] Kirtley D. The psychology of blindness. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall; 1975. [11] von Schumann H. Träume der blinden. Basel: S. Karger Co.; 1959. [12] Sabo KT, Kirtley DD. Emotions in the dreams of the blind. Int J Rehabil Res 1980;3:382-5. [13] Cason H. The nightmare dream. Psychol Monogr 1935;46:1-51. [14] Kirtley D, Cannistraci K. Dreams of the visually handicapped: toward a normative approach. Am Found Blind Res Bull 1973;27:111-33. [15] Spielberger CD, Gorsuch RL, Lushene PR, Vagg PR, Jacobs AG. Manual for the state-trait anxiety inventory (Form-Y). 2nd ed. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.; 1983.

References

Meaidi, A., Jennum, P., Ptito, M., & Kupers, R. (2014). The sensory construction of dreams and nightmare frequency in congenitally blind and late blind individuals. Sleep medicine, 15(5), 586-595. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2013.12.008


Being 'mind-blind' may make remembering, dreaming and imagining harder

Credit: Shutterstock

Picture the sun setting over the ocean.

It's large above the horizon, spreading an orange-pink glow across the sky. Seagulls are flying overhead and your toes are in the sand.

Many people will have been able to picture the sunset clearly and vividly—almost like seeing the real thing. For others, the image would have been vague and fleeting, but still there.

If your mind was completely blank and you couldn't visualise anything at all, then you might be one of the 2-5 percent of people who have aphantasia, a condition that involves a lack of all mental visual imagery.

"Aphantasia challenges some of our most basic assumptions about the human mind," says Mr Alexei Dawes, Ph.D. Candidate in the UNSW School of Psychology.

"Most of us assume visual imagery is something everyone has, something fundamental to the way we see and move through the world. But what does having a 'blind mind' mean for the mental journeys we take every day when we imagine, remember, feel and dream?"

Mr Dawes was the lead author on a new aphantasia study, published today in Scientific Reports. It surveyed over 250 people who self-identified as having aphantasia, making it one of the largest studies on aphantasia yet.

"We found that aphantasia isn't just associated with absent visual imagery, but also with a widespread pattern of changes to other important cognitive processes," he says.

"People with aphantasia reported a reduced ability to remember the past, imagine the future, and even dream."

Study participants completed a series of questionnaires on topics like imagery strength and memory. The results were compared with responses from 400 people spread across two independent control groups.

For example, participants were asked to remember a scene from their life and rate the vividness using a five-point scale, with one indicating "No image at all, I only 'know' that I am recalling the memory," and five indicating "Perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision."

"Our data revealed an extended cognitive 'fingerprint' of aphantasia characterised by changes to imagery, memory, and dreaming," says Mr Dawes.

"We're only just starting to learn how radically different the internal worlds of those without imagery are."

Subsets of aphantasia

While people with aphantasia wouldn't have been able to picture the image of the sunset mentioned above, many could have imagined the feeling of sand between their toes, or the sound of the seagulls and the waves crashing in.

However, 26 percent of aphantasic study participants reported a broader lack of multi-sensory imagery—including imagining sound, touch, motion, taste, smell and emotion.

"This is the first scientific data we have showing that potential subtypes of aphantasia exist," says Professor Joel Pearson, senior author on the paper and Director of UNSW Science's Future Minds Lab.

Interestingly, spatial imagery—the ability to imagine distance or locational relationship between things—was the only form of sensory imagery that had no significant changes across aphantasics and people who could visualise.

"The reported spatial abilities of aphantasics were on par with the control groups across many types of cognitive processes," says Mr Dawes. "This included when imagining new scenes, during spatial memory or navigation, and even when dreaming."

In action, spatial cognition could be playing Tetris and imagining how a certain shape would fit into the existing layout, or remembering how to navigate from A to B when driving.

In dreams and memories

While visualising a sunset is a voluntary action, involuntary forms of cognition—like dreaming—were also found to occur less in people with aphantasia.

"Aphantasics reported dreaming less often, and the dreams they do report seem to be less vivid and lower in sensory detail," says Prof Pearson.

"This suggests that any cognitive function involving a sensory visual component—be it voluntary or involuntary—is likely to be reduced in aphantasia."

Aphantasic individuals also experienced less vivid memories of their past and reported a significantly lower ability to remember past life events in general.

"Our work is the first to show that aphantasic individuals also show a reduced ability to remember the past and prospect into the future," says Mr Dawes. "This suggests that visual imagery might play a key role in memory processes."

While up to one million Australians could have aphantasia, relatively little is known about it—to date, there have been less than 10 scientific studies on the condition.

More research is needed to deepen our understanding of aphantasia and how it impacts the daily lives of those who experience it.

"If you are one of the million Australians with aphantasia, what do you do when your yoga teacher asks you are asked to 'visualise a white light' during a meditation practice?" asks Mr Dawes.

"How do you reminisce on your last birthday, or imagine yourself relaxing on a tropical beach while you're riding the train home? What's it like to dream at night without mental images, and how do you 'count' sheep before you fall asleep?"

The researchers note that while this study is exciting for its scope and comparatively large sample size, it is based on participants' self-reports, which are subjective by nature.

Next, they plan to build on the study by using measurements that can be tested objectively, like analysing and quantifying people's memories.


Want to control your dreams? Here's how you can

New research at the University of Adelaide has found that a specific combination of techniques will increase people's chances of having lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware they're dreaming while it's still happening and can control the experience.

Although many techniques exist for inducing lucid dreams, previous studies have reported low success rates, preventing researchers from being able to study the potential benefits and applications of lucid dreaming.

Dr Denholm Aspy's research in the University of Adelaide's School of Psychology is aimed at addressing this problem and developing more effective lucid dream induction techniques.

The results from his studies, now published in the journal Dreaming, have confirmed that people can increase their chances of having a lucid dream.

The study involved three groups of participants, and investigated the effectiveness of three different lucid dream induction techniques:

1. reality testing -- which involves checking your environment several times a day to see whether or not you're dreaming.

2. wake back to bed -- waking up after five hours, staying awake for a short period, then going back to sleep in order to enter a REM sleep period, in which dreams are more likely to occur.

3. MILD (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams) -- which involves waking up after five hours of sleep and then developing the intention to remember that you are dreaming before returning to sleep, by repeating the phrase: "The next time I'm dreaming, I will remember that I'm dreaming." You also imagine yourself in a lucid dream.

Among the group of 47 people who combined all three techniques, participants achieved a 17% success rate in having lucid dreams over the period of just one week -- significantly higher compared to a baseline week where they didn't practise any techniques. Among those who were able to go to sleep within the first five minutes of completing the MILD technique, the success rate of lucid dreaming was much higher, at almost 46% of attempts.

"The MILD technique works on what we call 'prospective memory' -- that is, your ability to remember to do things in the future. By repeating a phrase that you will remember you're dreaming, it forms an intention in your mind that you will, in fact, remember that you are dreaming, leading to a lucid dream," says Dr Aspy, Visiting Research Fellow in the University's School of Psychology.

"Importantly, those who reported success using the MILD technique were significantly less sleep deprived the next day, indicating that lucid dreaming did not have any negative effect on sleep quality," he says.

"These results take us one step closer to developing highly effective lucid dream induction techniques that will allow us to study the many potential benefits of lucid dreaming, such as treatment for nightmares and improvement of physical skills and abilities through rehearsal in the lucid dream environment," Dr Aspy says.


How did you get interested in perception?

Being born blind, and not getting my sight until I was operated on at age 3, gave me a feeling that your first impression came via your senses, but as you grew older you learned somehow to be prepared for certain kinds of situations. So your senses were not just concerned with the new, but also concerned with the confirmation of what you expected.

At Harvard, I began discovering there were wonderful techniques you could use to study perception. One, for example, was the tachistoscope, an apparatus that presents visual displays to a person down to a hundredth of a second. I had the good luck of having some good friends at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and they built me one of the first tachistoscopes. We could show people pictures at the speed of recognition. We found [that people's ability to recognize the objects in the photographs] depended not only on the nature of the input, but also on the nature of the values that the object represented.


Visual Hallucinations Among Blind People Increase During Pandemic

The study of 45 patients from Moorfields Eye Hospital between June and July 2020, published in BMJ Open Ophthalmology,reports of harrowing increases in symptoms in over half of participants.

The findings highlight that social isolation, loneliness, lack of exercise and exposure to distressing media over the COVID-19 lockdown have exacerbated and intensified visual hallucinations in 56% of the patients studied.

Lead researcher Professor Mariya Moosajee (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust) said: “I had been trying to raise awareness of this condition pre-COVID it can affect any one with sight loss ranging from young children to the elderly. COVID has impacted every single one of us, but now we have evidence that social isolation is precipitating a scary complication of visual impairment, which may have a major long-term effect on mental health.”

Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) is not curable but there are techniques to manage the condition as well as support. The study’s researchers say that, where possible, increasing social interactions and engaging in physical exercise could help to reduce hallucinations. They say that an increase in healthcare professionals being aware of CBS risk factors is vital to diagnose more effectively. This leads to better strategies to promote patients being able to manage their condition.

The study publication coincides with increased public discussion of CBS, as an established character on Coronation Street, Johnny, began to hallucinate due to his sight loss from optic neuritis. In this week’s episode, the character is scared, isolated and afraid that people think that he is ‘going mad’.

The findings highlight that social isolation, loneliness, lack of exercise and exposure to distressing media over the COVID-19 lockdown have exacerbated and intensified visual hallucinations in 56% of the patients studied. Credit: UCL

Esme’s Umbrella, the UK’s CBS campaign has been working tirelessly since it was founded by Judith Potts in 2015 to raise awareness of the condition. Potts, who is a co-author on the researcher paper, said: “Sadly it is often overlooked as a mental health condition or otherwise and is therefore not managed effectively. I am so pleased that our voice is now being heard and the horror of the condition is being recognised not only on national TV but also in this latest study.

“My dream is that anyone experiencing CBS will not be afraid to go to their doctor and when they do, they will be diagnosed quickly. COVID-19 has added to the situation in negative way as highlighted in the study.”

The study was supported by the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre, Thomas Pocklington Trust and Wellcome.

Another study by a UCL researcher, published last month, found that the visual hallucinations experienced by people with CBS can stem from spontaneous activity in the brain’s visual centres.

About this visual hallucinations research news

Source: UCL
Contact: Chris Lane – UCL
Image: The image is credited to UCL


Dreaming: a gateway to the unconscious?

Where do our dreams originate from, and what do they tell us? Is there a universal set of symbols that are common to all dreams, regardless of a person's ethnicity or culture? What does dreaming reveal about the unconscious? Why do some dreams remain etched in our memories, whereas others are almost instantly forgotten? Some scientists have adopted the position that dreams are little more than noise in the brain, without any substantive purpose or function. Yet, such a stance seemingly runs counter to the experience of many people who reflect upon and even analyze their dreams, often in search of clues to their daily lives or insights into their deeper selves. Similarly, in virtually all wisdom traditions, dreams are invoked as an important source of revelation or prophecy. Steve Paulson, executive producer and host of To the Best of Our Knowledge, moderated a discussion that included psychologist Deirdre Barrett, dream researcher Kelly Bulkeley, and psychologist and sleep/dream medicine specialist Rubin Naiman they examined dreams from a variety of perspectives to answer these questions.

Keywords: Freud Jung PTSD REM sleep big dreams blind analysis comparative religion consciousness continuity hypothesis dreams lucid dreams manifesting neuroscience prefrontal cortex synchronicity.


Dream Sleep in Blind People

Firstly, blind people do dream. The processes that induce dreams in blind people are no different than those in sighted people.

Dream sleep is associated with the sleep stage called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep, people will experience physiological changes such as deep muscle relaxation, faster respiration, jittering or darting eye movements, and increased brain activity.  

In a typical night, REM sleep will lead to around two hours of dreaming, broken up by other alternating stages of sleep.  

As for the dreams themselves, some researchers believe that they are simply the mind's way of consolidating memories, either by reviewing and reorganizing recent events or sensations or by connecting new experiences to older ones. Within this context, vision is a central component of memory but not the only one.  

As long as there are memories and sensations to connect them with, a person will dream whether they are sighted or blind.


The dreams of the blind and deaf have been investigated by Prof. Jastrow.1 Prior to Jastrow, Heermann had considered the subject the studies of both, taken up independently, were practically identical in their results.

According to Jastrow, those totally blind from birth or prior to the fifth year do not see in their dreams. If blindness occurs between the fifth and seventh years vision in dreams may or may not be present. This is due to the fact that prior to the seventh year the visual centre in the brain is developing its growth depends upon the supply of sensations reaching it by way of the eyes. If blindness occurs these sensations are cut off and the visual centre degenerates. Between the fifth and seventh year "the preservation of visualizing power depends on the degree of development of the individual. If the faculty is retained, it is neither stable nor pronounced. If sight is lost after the seventh year the sight centre can maintain function, and the dreams may be hardly distinguished from those of a seeing person."

The dreams of the blind are apparently commonplace, probably because the absence of sight does not tend to cultivate a vivid imagination, and because the knowledge gained by the blind is realistic. Ghosts, elves, fairies, monsters, etc., do not figure so much as in the dreams of the sighted. When the blind dream of ghosts they either hear them or are touched by them the ghost pursues the victim, humming and groaning as it runs, or it has a rough voice, or its bones rattle.

1 Fact and Fable in Psychology, 1900, Houghton, Miffin & Co.

Hearing is the most important sense. Beading raised type with the fingers almost never occurs in dream life. "The boys dream of playing, running, jumping, and so on the men of broom-making, piano-tuning, teaching and similar work the girls of sewing, fancy work, household work, and the like."

Dr. Heermann found, as a result of post mortem studies of ten cases, that the optic nerves degenerate after about twenty years of blindness. A case is recorded of vision in dreams being maintained for fifty-two years, another for fifty-four, then fading out. It is seen, therefore, that the ability to visualize is not dependent solely upon the integrity of the optic nerves.

Persons born blind and deaf have these senses absent in their dreams. The same faculties as are utilized during the day appear in the dream world talking with the fingers is present. As with the blind, the critical age for the deaf is from the third to the seventh year. If deafness occurs between these years hearing may or may not be present in the dreams if deafness occurs after the seventh year hearing will appear in the dreams.

In Jastrow's book is given in more or less detail the dream-life of the famous Helen Keller and Laura Bridg-man.


What have you learned from your research about the development of human sight?

Some of the first questions that we addressed had to do with a child's ability to interpret an image as a collection of objects. If I give you a marker and an image, you would have no problem delineating the boundaries of the objects [in the picture].

But even that very basic task of breaking up an image into distinct entities is shrouded in mystery. How does the brain do that? If you try to get a computer to do the same thing, it fails catastrophically. And that says something about just how difficult this problem is, notwithstanding the fact that we are able to do it so easily.

What we found was that in the initial stages of visual learning — let's say you have a child who has been treated just a few days ago — that child tends to break up the visual image into many more pieces than a normally sighted person would. Little things like shadows become distinct objects. It's only over time that the child begins to understand the correct parsing of an image.

We found that motion seems to be of profound significance for this early learning. It has a teaching role in the early stages of visual development, to inform the brain what regions in an image ought to go together and form complete objects.

So we learned two lessons from this. One lesson is that motion might be important not just in the moment, but rather might truly wire up the brain system in a way that subsequently, even when motion is absent, the brain is able to correctly interpret static imagery.

In addition, on a slightly higher level, this result showed that even children who had suffered [sight] deprivation for many years, 10 years or 14 years, these children were able to acquire significant visual function.

We had been worried about the idea that some neuroscientists had posited, that beyond the first few years of life the brain simply does not have the capability to learn from new visual information. And we found that was not true. These children, even though they were gaining sight late in childhood, were acquiring significant visual function.


Being ‘mind-blind’ may make remembering, dreaming and imagining harder

Summary: Aphantasia, a disorder in which people lack the ability to mentally visualize imagery, is also associated with a widespread pattern of changes to other important cognitive processes. Many with aphantasia report a reduced ability to recall past events, imagine the future, and dream.

Source: University of New South Wales

Picture the sun setting over the ocean.

It’s large above the horizon, spreading an orange-pink glow across the sky. Seagulls are flying overhead and your toes are in the sand.

Many people will have been able to picture the sunset clearly and vividly—almost like seeing the real thing. For others, the image would have been vague and fleeting, but still there.

If your mind was completely blank and you couldn’t visualise anything at all, then you might be one of the 2-5 percent of people who have aphantasia, a condition that involves a lack of all mental visual imagery.

“Aphantasia challenges some of our most basic assumptions about the human mind,” says Mr Alexei Dawes, Ph.D. Candidate in the UNSW School of Psychology.

“Most of us assume visual imagery is something everyone has, something fundamental to the way we see and move through the world. But what does having a ‘blind mind’ mean for the mental journeys we take every day when we imagine, remember, feel and dream?”

Mr Dawes was the lead author on a new aphantasia study, published today in Scientific Reports. It surveyed over 250 people who self-identified as having aphantasia, making it one of the largest studies on aphantasia yet.

“We found that aphantasia isn’t just associated with absent visual imagery, but also with a widespread pattern of changes to other important cognitive processes,” he says.

“People with aphantasia reported a reduced ability to remember the past, imagine the future, and even dream.”

Study participants completed a series of questionnaires on topics like imagery strength and memory. The results were compared with responses from 400 people spread across two independent control groups.

For example, participants were asked to remember a scene from their life and rate the vividness using a five-point scale, with one indicating “No image at all, I only ‘know’ that I am recalling the memory,” and five indicating “Perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision.”

“Our data revealed an extended cognitive ‘fingerprint’ of aphantasia characterised by changes to imagery, memory, and dreaming,” says Mr Dawes.

“We’re only just starting to learn how radically different the internal worlds of those without imagery are.”

Subsets of aphantasia

While people with aphantasia wouldn’t have been able to picture the image of the sunset mentioned above, many could have imagined the feeling of sand between their toes, or the sound of the seagulls and the waves crashing in.

However, 26 percent of aphantasic study participants reported a broader lack of multi-sensory imagery—including imagining sound, touch, motion, taste, smell and emotion.

“This is the first scientific data we have showing that potential subtypes of aphantasia exist,” says Professor Joel Pearson, senior author on the paper and Director of UNSW Science’s Future Minds Lab.

Interestingly, spatial imagery—the ability to imagine distance or locational relationship between things—was the only form of sensory imagery that had no significant changes across aphantasics and people who could visualise.

“The reported spatial abilities of aphantasics were on par with the control groups across many types of cognitive processes,” says Mr Dawes. “This included when imagining new scenes, during spatial memory or navigation, and even when dreaming.”

In action, spatial cognition could be playing Tetris and imagining how a certain shape would fit into the existing layout, or remembering how to navigate from A to B when driving.

In dreams and memories

While visualising a sunset is a voluntary action, involuntary forms of cognition—like dreaming—were also found to occur less in people with aphantasia.

“Aphantasics reported dreaming less often, and the dreams they do report seem to be less vivid and lower in sensory detail,” says Prof Pearson.

“This suggests that any cognitive function involving a sensory visual component—be it voluntary or involuntary—is likely to be reduced in aphantasia.”

Aphantasic individuals also experienced less vivid memories of their past and reported a significantly lower ability to remember past life events in general.

“Our work is the first to show that aphantasic individuals also show a reduced ability to remember the past and prospect into the future,” says Mr Dawes. “This suggests that visual imagery might play a key role in memory processes.”

A Possible Novel Migraine Therapy

Looking ahead

While up to one million Australians could have aphantasia, relatively little is known about it—to date, there have been less than 10 scientific studies on the condition.

More research is needed to deepen our understanding of aphantasia and how it impacts the daily lives of those who experience it.

“If you are one of the million Australians with aphantasia, what do you do when your yoga teacher asks you are asked to ‘visualise a white light’ during a meditation practice?” asks Mr Dawes.

“How do you reminisce on your last birthday, or imagine yourself relaxing on a tropical beach while you’re riding the train home? What’s it like to dream at night without mental images, and how do you ‘count’ sheep before you fall asleep?”

The researchers note that while this study is exciting for its scope and comparatively large sample size, it is based on participants’ self-reports, which are subjective by nature.

Next, they plan to build on the study by using measurements that can be tested objectively, like analysing and quantifying people’s memories.

About this neuroscience research article

Source:
University of New South Wales
Media Contacts:
Press Office – University of New South Wales
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

A cognitive profile of multi-sensory imagery, memory and dreaming in aphantasia

For most people, visual imagery is an innate feature of many of our internal experiences, and appears to play a critical role in supporting core cognitive processes. Some individuals, however, lack the ability to voluntarily generate visual imagery altogether – a condition termed “aphantasia”. Recent research suggests that aphantasia is a condition defined by the absence of visual imagery, rather than a lack of metacognitive awareness of internal visual imagery. Here we further illustrate a cognitive “fingerprint” of aphantasia, demonstrating that compared to control participants with imagery ability, aphantasic individuals report decreased imagery in other sensory domains, although not all report a complete lack of multi-sensory imagery. They also report less vivid and phenomenologically rich autobiographical memories and imagined future scenarios, suggesting a constructive role for visual imagery in representing episodic events. Interestingly, aphantasic individuals report fewer and qualitatively impoverished dreams compared to controls. However, spatial abilities appear unaffected, and aphantasic individuals do not appear to be considerably protected against all forms of trauma symptomatology in response to stressful life events. Collectively, these data suggest that imagery may be a normative representational tool for wider cognitive processes, highlighting the large inter-individual variability that characterises our internal mental representations.


Dream Sleep in Blind People

Firstly, blind people do dream. The processes that induce dreams in blind people are no different than those in sighted people.

Dream sleep is associated with the sleep stage called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep, people will experience physiological changes such as deep muscle relaxation, faster respiration, jittering or darting eye movements, and increased brain activity.  

In a typical night, REM sleep will lead to around two hours of dreaming, broken up by other alternating stages of sleep.  

As for the dreams themselves, some researchers believe that they are simply the mind's way of consolidating memories, either by reviewing and reorganizing recent events or sensations or by connecting new experiences to older ones. Within this context, vision is a central component of memory but not the only one.  

As long as there are memories and sensations to connect them with, a person will dream whether they are sighted or blind.


Being ‘mind-blind’ may make remembering, dreaming and imagining harder

Summary: Aphantasia, a disorder in which people lack the ability to mentally visualize imagery, is also associated with a widespread pattern of changes to other important cognitive processes. Many with aphantasia report a reduced ability to recall past events, imagine the future, and dream.

Source: University of New South Wales

Picture the sun setting over the ocean.

It’s large above the horizon, spreading an orange-pink glow across the sky. Seagulls are flying overhead and your toes are in the sand.

Many people will have been able to picture the sunset clearly and vividly—almost like seeing the real thing. For others, the image would have been vague and fleeting, but still there.

If your mind was completely blank and you couldn’t visualise anything at all, then you might be one of the 2-5 percent of people who have aphantasia, a condition that involves a lack of all mental visual imagery.

“Aphantasia challenges some of our most basic assumptions about the human mind,” says Mr Alexei Dawes, Ph.D. Candidate in the UNSW School of Psychology.

“Most of us assume visual imagery is something everyone has, something fundamental to the way we see and move through the world. But what does having a ‘blind mind’ mean for the mental journeys we take every day when we imagine, remember, feel and dream?”

Mr Dawes was the lead author on a new aphantasia study, published today in Scientific Reports. It surveyed over 250 people who self-identified as having aphantasia, making it one of the largest studies on aphantasia yet.

“We found that aphantasia isn’t just associated with absent visual imagery, but also with a widespread pattern of changes to other important cognitive processes,” he says.

“People with aphantasia reported a reduced ability to remember the past, imagine the future, and even dream.”

Study participants completed a series of questionnaires on topics like imagery strength and memory. The results were compared with responses from 400 people spread across two independent control groups.

For example, participants were asked to remember a scene from their life and rate the vividness using a five-point scale, with one indicating “No image at all, I only ‘know’ that I am recalling the memory,” and five indicating “Perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision.”

“Our data revealed an extended cognitive ‘fingerprint’ of aphantasia characterised by changes to imagery, memory, and dreaming,” says Mr Dawes.

“We’re only just starting to learn how radically different the internal worlds of those without imagery are.”

Subsets of aphantasia

While people with aphantasia wouldn’t have been able to picture the image of the sunset mentioned above, many could have imagined the feeling of sand between their toes, or the sound of the seagulls and the waves crashing in.

However, 26 percent of aphantasic study participants reported a broader lack of multi-sensory imagery—including imagining sound, touch, motion, taste, smell and emotion.

“This is the first scientific data we have showing that potential subtypes of aphantasia exist,” says Professor Joel Pearson, senior author on the paper and Director of UNSW Science’s Future Minds Lab.

Interestingly, spatial imagery—the ability to imagine distance or locational relationship between things—was the only form of sensory imagery that had no significant changes across aphantasics and people who could visualise.

“The reported spatial abilities of aphantasics were on par with the control groups across many types of cognitive processes,” says Mr Dawes. “This included when imagining new scenes, during spatial memory or navigation, and even when dreaming.”

In action, spatial cognition could be playing Tetris and imagining how a certain shape would fit into the existing layout, or remembering how to navigate from A to B when driving.

In dreams and memories

While visualising a sunset is a voluntary action, involuntary forms of cognition—like dreaming—were also found to occur less in people with aphantasia.

“Aphantasics reported dreaming less often, and the dreams they do report seem to be less vivid and lower in sensory detail,” says Prof Pearson.

“This suggests that any cognitive function involving a sensory visual component—be it voluntary or involuntary—is likely to be reduced in aphantasia.”

Aphantasic individuals also experienced less vivid memories of their past and reported a significantly lower ability to remember past life events in general.

“Our work is the first to show that aphantasic individuals also show a reduced ability to remember the past and prospect into the future,” says Mr Dawes. “This suggests that visual imagery might play a key role in memory processes.”

A Possible Novel Migraine Therapy

Looking ahead

While up to one million Australians could have aphantasia, relatively little is known about it—to date, there have been less than 10 scientific studies on the condition.

More research is needed to deepen our understanding of aphantasia and how it impacts the daily lives of those who experience it.

“If you are one of the million Australians with aphantasia, what do you do when your yoga teacher asks you are asked to ‘visualise a white light’ during a meditation practice?” asks Mr Dawes.

“How do you reminisce on your last birthday, or imagine yourself relaxing on a tropical beach while you’re riding the train home? What’s it like to dream at night without mental images, and how do you ‘count’ sheep before you fall asleep?”

The researchers note that while this study is exciting for its scope and comparatively large sample size, it is based on participants’ self-reports, which are subjective by nature.

Next, they plan to build on the study by using measurements that can be tested objectively, like analysing and quantifying people’s memories.

About this neuroscience research article

Source:
University of New South Wales
Media Contacts:
Press Office – University of New South Wales
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

A cognitive profile of multi-sensory imagery, memory and dreaming in aphantasia

For most people, visual imagery is an innate feature of many of our internal experiences, and appears to play a critical role in supporting core cognitive processes. Some individuals, however, lack the ability to voluntarily generate visual imagery altogether – a condition termed “aphantasia”. Recent research suggests that aphantasia is a condition defined by the absence of visual imagery, rather than a lack of metacognitive awareness of internal visual imagery. Here we further illustrate a cognitive “fingerprint” of aphantasia, demonstrating that compared to control participants with imagery ability, aphantasic individuals report decreased imagery in other sensory domains, although not all report a complete lack of multi-sensory imagery. They also report less vivid and phenomenologically rich autobiographical memories and imagined future scenarios, suggesting a constructive role for visual imagery in representing episodic events. Interestingly, aphantasic individuals report fewer and qualitatively impoverished dreams compared to controls. However, spatial abilities appear unaffected, and aphantasic individuals do not appear to be considerably protected against all forms of trauma symptomatology in response to stressful life events. Collectively, these data suggest that imagery may be a normative representational tool for wider cognitive processes, highlighting the large inter-individual variability that characterises our internal mental representations.


Want to control your dreams? Here's how you can

New research at the University of Adelaide has found that a specific combination of techniques will increase people's chances of having lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware they're dreaming while it's still happening and can control the experience.

Although many techniques exist for inducing lucid dreams, previous studies have reported low success rates, preventing researchers from being able to study the potential benefits and applications of lucid dreaming.

Dr Denholm Aspy's research in the University of Adelaide's School of Psychology is aimed at addressing this problem and developing more effective lucid dream induction techniques.

The results from his studies, now published in the journal Dreaming, have confirmed that people can increase their chances of having a lucid dream.

The study involved three groups of participants, and investigated the effectiveness of three different lucid dream induction techniques:

1. reality testing -- which involves checking your environment several times a day to see whether or not you're dreaming.

2. wake back to bed -- waking up after five hours, staying awake for a short period, then going back to sleep in order to enter a REM sleep period, in which dreams are more likely to occur.

3. MILD (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams) -- which involves waking up after five hours of sleep and then developing the intention to remember that you are dreaming before returning to sleep, by repeating the phrase: "The next time I'm dreaming, I will remember that I'm dreaming." You also imagine yourself in a lucid dream.

Among the group of 47 people who combined all three techniques, participants achieved a 17% success rate in having lucid dreams over the period of just one week -- significantly higher compared to a baseline week where they didn't practise any techniques. Among those who were able to go to sleep within the first five minutes of completing the MILD technique, the success rate of lucid dreaming was much higher, at almost 46% of attempts.

"The MILD technique works on what we call 'prospective memory' -- that is, your ability to remember to do things in the future. By repeating a phrase that you will remember you're dreaming, it forms an intention in your mind that you will, in fact, remember that you are dreaming, leading to a lucid dream," says Dr Aspy, Visiting Research Fellow in the University's School of Psychology.

"Importantly, those who reported success using the MILD technique were significantly less sleep deprived the next day, indicating that lucid dreaming did not have any negative effect on sleep quality," he says.

"These results take us one step closer to developing highly effective lucid dream induction techniques that will allow us to study the many potential benefits of lucid dreaming, such as treatment for nightmares and improvement of physical skills and abilities through rehearsal in the lucid dream environment," Dr Aspy says.


The dreams of the blind and deaf have been investigated by Prof. Jastrow.1 Prior to Jastrow, Heermann had considered the subject the studies of both, taken up independently, were practically identical in their results.

According to Jastrow, those totally blind from birth or prior to the fifth year do not see in their dreams. If blindness occurs between the fifth and seventh years vision in dreams may or may not be present. This is due to the fact that prior to the seventh year the visual centre in the brain is developing its growth depends upon the supply of sensations reaching it by way of the eyes. If blindness occurs these sensations are cut off and the visual centre degenerates. Between the fifth and seventh year "the preservation of visualizing power depends on the degree of development of the individual. If the faculty is retained, it is neither stable nor pronounced. If sight is lost after the seventh year the sight centre can maintain function, and the dreams may be hardly distinguished from those of a seeing person."

The dreams of the blind are apparently commonplace, probably because the absence of sight does not tend to cultivate a vivid imagination, and because the knowledge gained by the blind is realistic. Ghosts, elves, fairies, monsters, etc., do not figure so much as in the dreams of the sighted. When the blind dream of ghosts they either hear them or are touched by them the ghost pursues the victim, humming and groaning as it runs, or it has a rough voice, or its bones rattle.

1 Fact and Fable in Psychology, 1900, Houghton, Miffin & Co.

Hearing is the most important sense. Beading raised type with the fingers almost never occurs in dream life. "The boys dream of playing, running, jumping, and so on the men of broom-making, piano-tuning, teaching and similar work the girls of sewing, fancy work, household work, and the like."

Dr. Heermann found, as a result of post mortem studies of ten cases, that the optic nerves degenerate after about twenty years of blindness. A case is recorded of vision in dreams being maintained for fifty-two years, another for fifty-four, then fading out. It is seen, therefore, that the ability to visualize is not dependent solely upon the integrity of the optic nerves.

Persons born blind and deaf have these senses absent in their dreams. The same faculties as are utilized during the day appear in the dream world talking with the fingers is present. As with the blind, the critical age for the deaf is from the third to the seventh year. If deafness occurs between these years hearing may or may not be present in the dreams if deafness occurs after the seventh year hearing will appear in the dreams.

In Jastrow's book is given in more or less detail the dream-life of the famous Helen Keller and Laura Bridg-man.


What have you learned from your research about the development of human sight?

Some of the first questions that we addressed had to do with a child's ability to interpret an image as a collection of objects. If I give you a marker and an image, you would have no problem delineating the boundaries of the objects [in the picture].

But even that very basic task of breaking up an image into distinct entities is shrouded in mystery. How does the brain do that? If you try to get a computer to do the same thing, it fails catastrophically. And that says something about just how difficult this problem is, notwithstanding the fact that we are able to do it so easily.

What we found was that in the initial stages of visual learning — let's say you have a child who has been treated just a few days ago — that child tends to break up the visual image into many more pieces than a normally sighted person would. Little things like shadows become distinct objects. It's only over time that the child begins to understand the correct parsing of an image.

We found that motion seems to be of profound significance for this early learning. It has a teaching role in the early stages of visual development, to inform the brain what regions in an image ought to go together and form complete objects.

So we learned two lessons from this. One lesson is that motion might be important not just in the moment, but rather might truly wire up the brain system in a way that subsequently, even when motion is absent, the brain is able to correctly interpret static imagery.

In addition, on a slightly higher level, this result showed that even children who had suffered [sight] deprivation for many years, 10 years or 14 years, these children were able to acquire significant visual function.

We had been worried about the idea that some neuroscientists had posited, that beyond the first few years of life the brain simply does not have the capability to learn from new visual information. And we found that was not true. These children, even though they were gaining sight late in childhood, were acquiring significant visual function.


Visual Hallucinations Among Blind People Increase During Pandemic

The study of 45 patients from Moorfields Eye Hospital between June and July 2020, published in BMJ Open Ophthalmology,reports of harrowing increases in symptoms in over half of participants.

The findings highlight that social isolation, loneliness, lack of exercise and exposure to distressing media over the COVID-19 lockdown have exacerbated and intensified visual hallucinations in 56% of the patients studied.

Lead researcher Professor Mariya Moosajee (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust) said: “I had been trying to raise awareness of this condition pre-COVID it can affect any one with sight loss ranging from young children to the elderly. COVID has impacted every single one of us, but now we have evidence that social isolation is precipitating a scary complication of visual impairment, which may have a major long-term effect on mental health.”

Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) is not curable but there are techniques to manage the condition as well as support. The study’s researchers say that, where possible, increasing social interactions and engaging in physical exercise could help to reduce hallucinations. They say that an increase in healthcare professionals being aware of CBS risk factors is vital to diagnose more effectively. This leads to better strategies to promote patients being able to manage their condition.

The study publication coincides with increased public discussion of CBS, as an established character on Coronation Street, Johnny, began to hallucinate due to his sight loss from optic neuritis. In this week’s episode, the character is scared, isolated and afraid that people think that he is ‘going mad’.

The findings highlight that social isolation, loneliness, lack of exercise and exposure to distressing media over the COVID-19 lockdown have exacerbated and intensified visual hallucinations in 56% of the patients studied. Credit: UCL

Esme’s Umbrella, the UK’s CBS campaign has been working tirelessly since it was founded by Judith Potts in 2015 to raise awareness of the condition. Potts, who is a co-author on the researcher paper, said: “Sadly it is often overlooked as a mental health condition or otherwise and is therefore not managed effectively. I am so pleased that our voice is now being heard and the horror of the condition is being recognised not only on national TV but also in this latest study.

“My dream is that anyone experiencing CBS will not be afraid to go to their doctor and when they do, they will be diagnosed quickly. COVID-19 has added to the situation in negative way as highlighted in the study.”

The study was supported by the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre, Thomas Pocklington Trust and Wellcome.

Another study by a UCL researcher, published last month, found that the visual hallucinations experienced by people with CBS can stem from spontaneous activity in the brain’s visual centres.

About this visual hallucinations research news

Source: UCL
Contact: Chris Lane – UCL
Image: The image is credited to UCL


Dreaming: a gateway to the unconscious?

Where do our dreams originate from, and what do they tell us? Is there a universal set of symbols that are common to all dreams, regardless of a person's ethnicity or culture? What does dreaming reveal about the unconscious? Why do some dreams remain etched in our memories, whereas others are almost instantly forgotten? Some scientists have adopted the position that dreams are little more than noise in the brain, without any substantive purpose or function. Yet, such a stance seemingly runs counter to the experience of many people who reflect upon and even analyze their dreams, often in search of clues to their daily lives or insights into their deeper selves. Similarly, in virtually all wisdom traditions, dreams are invoked as an important source of revelation or prophecy. Steve Paulson, executive producer and host of To the Best of Our Knowledge, moderated a discussion that included psychologist Deirdre Barrett, dream researcher Kelly Bulkeley, and psychologist and sleep/dream medicine specialist Rubin Naiman they examined dreams from a variety of perspectives to answer these questions.

Keywords: Freud Jung PTSD REM sleep big dreams blind analysis comparative religion consciousness continuity hypothesis dreams lucid dreams manifesting neuroscience prefrontal cortex synchronicity.


Being 'mind-blind' may make remembering, dreaming and imagining harder

Credit: Shutterstock

Picture the sun setting over the ocean.

It's large above the horizon, spreading an orange-pink glow across the sky. Seagulls are flying overhead and your toes are in the sand.

Many people will have been able to picture the sunset clearly and vividly—almost like seeing the real thing. For others, the image would have been vague and fleeting, but still there.

If your mind was completely blank and you couldn't visualise anything at all, then you might be one of the 2-5 percent of people who have aphantasia, a condition that involves a lack of all mental visual imagery.

"Aphantasia challenges some of our most basic assumptions about the human mind," says Mr Alexei Dawes, Ph.D. Candidate in the UNSW School of Psychology.

"Most of us assume visual imagery is something everyone has, something fundamental to the way we see and move through the world. But what does having a 'blind mind' mean for the mental journeys we take every day when we imagine, remember, feel and dream?"

Mr Dawes was the lead author on a new aphantasia study, published today in Scientific Reports. It surveyed over 250 people who self-identified as having aphantasia, making it one of the largest studies on aphantasia yet.

"We found that aphantasia isn't just associated with absent visual imagery, but also with a widespread pattern of changes to other important cognitive processes," he says.

"People with aphantasia reported a reduced ability to remember the past, imagine the future, and even dream."

Study participants completed a series of questionnaires on topics like imagery strength and memory. The results were compared with responses from 400 people spread across two independent control groups.

For example, participants were asked to remember a scene from their life and rate the vividness using a five-point scale, with one indicating "No image at all, I only 'know' that I am recalling the memory," and five indicating "Perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision."

"Our data revealed an extended cognitive 'fingerprint' of aphantasia characterised by changes to imagery, memory, and dreaming," says Mr Dawes.

"We're only just starting to learn how radically different the internal worlds of those without imagery are."

Subsets of aphantasia

While people with aphantasia wouldn't have been able to picture the image of the sunset mentioned above, many could have imagined the feeling of sand between their toes, or the sound of the seagulls and the waves crashing in.

However, 26 percent of aphantasic study participants reported a broader lack of multi-sensory imagery—including imagining sound, touch, motion, taste, smell and emotion.

"This is the first scientific data we have showing that potential subtypes of aphantasia exist," says Professor Joel Pearson, senior author on the paper and Director of UNSW Science's Future Minds Lab.

Interestingly, spatial imagery—the ability to imagine distance or locational relationship between things—was the only form of sensory imagery that had no significant changes across aphantasics and people who could visualise.

"The reported spatial abilities of aphantasics were on par with the control groups across many types of cognitive processes," says Mr Dawes. "This included when imagining new scenes, during spatial memory or navigation, and even when dreaming."

In action, spatial cognition could be playing Tetris and imagining how a certain shape would fit into the existing layout, or remembering how to navigate from A to B when driving.

In dreams and memories

While visualising a sunset is a voluntary action, involuntary forms of cognition—like dreaming—were also found to occur less in people with aphantasia.

"Aphantasics reported dreaming less often, and the dreams they do report seem to be less vivid and lower in sensory detail," says Prof Pearson.

"This suggests that any cognitive function involving a sensory visual component—be it voluntary or involuntary—is likely to be reduced in aphantasia."

Aphantasic individuals also experienced less vivid memories of their past and reported a significantly lower ability to remember past life events in general.

"Our work is the first to show that aphantasic individuals also show a reduced ability to remember the past and prospect into the future," says Mr Dawes. "This suggests that visual imagery might play a key role in memory processes."

While up to one million Australians could have aphantasia, relatively little is known about it—to date, there have been less than 10 scientific studies on the condition.

More research is needed to deepen our understanding of aphantasia and how it impacts the daily lives of those who experience it.

"If you are one of the million Australians with aphantasia, what do you do when your yoga teacher asks you are asked to 'visualise a white light' during a meditation practice?" asks Mr Dawes.

"How do you reminisce on your last birthday, or imagine yourself relaxing on a tropical beach while you're riding the train home? What's it like to dream at night without mental images, and how do you 'count' sheep before you fall asleep?"

The researchers note that while this study is exciting for its scope and comparatively large sample size, it is based on participants' self-reports, which are subjective by nature.

Next, they plan to build on the study by using measurements that can be tested objectively, like analysing and quantifying people's memories.


How did you get interested in perception?

Being born blind, and not getting my sight until I was operated on at age 3, gave me a feeling that your first impression came via your senses, but as you grew older you learned somehow to be prepared for certain kinds of situations. So your senses were not just concerned with the new, but also concerned with the confirmation of what you expected.

At Harvard, I began discovering there were wonderful techniques you could use to study perception. One, for example, was the tachistoscope, an apparatus that presents visual displays to a person down to a hundredth of a second. I had the good luck of having some good friends at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and they built me one of the first tachistoscopes. We could show people pictures at the speed of recognition. We found [that people's ability to recognize the objects in the photographs] depended not only on the nature of the input, but also on the nature of the values that the object represented.