Dream work update

Once again, the absence of recent website updates indicates frenzied activity elsewhere. Since my last post I have been promoted to Reader in Psychology: Cognition and Consciousness, which is a title I am rather pleased with! With that slight change of role also comes a slight shift in work-focus, with less input to the undergraduate Psychology programme, almost all teaching hours being dedicated to PhD supervision, and a host of other institutional research administrative duties, such as continuing to lead the PhD Programme, Chairing the University’s Ethics Committee and much more. I’m looking forward to the next phase of research activity, also.

One particular current research focus concerns hyperassociativity, which is mentioned in a series of papers but never really defined (until we attempted to do so in 2015).  I’m keen to explore the ways that associations between memory sources may seem different in sleeping cognition compared to wake. There has been speculation about this before, but very little evidence indeed. I have been thinking of this in various ways, as I continue the broader mission of exploring dreaming as a reflection of memory consolidation in sleep. That, I suspect, will be a lifelong endeavour.

I am grateful for support from and discussion with a close network of colleagues with shared interests. The BPS funded us to hold a series of seminars and workshops exploring dreaming and memory consolidation. I kicked off the series in Feb 2016, along with a formal DrEAMSLab launch. Prof. Sue Llewellyn (University of Manchester) presented on dreaming to predict at the next event in Lancaster in April 2016, which was a full day of presentations exploring sleep and cognition, organized by Prof. Padraic Monaghan (University of Lancaster). Dr. Josie Malinowski led a very well attended lecture and discussion at UEL in March this year, exploring emotion assimilation in dreams. And on Friday (6th Oct) Prof. Mark Blagrove (University of Swansea) led a presentation, discussion and series of dream groups, along with Dr. Julia Lockheart, This was incredible for many reasons!

The aim of the day was to explore metaphors in dreams, within the broader context of measuring, conceptualizing and theorizing about the extent to which dreams reflect the activation of memories in the sleeping mind-brain. We wanted to discuss and identify a measure of metaphors, which, admittedly, was rather ambitious, not to mention something I was apprehensive about considering I have actively avoided trying to measure anything other than a clear or literal reflection of waking life in dreams until now.

As you might expect, discussions identified that we need to define metaphors, let alone a way of measuring them, and we discussed all sorts. The mission continues…!

Along the way we held three dream groups, which are always enjoyable. This time Dr. Julia Lockheart, an artist based in Swansea and co-founder of the DreamsID project (along with Prof. Mark Blagrove), sat quietly in the background while the dream was shared and discussed, according to the Ullman Technique. Julia portrayed a perspective of the dream by painting directly onto a page of Freud’s interpretation of Dreams. At the end of each group, Julia would present the art creation to the dreamer and explain the symbolism or meaning behind each image created. On the first occasion she projected her artwork on a large screen, so we could see it unfold. The creations were beautiful and detailed, and will be given to the dreamers in due course, as a lasting memory of the dream experience (although not a “true” representation of them, as they differed to the dreamers’ images in various ways). Julia therefore contributed a different perspective to those offered in the dream groups. We hope to assess the way in which understandings of each dream change over time, in line with the lasting reminder of the dream imagery.

The final dream group of the day was a consideration of my own dream, which (admittedly) was a very unusual experience. Although I have been researching dreams for the last 13 years, I have never had my own dream shared in a dream group before, so I was apprehensive. I also felt exposed, as the dream could reveal so much about a life and character, that might prefer to be kept under wraps under normal circumstances. However in the comfort of trusting academic company it was incredible to be encouraged to consider the dream in holistic ways. In my research I tend to break down dreams into characters, actions, contexts or places, and various other fragments, and then assess each independently for familiarity and continuity with waking life. I typically note endless links with waking life and feel comforted by this. I don’t seek the metaphorical. However questions encouraged me to make links between aspects or scenes in the dream that I would not have noted before, or to consider the emotional tone holistically rather than fragmentarily, and I was grateful for the opportunity to consider dreams through a different lens. There were a handful of insights that I would not have made myself, that I felt were accurate and appropriate (or “apt”, as the metaphor literature prefers). I did not recognize clear metaphors in my dream, and remain convinced that I don’t dream too metaphorically because I don’t tend to think metaphorically, however I have been encouraged to explore and question this within a wider context of understanding the ever-changing landscape of cognition and consciousness across sleep and wake.

More widely, I’d encourage anyone with the opportunity to do so to try a dream group. With support and trusting company, you may be pleasantly surprised by the insight you receive!

With thanks to Mark Blagrove and Julia Lockheart for hosting the day, Sue Llewllyn and Josie Malinowski for the great discussions and insights as always, plus Michelle Carr, Chris Edwards and Karen Konkoly for their insightful contributions to the day also. A great end to a great seminar series. But, what do we do next…?!

(Keep checking in to find out!)

DLeiLHQX0AE20mq.jpg-large.jpgMy dream, as depicted by Julia Lockheart. Picture courtesy of Twitter.

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