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Targeted Dreaming Increases Waking Creativity

34 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2022 Publication Status: Under Review

See all articles by Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory

Kathleen Esfahany

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory

Tomás Vega Gálvez

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory

Pattie Maes

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory

Robert Stickgold

Harvard University - Department of Psychiatry

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Abstract

The link between dreams and creativity has been a topic of intense speculation, given their commonly hyper-associative structure and specific anecdotal reports of artistic and scientific discoveries made while dreaming by the likes of Edison, Mendeleev, Dalí, and Proust. Dream-mediated creativity can be understood within a framework of cognitive flexibility. Creative solutions can result from identifying and strengthening remote associations between existing memories. Dreaming is thought to reflect a brain state that favors spreading activation among memory traces within cortical networks. However, the scientific literature linking dreams and creativity remains sparse, mostly correlating sleep physiology with waking creative traits. While research has shown that periods of sleep contribute to post-sleep enhancement of creativity, few experiments have collected relevant data on the specific contribution of phenomenological content, i.e. dreams. We present a protocol that uses serial auditory incubation of dream content at sleep onset, wherein repeated exposure to specific auditory stimuli is given during the hypnagogic period, enabling targeted dream incubation (TDI). We use Dormio, a wearable electronic device that tracks the hypnagogic state and executes TDI automatically. We present an experiment (N=49) using the Dormio device to incubate a target word (“Tree”) and show direct incorporation of the target word into dream content. We further present evidence that incubation of dream content confers a creative benefit on tasks related to the incubated theme of ‘Tree,” including the Alternative Uses Task, Verb Generation Task and Creative Storytelling Task. These benefits are significant, as evaluated by both computationally objective and consensually subjective measures. We present evidence that incubated dreams can also increase creative self-efficacy, i.e., one’s self-assessed creativity. To our knowledge this is the first controlled study demonstrating a causal role for dream content in the enhancement of creative performance. We propose that the Dormio device, and the TDI protocol at sleep onset more broadly, can serve as a tool for controlled experimentation on dream content related to creativity.

Keywords: sleepdreamingdream incubationcreativity

Suggested Citation

Horowitz, Adam and Esfahany, Kathleen and Gálvez, Tomás Vega and Maes, Pattie and Stickgold, Robert, Targeted Dreaming Increases Waking Creativity. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4088893 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4088893
This version of the paper has not been formally peer reviewed.

Adam Horowitz (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory ( email )

20 Ames St.
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Kathleen Esfahany

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory ( email )

Tomás Vega Gálvez

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory ( email )

Pattie Maes

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory

Robert Stickgold

Harvard University - Department of Psychiatry ( email )

United States

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