Bizarre Elements Of Dreams Essay

Imogen Nightingale
In this Experiment, eighty-eight subjects were asked to individually recall and transcribe dreams and daydreams over a one-week period. It was also requested that they note anything prominent that had happened to them over that week. Results worksheets were the filled out and data was handed in for analysis. The hypothesis was to test Hobson & McCartley’s activation-synthesis hypothesis that dreams would have more bizarreness than other waking narratives, Our results, however, failed to support this, instead showing a higher significance of bizarreness when daydreaming, and supporting the findings of Reinsel, Antrobus ; Wollman. Scene shifts and transformations were also a focus of our study, results were in accordance with our hypothesis, however did not achieve statistical significance.GET BROOK TO LOOK AT THIS!
A dream may be defined as a mental experience, occurring in sleep, which is characterised by hallucinoid imagery, predominantly visual and often vivid (Hobson ; McCarley, 1977). J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley argue that dreams are simply the by-product of bursts of activity amaniting from subcortial areas in the brain (Hobson, 1988; Hobson ; McCarley, 1977; McCarley, 1994, cited in W. Weiten, 1998).

One explanation of bizarreness and disruptive discontinuities found in dream reports is provided by the activation-synthesis hypothesis (McCarthy ; Hoffman, 1981 sited in Rittenhouse et al). This model (as seen below in Table 1) proposes that dream bizarreness is a psychological correlate of REM state physiology. The most important tenet of the activation-synthesis hypothesis is that during dreaming the activation brain generates its own information by a pontine brain stem neuronal mechanism (Hobson et al, 1977). This produces wide awake brain waves during REM sleep, creating what is known as a dream.

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Table 1. Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis Explained
The ASH was challenged by Reinsel, Antrobus, ; Wollman (1992)?further claimed that while REM sleep dreams are bizarre, they are no more so than reports of either NREM sleep mentation or waking fantasy. EXTEND
Williams, Merritt, Rittenhouse, ; Hobson supported the activation-synthesis hypothesis reporting that dreams are quantitatively different from waking fantasies (1992). They postulated that dream bizarreness is the direct cognitive correlate of aminergic demodulation of cortical networks in REM sleep. Their results indicate that dreams contain more bizarreness as well as other dreamy features than daydreams and waking fantasy (Williams et al, 1992). Dreams were found to be significantly more bizarre in incongruity and discontinuity, as well as uncertainty.

Williams et al. concluded that due to the difference in neuronal activity of the brain between the two states, dreaming and fantasies are two totally different modes of information processing (1992). This is due to the difference in neuronal activity of the brain between the two states (Mamelak ; Hobson, cited in Williams et al., 1992). Specifically, the brain is unable to adequately organise or record events in a dream (Williams et al., 1992). Mamelak ; Hobson found that this would clearly contribute towards changes in thought or scene shifts during a dream (1989).

Transformation in dreams and other narratives is considered in this study. Rittenhouse, Stickgold and Hobson, claimed that a dream object does not transform randomly into another object, but into an object that shares formal associative qualities with the first (1994).

The purpose of this study is to assess the prediction based on the activation-synthesis hypothesis that there will be greater bizarreness in dreams than in daydreams or waking narratives. This has been supported by the work of Hobson, but challenged by others such as Reinsel, Antrobus, and Wollman. It was also planned to investigate the occurrence of transformations of persons or objects, following the work of Rittenhouse, Stickgold and Hobson.

The variables being measured in this study are ‘scene shift’ (discontinuity of setting in place or time), ‘entity change’ (discontinuity of character, object or action), and ‘discontinuity’ (of thoughts or feelings of the dreamer or dream character). Followed by ‘incongruity’ (a mismatching of features of characters, objects, actions, thoughts or emotions with what is normal in waking life), and finally ‘cognitive uncertainty (of thoughts, emotion or feelings or vagueness surrounding any element of the dream or narrative.
The participants were University of Tasmania KHA2112/312 students. There were 88 cases available to be samples, however 8 of these cases have been excluded from the analysis by listwise exclusions of cases that have any missing values. There were 80 cases in the final sample.

Each participant was requested to recall dreams and daydreams over a period of a week. There were three separate entities to be recalled. The first was to recall a dream which was had overnight whilst sleeping (REM). The second was to recall a daydream that takes place whilst sitting in the University Library. The third was to recall a daydream which takes place whilst lying on their bed in their bedroom. Each participant was then asked to briefly note occurrences that had taken place the week prior. The information then had to be scored and handed in for analysis. Please refer to Appendices A and B for applicable scoring sheets and recording method.

The data were analysed using a repeated measured analysis of variance with four levels corresponding to the four conditions in which the narratives were collected. A Greenhouse-Geisser correction was made to the p value to allow for violation of the sphericity assumption. Adjacent tests were then carried out in descending order to show significance.

The results failed to support the activation-synthesis hypothesis with only category showing the highest number of dream bizarreness per sentence. Incongruity was the only category to support Hobson & McCarley’s (1977) findings with ‘dream’ having the greatest number of bizarre elements (0.217). ‘Home daydream’ (0.146), ‘library daydream’ (0.100) and lastly ‘diary note’ (0.008) followed this. However, when adjacent tests were carried out ‘library daydream’ and ‘diary note’ held highest significance with a value of p*0.05. ‘Dreams’ and ‘home daydreams’ approached significance. When the binomial 2-tailed test was performed it did not reach significance at the p*0.05 level. However it almost reached significance at p*0.07.

Overall, ‘dreams’ with a total mean of 0.571 (SE=0.041) only had a significantly higher number of total bizarreness per sentence than ‘library daydreams’ with a mean of 0.537 (SE=0.059) followed by ‘diary notes’ with a mean of 0.143 (SE=0.027). However, ‘home daydream’ showed the highest total bizarreness with an overall mean of 0.768 (SE=0.186). Total bizarreness had a value of F(3,216) 8.34 which had a very high significance of p*0.01.

Dreams had both the highest number of words per sentence with a mean of 218 (SE=10.54) and the most vivid imagery with a mean of 7.78 (SE=0.17). All categories exhibited some form of statistical significance, however none have fully supported the ASH. All category results may be cited in Table 2.

Table 2. Bizarre Incidents per Sentence, Wordcounts and Vividness of Imagery in Dreams (d), Library Daydreams (l), Home Daydreams (h), and Diary Notes (n) from 80 participants.

Dream Library
Day-dream Home
Day-dream Diary
F(3,216) Different
Pairs of
Means 1
Scene shift
M 0.113 0.218 0.302 0.106 4.69 * ld
SE 0.015 0.032 0.079 0.024
Entity change
M 0.078 0.050 0.136 0.001 3.87 * ln
SE 0.010 0.013 0.057 0.001
Other discontinuity
M 0.064 0.084 0.069 0.012 3.63 * dn
SE 0.008 0.022 0.025 0.005
M 0.217 0.100 0.146 0.008 12.21 ** ln
SE 0.026 0.031 0.049 0.004
Cognitive uncertainty
M 0.099 0.084 0.114 0.016 4.62 * ln
SE 0.015 0.020 0.039 0.006
Total bizarreness
M 0.571 0.537 0.768 0.143 8.34 ** ln
SE 0.041 0.059 0.186 0.027
Number of words
M 218 84 81 132 106.5** dn, nl
SE 10.54 3.64 3.66 6.48
Vividness of imagery
M 7.78 5.51 6.02 6.72 29.82 ** dn, nh, hl
SE 0.17 0.26 0.25 0.24
* p * .05, ** p * .01
Ten entity transformations were made available: eight in dreams and two in library daydreams as shown in Tables 3 and 4. Although eight of the ten transformations occur in dreams the difference does not achieve statistical significance at the p*0.05 level, possibly because of the small numbers (p =0 .11, 2-tailed binomial test). A total of only 12.5% of participants reported any transformations.

Table 3. Transformations in Dreams from 8 Participants.

Original Entity Transformed Entity
flatmate mother
two friends ; stranger father ; boyfriend
twin sister mother
friend Tom Julius
father dog
blond hair long brown hair ; eyes to brown
pet cat mastiff dog
two fish two frogs
Table 4. Transformations in Library Daydreams from 2 Participants.

Original Entity Transformed Entity
man and woman with blonde hair ken and barbie (barbie dolls)
students face disolving only her skull is left
This study failed to support Hobson and McCarley’s (1977) activation-synthesis hypothesis that there would be greater bizarreness in dreams than in daydreams or waking narratives. Our results were supported by Reinsel, Antrobus & Wollman when Klinger (1971) stated that the potential for waking fantasy to be equally as bizarre as dreaming . Reinsel et al further claimed that while REM sleep dreams are bizarre, they are no more so than reports of either NREM sleep mentation or waking fantasy (Reinsel et al., cited in Williams et al., 1992).

Our results differed from both Hobson et al and Williams et al, whose results confirmed the activation-synthesis hypothesis that there would be greater bizarreness in dreams than in daydreams or waking narratives. This certainly was not the case in our study as daydreams showed to have far greater prominence. Williams et al., when comparing dream reports with waking fantasies, showed that discontinuity is the most state specific class of bizarreness, being 6 times more frequent in dreams than in fantasies (1992). Our results failed to support his finding, with incongruity leading as the most state specific class of bizarreness.

At the class level, bizarre transformations of objects and characters appear to be controlled by associational constraints that require the transformed item to normally remain within the same class after the transformation. He also found that no transformations of inanimate objects into characters or vice versa were observed (Rittenhouse, Stickgold & Hobson, 1994). Our findings support this study, however our sample indicated that only 12.5% of participants recalled transformations in their reports. This sample is too small to show an accurately high significance.

Our inability to confirm our hypothesis may have been due to such methodological errors as 80 participants was not a large enough sample to gain accuracy. It is recognised that reports may have been edited in order to prevent embarrassment, however this is not regarded as likely to confound our analysis. Another problem with using home-based reports is the lack of controlled conditions. Each subject experienced different settings and report techniques. More importantly we cannot ensure that participants recorded their experiences immediately after they occurred, this might have resulted in state dependent amnesia.

In summary, this study failed to support Hobsons activation-synthesis hypothesis that there would be greater bizarreness in dreams than in daydreams or waking narratives. The main psychological finding is that, contrary to the activation-synthesis hypothesis; dreams did not have more bizarre features per sentence than daydreams. The one category in which dreams exhibited greater bizarreness was the category for incongruities. Transformation, did support Rittenhouse et al. findings. Had the methodological problems been overcome, the results of our study may have shown results in accordance with the activation-synthesis hypothesis.


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