A new study has discovered that the area of the brain that enables self-reflection is larger in lucid dreamers — those people who can control their dreams.
According to researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, this means lucid dreamers might also be more self-reflecting when awake.
Lucid dreamers are aware of dreaming while dreaming, the researchers explain. Sometimes, they can even play an active role in their dreams. Most of them, however, have this experience only a few times a year.
For their study, the neuroscientists compared the brain structures of frequent lucid dreamers and people who never or only rarely have lucid dreams. They discovered that the anterior prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls conscious cognitive processes and plays an important role in the capability of self-reflection, is larger in lucid dreamers.
The differences in volumes in the anterior prefrontal cortex between lucid dreamers and non-lucid dreamers suggest that lucid dreaming and metacognition are closely connected, the researchers noted.
This theory is supported by brain images taken when the participants were solving metacognitive tests while awake. Those images show that the brain activity in the prefrontal cortex was higher in lucid dreamers.
“Our results indicate that self-reflection in everyday life is more pronounced in persons who can easily control their dreams,” said Elisa Filevich, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
In a follow-up study, the researchers said they intend to train volunteers in lucid dreaming to examine whether this improves the capability of self-reflection.
The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.