I'm thinking your thoughts while I sleep: sense of agency and ownership over dream thought

Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice 2 (3):326-339 (2015)
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Abstract

To what extent do I have a sense of agency over my thoughts while I dream? The sense of agency in dreams can alter in a variety of interesting ways distinct from normal, waking experience. In fact, dreams show many similarities to the experiences of individuals with schizophrenia. In this paper I analyze these alterations with a focus on distinguishing between reduced sense of agency and other cognitive features such as metacognition, confabulation and attention. I argue that some dream reports demonstrate two interesting commonalities with schizophrenia: thought insertion (TI) and auditory hallucination (AH). This line of research has the potential to further our understanding of TI and AH in schizophrenia through the analysis of similar experience in a different conscious state. Through the analysis of dream reports, I found that although TI and AH both occur in dreams, TI is very rare. This is an interesting result since TI is common in patients with schizophrenia. I propose two speculative lines of explanation for the rarity of TI in dreams: first, the cognitive differences between the symptoms of schizophrenia and dreams, and second, the problem of dream reporting conditions. Dream reporting conditions are particularly important, as without controls, reports can be vague. Analysis of dream reports reveals that it is often unclear whether 'hearing voices' indicates sound phenomenology or thought phenomenology. I propose that dream reports could be disambiguated given the right experimental conditions and I suggest how this could be achieved in future experimental research.

Author's Profile

Melanie G. Rosen
Trent University

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