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Dream Recall Helps Boost Creativity

Don’t let all that internally produced imagery go to waste.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Gavin Clarke/Flickr)

If you’re like most of us, part of you is eager to start implementing your New Year’s resolutions, while another part just wants to take a nap.

The good news: If your goal is to be more creative in 2017, the two impulses are not in conflict. The only catch is that you need to pay close attention to your dreams.

That’s the conclusion of recently published research, which found people who kept a daily dream journal improved their performance on a test measuring a key component of creativity.

The results provide further evidence that paying attention to “non-habitual states of consciousness” — a category that includes meditative states, as well as dreaming — “affords conditions that foster more creative ways of thinking,” writes a research team from Colombia led by psychiatrist Mauricio Sierra-Siegert.

The study, published in the Journal of Creative Behavior, featured 160 university undergraduates, who began by filling out a series of creativity-related questionnaires. They then took the Figural Version of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, which features three tasks.

Participants are presented with “an ambiguous curvy shape” and asked to produce a drawing that incorporates it. They are then given 10 “incomplete figures” and asked to add to each of them “to transform them into meaningful drawings.” Finally, they are presented with either 30 lines or 30 circles, and instructed to use them to make drawings, which they then title.

People who kept a daily dream journal improved their performance on a test measuring a key component of creativity.

The test is scored in two ways: a “raw score” that focuses on basics such as fluency, originality, and elaboration; and a “creative strengths score,” which measures more complex dimensions such as emotional expressiveness, storytelling, humor, and “extending or breaking boundaries.”

After completing this initial test, the students were emailed a short questionnaire on each of the next 27 mornings. Eighty-six of them were instructed daily to note how many dreams they recalled from the previous night, and how vivid those recollections were. The other 74 were asked to note “moments vividly recalled from the previous day.”

At the end of the four-week period, the participants completed a slightly different version of the creativity test. (Those who created drawings from the 30 circles the first time around were given the 30 sets of lines to work from, and vice versa.)

The results: While both groups raised their “raw scores” from their first attempts a month earlier (presumably due to the fact they had taken the test once before), only those who regularly recalled their dreams raised their scores on the important “creative strengths” component.

That score measures, among other things, “richness of imagination and fantasy,” which, the researchers note, are “features usually found in dreams.”

The results suggest “increased awareness to dreams increases creativity through a ‘loosening’ of stereotyped thinking patterns,” the researchers conclude.

If you are hoping to produce more imaginative work this year, put that pad and pencil on your nightstand before you go to sleep, and use it first thing in the morning to recall your dreams. Those internal, nocturnal visions might just inspire a creative breakthrough.