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Explanations of Savantism in Autistic Individuals

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Autism, a severe and incapacitating developmental disorder of brain function affects social and communication skills of a growing child and thus theoretically hinders the learning process, although a surprising number of autistic individuals excel in specific areas, an occurrence that psychologists struggle to explain. Individuals with autism often exhibit similar characteristics including: lack of eye contact; usual attachment to objects rather than people; preference to repetitive activity; delayed or unusual acquisition of language; social naiveté; and the exceptional ability in one or more specific area. Incidence in these exceptional abilities, savant skills, is defined according to the 1973 American Association of Mental Retardation as “a person with low general intelligence who posses an unusually high skill in some special tasks like mental arithmetic, remembering dates or numbers, or in performing other rote tasks at a remarkably high level. ” (Miller, 1999, p. 31). The most common types of savant abilities are in the areas of visual arts, particularly drawing, musical performance, calendar calculating and prime number derivation. Throughout the past two hundred years, occasionally the emergence of an outstanding skill in a person possessing a mental disability has been documented, thus warranting much speculation to the basis of these rare and seemingly out of place abilities.

It is possible that the extreme focus and social seclusion of these individuals compel them to seek out an area of interest to occupy their mental capacities, and thus through practice and concentrated attention on this one subject area, adapt a supreme and specific ability in this chosen field. This is a main theory posted by mainstream textbooks, but there exists another explanation that I wish to explore in evaluating the sources of savant skills in autism spectrum disorders.

According to some mainstream textbooks, savant skills have an origin in a special form of cognitive function that only autistic individuals possess. Although the reference contains only a few sentences pertaining to this theory of cognition, in an attempt to unearth an accurate basis for savant skills, it is a worthy conjecture to explore. With supporting evidence from a wide scope of other articles pertaining to psychological studies, an article by Leon K. Miller, “The Savant Syndrome: Intellectual Impairment and Exceptional Skill” serves as a main source for information on this speculation. A strong link between autism and remarkable natural abilities implies a biological factor. Reports of the high prevalence of absolute pitch in savantism (15%) as compared to that of the general population 05-. 01%) also indicates a possible biological principle that allows such ability. In a brain scan of autistic savants with absolute pitch, there is a marked increase of blood flow to the cerebellum while listening to music in comparison to non-savantists (Brown, Cammuso, Sachs, Winklosky, Mullane, Bernier, Svenson, Arin, Rosen-Sheidley, Folstein, 2003). In keeping with this theory, the examination of five thousand, four hundred autistic children, produced data that exceptional skills were cited by parents in approximately ten percent of the sample (Miller, 1999).

In Miller’s (1999) understanding of savantism, the exceptional memory that such subjects possess is most likely the reflection of a domain-specific organization in the brain, rather than enhanced skills gained through repetitive, focused learning. Some features of savants are consistent with an attribution model that suggests a differentiation in function of brain hemispheres, thus providing a specific hypothesis to this biological theory. People with autism have obvious trouble with language and verbal skills associated with the left hemisphere creating a “consequence of right hemisphere flourish. ” (Miller, 1999, p. 35). Mathematical calculations, spatial representations, and musical and artistic abilities are associated with this right hemisphere of the brain. Strong evidence for this right hemisphere reliance also includes the fact that a far larger percentage of savants are left handed than the general population (Miller, 1999). An alternate conjecture to the hemispherical approach is that autistic savants possess numerous localities in the brain for greater pathological development of temporal and parietal (both relating to spatial orientation, bodily acclimation, such as temperature and touch, and visual and auditory input) polysensory (Miller, 1999).

Duckett (1976, as cited in Miller, 1999) has demonstrated in numerous studies that savants have stronger capabilities in several memory and creative test measurements than controls matched on age, gender, and general level of intellectual functioning, indicating that savants may be able to learn more easily than their non-gifted autistic counterparts.

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Explanations of Savantism in Autistic Individuals (Part 2)

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Surprisingly, savant skills have been discovered in subjects who were virtually untestable by standard methods. Nadia, a woman described in Miller’s (1999) article, exhibited an extremely talented ability in drawing, yet her expressive language was restricted to just a few phrases and typical evaluation instruments placed her performance at near floor level. Such findings distinguish a difference between actual generalized intelligence and the abilities as supported biologically of savants.

Psychologists agreeing with Miller’s proposal believe that autistic individuals have limited skill expression, revealing constraints on their cognitions. The inability of savants to express and describe their own processes of drawing, musical performance, or calendar calculation also provides evidence that savants do not have a remarkable understanding of their abilities, but instead inherently possess them through biological characteristics of the brain. Adults and children with autism do not have the social function to know how to describe such events, but this trait is also displayed by protégés without a mental disability. Highly practiced skills, for example, may become so automatic and routine in typically developing individuals that they are also unable to describe these processes. The actual concept of language itself and the structure it requires to make sense in vocalization may interfere with the preservation of detailed information about a particular event or situation, as language disorders have been found to be very common in savantism (Miller, 1999).

Many studies have been conducted to determine exactly how much understanding savants have of their own abilities and the methods in which they utilize in their talents. The ability to formulate a specific day of the week on a mental calendar may be an exceptional skill, however, it is atypical and, therefore, a difficult skill to compare against sample groups without a disability (Miller, 1999). It is suggested that people with autism who display an uncharacteristic ability in calendar computations have a very rudimentary knowledge of mathematics (Miller, 1999). While Heavey, Pring, and Hermelin (1999) insist that formulas and algorithms exist in published format for the calculation of dates, they perceive it to be highly unlikely that the learning-disabled savants would be able to access, read, and synthesize these mathematical components. A strong short-term memory is also essential in manipulating the computation of calendar dates, which concurs with the findings in a 1973 study by Spitz and LaFontaine that savants have superior short-term memory in comparison to controls with developmental delays (Heavey, Pring, Hermelin). Additionally, when asked to reproduce a piece of art, autistic individuals with such savant abilities created sketches that were not literal copies of the original, but instead more often adapted another perspective on the original artwork, bringing in outside sources of knowledge. This example functions to provide evidence that these people are capable of thinking through a process of replication instead of merely producing an exact copy (Miller 1999). Similar to the findings in artist abilities, Miller (1999) also discovered through his research that immediate recall of musical fragments by savants is “not a literal reproduction of the material heard, (but rather) participants’ renditions preserved essential musical structural regularities present in the original. ” (p. 42). Through examples and theories stated by Miller and others, there exists a strong possibility that savants have a biological tendency to excel at specific tasks, contrasting with my assumptions that much of their abilities are learned through focused study.

Many of the arguments posed by Miller and others seem to be convincing, but much of the supporting evidence of their theories seems vague and hypothetical without practical knowledge of the day-to-day behaviors of autistic individuals Autistic savants may be predisposed to certain categories of abilities that are controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain, but these cannot develop without sufficient attention. Anderson (1998) has found significant data in a series of MRIs conducted in autistic individuals, concluding that there is no structural difference in the activities of each hemisphere at any given time in autistic savants. Bilateral processing is utilized most often by nearly every function of the body, and therefore, although one side may represent a stronger presence over the other, the latter side must also be relatively high functioning (Anderson, 1998).

People with autism spectrum disorders can become obsessed and narrowly focused on one particular subject of interest, as they are motivated to concentrate on a specified goal in response to the social and environmental deprivation, leading to attentional development and extensive practice of this new skill (Anderson, 1998).

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Explanations of Savantism in Autistic Individuals (Part 3)

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Brunswick (2001) attests to this idea that autistic individuals are completely shut off from the world, and it is this isolation that motivates a select few to become absorbed into a particular field as a means of connecting with the world. Babies with autism appear to be developing normally until the age of two when social learning begins to contribute increasingly to the cognitive development of the children in question. Most of this learning takes place through processes of teaching by a caregiver and spontaneous imitation on the part of the toddler. However, because as autistic children gain greater knowledge of the physical world, their appreciation and discernment of human interaction fails to keep pace, and as a result, they are inclined to ignore other humans in favor of inanimate objects, to which they becoming increasingly attached. Data has verified this assertion when it was discovered that autistic individuals out perform the typically developing controls in the Wechsler Block Design Test, demonstrating the advantage that autistic participants have evolved through their “enhanced ability to mentally segment designs into their constituent parts. ” (Heavey et al. 1999, p. 146). It has been discovered that savants are more likely to engage in repetitious behaviors and among those with autism, the savants were more likely to possess one single interest, showing more obsessional attitudes towards their ability. Additionally, savant skills can be found in individuals where autism is not diagnosed. Therefore, it is more logical to conclude that an internal concentration on the skills rather than a biological predisposition determined by this disorder is at play

To counteract the claims pertaining to IQ and the ability of savant individuals to overcome such low general intelligence by biological function to achieve such great abilities, one must explore the biological explanation of IQ that Anderson (1998) cites. In his explanation, IQ is determined by the speed of neural conductivity within the brain, operating on the principle that knowledge is not the equivalent of intelligence to explain savantism. Further evidence goes on to argue that inspection time (IT) tasks provide the best calculable scale of speed processing, necessitating that participants make simple discriminations between two or more pieces of data (Scheuffgen, Happe, Anderson Firth, 2000). It has been found that the autistic group had the same inspection time as did normally developing individuals, regardless of the large gaps in IQ scores between each group, providing evidence that the modern IQ tests are not accurate in determining an individual’s true intelligence and ability.

The strong hereditary evidence suggesting that a much higher percentage of autistic individuals possess certain skills than the rest of the general population is a potent claim. However, knowing that not every savant is diagnosed with autism believes me to think that there is another factor involved, such as motivation, in addition to any biological evidence of predisposition. Also, with the discovery and understanding of a new, more practical IQ test that assesses inspection time, it appears that autistic individuals are more like normally developing people than was previously considered, providing strong evidence that in fact, these abilities are present because the autistic savant works towards them rather than has a mystical biological inclination towards them. Due to the feelings of isolation overall and the already predisposition for children and adults with autism to act in repetitive and often compulsive obsessional ways, that despite any evidence of increased blood flow and regional activity in the brain, savants possess their skills as a result of persistent focus and motivation, mostly excluding biological factors.

References

Anderson, Mike. (1998). Mental retardation general intelligence and modularity.

Learning and Individual Differences, 10, 1-9.

Brown, Walter A. Cammuso, K. Sachs, H. Winklosky, B. Mullane, J. Bernier, R.

Svenson, S. Arin, D. Rosen-Sheidley, B. Folstein, S. (2003). Autism-related

language, personality, and cognition in people with absolute pitch: Results of a preliminary study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 163-167.

Brunswick, Natheniel L. (2001). Social learning and etiology of autism. New

Ideas in Psychology, 19, 49-75.

Heavey, L. Pring, L. Hermelin, B. (1999). A date to remember: The nature of

memory in savant calendrical calculators. Psychological Medicine, 29, 145-160.

Miller, Leon K. (1999). The savant syndrome: Intellectual impairment and exceptional

skill. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 31-46.

Scheuffgen, K. Happe, F. Anderson, M. Firth, U. (2000). High “intelligence,” low

“IQ”? Speed processing and measured IQ in children with autism.

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Explanations of Savantism in Autistic Individuals (Part 4)

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Development and Psychopathology, 12, 83-90.

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Lucid Dreaming: Induction, Individual Differences, and Benefits (Part 5)

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Personality and Individual Differences, 37, 1463–1473.

Tholey, P. (1989). Overview of the development of lucid dream research in Germany. Lucidity Letter, 8, 1-30.

Tholey, P. (1980). Conscious Dreams as an Object of Emperical Examination. Gestalt Theory, 2, 175-191.

Victor I. S. Jan van den, B. (2006). Lucid Dreaming Treatment for Nightmares: A Pilot Study. Psychotherapy Psychosomatics, 75(6), 389-394.

Zadra, Antonio (1991). Lucid dreaming as a learnable skill: Empirical and clinical findings. M. A. dissertation, McGill University (Canada), Canada.

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Lucid Dreaming: Induction, Individual Differences, and Benefits

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Lucid dreaming is a dream phenomenon in which the dreamer is fully aware he or she is dreaming. It consists of a few distinct characteristics including having most if not all cognitive abilities, a strong sense of conscious awareness, and full memory of reality and previous dream experiences. Evidence of this is shown through Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. In the REM stage of sleep, eye movements in reality correspond with eye movements in the dream state. For example, a participant in a study becomes lucid in a dream, and can make specific eye signals to researchers showing them the participant has entered a lucid dream state. Various techniques can be used to induce lucid dreaming, such as asking throughout the day “am I dreaming? ” in the hopes of asking that same question in a dream. Dream signs, such as teeth falling out, or text changing can serve as a signal that it is a dream, and can induce lucidity in dreamers. There are some individual differences that exist with lucid dreamers. It has been found that those with a high internal locus of control report have more frequent dream recall and lucidity; those with an external locus of control have just the opposite. The benefits of lucid dreaming are potentially vast, but recent research has focused primarily on reducing the frequency of nightmares in those who have frequent night terrors. It has also been shown to potentially lower emotional disturbances such as stress and anxiety if practiced properly.

Lucid Dreaming: Induction, Individual Differences, and Benefits

Defining Lucid Dreaming

Lucid dreaming can be simply defined as an altered dream state. It can also be called conscious dreaming or dreams of clarity, terms stemming from the psychiatrist Fredrik Willems van Eden in 1913 (Holzinger, 2009). More in depth, it can be described as complete awareness while dreaming, so aware that every aspect of the dream can be manipulated and influenced. All sensory input is still available in the dream, and dreamers can touch, feel, taste, see, hear, and smell (Carskadon, 1995). Not only those characteristics, but lucid dreamers can also reason and think clearly; dreamers know they are in this altered state and can do essentially anything they want. This could include anything from flying to walking on the moon. Tholey (1980) describes lucid dreams as having a certain number of specific characteristics: these include being fully aware of the dream, having memory of real life, having most or all cognitive sensory abilities intact, memory of previous lucid dreams, and a strong sense of conscious awareness. In some cases dreamers even report the dream seeming more real than reality itself.

Historically it is a relatively new concept, but Holzinger et al. (2008) notes that Tibetan Buddhists were the first to learn how to induce a similar dream state, by using specific induction techniques. They would use it as a form of meditation and for potentially new abstract experiences. Up until Freud and his theories on dreams would lucid dreaming begin to become a popular and studied subject. On a biological level, Holzinger (et al. 2006) discovered that activity in the left parietal lobe increased during lucid dreaming, an area of the brain related to self-awareness.

Today therapeutic uses for lucid dreaming are being widely studied as well as methods used to induce them. Benefits can range from the treatment of nightmares, or night terrors, to relieving stress in everyday life (Holzing et al. 2009). According to La Berge (1980), lucid dreaming may be difficult, but is indeed a skill that can be learned and applied through various methods. Schredel Erlachor(2004) reported that four out of every five people have reported having at least one lucid dream at some point in their life. How then if so many people report a lucid dream, along with those who can do it on demand while sleeping, can it be proven to exist?

Evidence of Lucid Dreaming

In 1978, Hearne conducted his famous experiment in which he recorded eye movements while a subject was sleeping, becoming the first to discover Rapid Eye

Movement (REM) sleep. This gave way to the first scientific evidence of lucid dreaming in 1988 as Piller (2009) notes that a group of researchers through an experiment discovered that while dreaming REM sleep corresponds with the eye movements the subject was making in their dream. They also discovered that breathing patterns and intensity was the same in the dream as in reality depending on the activity.

In another study, Erlacher Schredl (2004) conducted an experiment to determine whether or not cardiovascular exercise in a lucid dream had any physical cardiovascular correlates in reality. They had five participants who could consistently and reliably lucid dream and had them stay in a controlled environment sleep laboratory for 2-4 consecutive nights. While dreaming they were to perform a specific exercise while lucid, that exercise being squats. The participants were monitored while sleeping, and when they became lucid they were to give a specific eye command, in this case moving their eyes left to right a number of times, signaling to the researchers that they were going to begin performing the exercise. They would then begin performing the squats, ten repetitions, then do the specific eye signal, wait 25 seconds, then perform the exercise again, then stop giving the eye signal in each stage.

In conclusion of their study it was reported that physical exercise performed while lucid dreaming does moderately correlate with physical activity in waking life such as a

moderately increased heart rate.

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Lucid Dreaming: Induction, Individual Differences, and Benefits (Part 2)

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They also found that respiration rates, such as breathing faster, would increase while performing intense dream exercise. This particular study clearly shows the evidence for the existence of lucid dreaming, with the lucid dreaming participants performing specific eye movement tasks being recorded while dreaming that cannot be disregarded.

Lucid Dreaming Induction

There are a variety of ways for one to induce lucidity in oneself. While there are many techniques to choose from, and many may have evidence of success, but there have been few studies that evaluate the effectiveness of such techniques. Paulson Parker (2006) mention this fact, they also note that the specific conditions required for studying lucid dreaming are hard to come by, and many researchers are unable to have the opportunity to be in such an environment. This environment usually consists of using a sleep laboratory with specific control conditions and a large number of participants. With this controlled environment, researchers have to rely on participants own recollection of their dreams. They also mention that the majority of lucid dreams are induced by some type of dream sign. This sign is usually abstract in nature and serves as a visual key that the dreamer is in a dream. An example could be looking at a watch one moment, and then looking at it again; after looking at it the second time, the time on the watch may change

drastically signaling to the dreamer they are in a dream. Dream signs are key to recognizing being in a dream.

A dream journal is one of the most common methods used to help a dreamer recognize these dream signs. Dreams are written in a journal everyday immediately upon waking to recall as much of the dream as possible. Over time, after amassing a collection of dream entries, the journal is scanned thoroughly for common occurrences which can be considered dream signs. Of course to maintain such a journal, the dreamer needs to have a great motivation to do so (Paulson Parker, 2006).

This dream journal technique is usually maintained for a number of weeks, over this time dream recall, or simply having a better memory of dreams, tends to greatly improve. Once successful dream recall has occurred, a variety of methods can utilize this information and help the dreamer achieve consistent lucid dreaming. Tholey (1989) came up with the technique of reflection. This involves the dreamer constantly asking themselves throughout the day “Am I awake? ”, “Am I dreaming? ” This is done in the hope of the dreamer asking the same questions while dreaming to induce lucidity. This same technique can be used in different ways as well, such as pinching an arm throughout the day, and if done in a dream, no pain is felt serving as a signal for the dreamer. Research on this technique has found that it is somewhat effective in non-lucid dreamers, but only truly shines when used with

consistent dreams who can already achieve lucidity. Price et al. (1991) notes that while techniques such as reflection may have some use, there are nearly no studies that provide valid and significant research that they always work.

LaBerge Levitan (1995) performed research on such reality testing techniques, but no statistical significances were found. LaBerge (1980) also added to the reflection technique, making it a reflection-intention method. In this extended method there are four stages. These include planning to reality test, acting it out, thinking about dreaming, and then think about what to dream about while lucid. Yet still with this technique, there is a lack of legitimate research proving its effectiveness. Another technique discussed was the wake-initiated lucid dream, termed WILD. With this technique dreamers may wake themselves during a REM cycle, and then go back to sleep. Yet the key here is to remain completely aware while going back to sleep such that the dreamer may instantaneously enter a lucid dream. The body needs to be relaxed while the mind awake and aware. Dreamers may envision something such as constantly going down a set of stairs to keep their mind from wandering and drifting into sleep without knowing it.

To elaborate on some recent induction research, Paulson Parker (2006) conducted a two week study with 31 participants to evaluate their lucidity progression after introducing them to some induction techniques. They first gave the participants an

elaborate questionnaire to assess the participants dreaming habits, and ability to recall dreams. The technique used was similar to the reflection-intention method, instructing the participants to do reality checks morning, day, and night at least 5-10 times throughout the day. For this reality check they were to read a section of text, and then look back at it, if it’s the same it’s not a dream. This is because in a dream read text will often completely change spontaneously. They also were made to imagine what they would do while dreaming, and had to fill out a journal entry immediately after waking up. The journals were to include the

time of going to sleep and awakening, along with the amount of dreams recalled. To gather data the researchers had the participants submit all information gathered on-line through the use of elaborate e-mails. Out of the 31 participants, 11 dropped out mainly for no given reasons. Of the remaining 20, none had any significant experience lucid dreaming, with only 13 of them ever having remembered having a lucid dream.

The results of the research concluded with positive correlations.

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Lucid Dreaming: Induction, Individual Differences, and Benefits (Part 3)

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After using repeated measures within-groups statistical tests, it was found that there were slight increases in dream recall frequency in week one. After week two significant increases in dream recall frequency were shown, along with some participants reporting having one or more lucid dreams within the short two week time span of the study. Overall, the study proved to be a success, but due to the lack of participants, more research on the methods

used would of course be needed. The methods described as compared to the many others, have proven to be the most effective, and have had the most significant research which correlates to lucidity success. Yet with this variety of methods, some still cannot lucid dream, some learn to after months of time, some almost immediately, and some seem to have the innate ability to become lucid at will while dreaming. With this variety of individual dreaming, then what individual differences contribute to the varying degrees of lucidity?

Individual Differences in Lucid Dreaming

In looking at the individual differences in lucid dreams, there have been very few studies that have looked at specific personality differences that may contribute to more or less lucid dreaming. Patrick and Durdell (2004) conducted a study that showed the differences in non-lucid dreams, frequent lucid dreamers, and occasional lucid dreams. They first give some background on the topic, mentioning that it was Freud who introduced the continuity hypothesis, which states that dreams reflect waking occurrences in daily life. This would mean that daily experiences are reflected in dreaming. They also mention that conflicts in daily life may have an impact on frequency of bad dreams, or nightmares. These factors are important to consider because they may all have an effect on the ability to lucid dream. Such as one who has consistent conflicts throughout the day may have trouble

sleeping with nightmares and such therefore impairing their ability to easily recognize dream signs in their dreams.

Internal locus of control was another notable characteristic that frequent lucid dreamers have (Lefcourt, 1982). An external locus of control is a characteristic in which one consistently believes their life is controlled by fate, or destiny. It seems obvious that this would lead toward less control in dreams, as the dreamer would feel they are unable to control their dreams, and indeed it is true. Internal locus of control, a personality characteristic which is essentially the opposite of the external locus of control, involves the

person consistently believing they have complete control over their lives and every decision they make and events that happen are not fate, but a combination of expected scenarios.

Blagrove and Tucker (1994) noted that individuals with a strong internal locus of control do have much more frequent lucid dreams than those with an external locus of control. Those who had an internal locus of control had a strong belief of control, that belief is reflected in their dreaming, in that they believe they have the power and control to change and modify their environment. While those with the external locus of control felt as though they had no power to control what happens in their

dreams, when control the most essential facet of lucid dreaming. They also mention that frequent dream recall is essential for dreaming, whether or not it is from using a dream journal, those with an internal locus of control were shown to have stronger dream recall.

In Patrick and Durrdell’s (2004) study they had 50 participants who were split into three grouped categories above. The three groups of dreamers were analyzed on their locus of control, need for cognition, and field independence-dependence. They were analyzed using a written test which contained a variety of questions concerning dreaming in general, lucid dreaming, and personality characteristics.

Their results indicated, just as mentioned above, that those with an internal locus of control showed strong statistical significance in having most lucid type dreams. Need for cognition was defined as paying attention to environment, and paying close attention to things, such as listening to what a speaker giving a speech is saying rather than how good they look. A low need for cognition was defined as not being as aware of things as one should, such as listening to a speaker while only thinking about the speakers looks or their attire rather than actually listening to what they have to say. It was found that those with a higher need for cognition reported more dream activity and lucidity as opposed to those with a low need for cognition. In comparing field independence, which was described as being independent towards ones environment, and field dependence, which was described

as characteristic in which one feels they have no control over their environment and the events that occur, field independence was found to be a prominent feature in the frequent lucid dreamers.

Overall, the study shows and supports the fact that those who are more confident, independent, aware, and feel in control of themselves and their surroundings reflect those characteristics in their dreams showing more lucidity and dream recall. Individual differences clearly have an effect on the ability to lucid dream, as the various personality traits that people have, along with the vastly different lives people have which may or may not involve frequent conflicts throughout the day or no conflicts, can all have an effect on lucid dreaming (Patrick Durrdell, 2004).

Benefits of Lucid Dreaming

The potential benefits of lucid dreaming are vast, but the most recent and reliable research has mainly focused on the reduction of nightmares for those who experience them frequently.

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Lucid Dreaming: Induction, Individual Differences, and Benefits (Part 4)

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Along with reduction of nightmares, emotional disturbances such anxiety or depression have been shown to decrease with frequent lucid dreaming training. Roberts (et al. 2009) notes that constant nightmares may increase rates of anxiety in everyday life. Learning how to lucid dream may reduce the frequency of nightmares, in turn decreasing

rates of anxiety. Galvin (1993) did an in depth study using hypnotic techniques on 8 participants with frequent nightmares in an intensive 9 week program.

Participants were made to keep a frequent dream journal throughout the testing period, concluding with 446 dream reports after the study. They also all had some distinct characteristics, being that they all were involved in some sort of creative work, such as an artist or musician. It is noted that those characteristics led the participants to thinking of themselves in an unusual way, as in thinking they are not quite normal. This possibly had an effect on the frequent night terrors they reported. Emotional sensitivity was another distinct characteristic they all possessed, possibly leading them to be constantly frightened, and in turn leading them towards having frequent nightmares. The most common characteristic all participants had was a troubled adolescence, such as being bullied or picked on.

Their main goal was to teach the participants techniques on lucid dreaming, and use these techniques to face and conquer the fears they have in their nightmares. Usually, nightmares are uncontrollable and bring intense fear to the dreamer, with the ability to frequently dream recall, and eventually lucid dream frequently, those effects of the nightmare are the complete opposite. The results of this study support the hypothesis that

teaching techniques of lucid dream are indeed effective in reduction the frequency and intensity of nightmares.

In a similar study done by Victor Jan Van Den (2006), 23 consistent nightmare victims suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder participated in a study using lucid dreaming induction methods to overcome their frequent nightmares. A questionnaire was given at the start of the study to assess the participants stress levels along with their sleeping and dreaming habits. Participants were then given training and instruction on lucid dreaming treatment. This treatment not only consisted of lucid dreaming induction techniques, but also basic psychological information on how to control and change nightmares. At the 12 week follow up of the intervention, the participants were required to fill out another similar questionnaire. It was found that the participants had a significant reduction in nightmare frequency; however, they had no changes in sleep quality, or lucidity. The results indicated that it was unclear whether it was the lucid dreaming techniques or therapeutic intervention that provided the changes in nightmare frequency.

Discussion

The field of lucid dreaming is continuously progressing. It is still relatively new, and may offer a vast amount of potential therapeutic and individual benefits. Much of the

current scientific research being done is unreliable and hard to come by. Many specific conditions are required for lucid dreaming research, such as sleep laboratories if research is to be done in the lab, which requires much of a participants time. The techniques required to induce lucid dreaming are time consuming and often unsuccessful. Personal accounts of their therapeutic lucid dreaming interventions are also often unreliable, and much is expected from the participant. Through constant updating and improving, those techniques will continue to work better and more efficient. Benefits such as the reduction of night terrors in nightmare sufferers are only the beginning (Holzinger, 2009).

References

Blagrove, M. and Tucker, M. 1994. Individual differences in locus of control and the reporting of lucid dreaming. Personality and Individual Differences 16, pp. 981–984.

Carskadon MA (1995) Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming. New York: Simon Schuster MacMillan.

Erlacher, D. Schredl, M. (2008). Cardiovascular Responses to Dreamed Physical Exercise During REM Lucid Dreaming. Dreaming, 18(2), 112-121.

Galvin, Franklin Jerome (1993). The effects of lucid dream training upon the frequency and severity of nightmares. Ph. D. dissertation, Boston University, United States Massachusetts. Retrieved March 24, 2010, from Dissertations Theses: Full Text.

Holzinger, B. (2009). Lucid dreaming – dreams of clarity. Contemporary Hypnosis, 26(4), 216-224.

Holzinger, B. LaBerge, S. Levitan, L. (2006). Psychophysiological Correlates of Lucid Dreaming. Dreaming, 16(2), 88-95.

Huston, Holly Louise. 1997. Personality characteristics influencing archetypal dream recall in vivid dream types. Ph. D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, United States Texas.

Kueny, Sallie Reid. 1985. An Examination of Auditory Cueing in REM Sleep for the Induction of Lucid Dreams. Ph. D. dissertation, Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, United States California.

LaBerge, S. (1980). Lucid dreaming as a learnable skill: A case study. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 51, 1039-1042.

LaBerge, S. Levitan, L. (1995). Validity established of dreamlight cues for eliciting lucid dreaming. Dreaming, 5, 159-168.

Paulsson, T. Parker, A. (2006). The effects of a two-week reflection-intention training program on lucid dream recall. Dreaming, 16, 22-35 10.

Piller, Robert. (2009). Cerebral Specialization During Lucid Dreaming: A Right Hemisphere Hypothesis. Dreaming. Vol 19(4), pp. 273-286.

Price, R. LaBerge, S. Bouchet, C. Ripert, R. Dane, J. (1991). The problem of induction: A panel discussion. Tenth Anniversary Issue of Lucidity Letter.

Roberts, Jan; Lennings, C. J. Heard R. (2009). Nightmares, Life Stress, and Anxiety: An Examination of Tension Reduction. Dreaming. 16(4), 81-107.

Schredl, M. Erlacher, D. (2004). Lucid dreaming frequency and personality.

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Understanding Behavior Change, Action Planning, and Coping Planning: A Review of the Literature

January 13th, 2011 Comments off

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The process of behavior change is complex, and involves a variety of factors. These factors include things such as environment, which can drastically affect the behavior change process. For example, going to a busy crowded gym to try a get in shape may eventually discourage you from going as the machines and such are constantly full. Motivation is another important factor when considering behavior change. Having a music instructor whose teaching ability is quite inadequate for example, will decrease motivation in a student to listen to what that teacher has to say. There are various interventions that can be used to assist one in changing behavior. Action and coping planning are two helpful strategies to consider when changing behavior. Action planning being taking charge and putting action into change rather than contemplating it. Coping planning is anticipating how to overcome obstacles during the change process. That is just one of the large varieties of behavioral interventions used in various situations.

Processes of Behavior Change

The changing of a specific behavior whether it is something health related, such as going to the gym on a regular basis, or even improving practicing habits playing an instrument, is a long process. The difference between simply thinking about changing a behavior and acting to change it are farther away than one would think. Varieties of factors are involved in the change process; one of the largest factors is environment. Sniehotta(2009) mentions that despite individual’s being able to make intentional behavior changes, they are largely determined by the constraints and consequences their environment produces. To counteract this, there have been various developments in the area of behavior planning, including new models to go by which can be used to assist an individual in their quest for behavior change.
One of these models that are relatively well known is the transtheoretical model (Armitage, 2009). This model can help “predict, explain, and ultimately change health behavior (Armitage, 2009)” through variety components. These consist of fourteen points that are split up in to three sub-categories. They are: stages of change, dependent variables, and independent variables. While all three are significant, stages of change has been looked at far more than the other stages to the point where it’s not worth mentioning them. Stages of change consist of precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance (Prochaska, et al, 1994). Each stage follows after the other, going from thinking about change, preparing to change, taking action, and then maintaining that change. Various studies have used this model to prove its worth, most notably in changing poor health behaviors. In one study by Herzog and Blagg (2007), they used the model to assist smokers in changing their habits, and found positive results along with the smokers having an increase in motivation to quit throughout the program.
Urte et. Al. (2008) mention two main focuses of behavior change. These are action planning and coping planning. After an individual has the intention to change, they go through the volitional stage, which is the short stage between the intentions becoming changed into action. Once this transition is made one can progress into the action and coping planning stages. In action planning the “when, where, and how (Urte et al. 2008 pg481)” is determined, somewhat similar to the transtheoretical models stages of change. This involves setting rigid goals, such as “I will study for four hours tonight” with no escapes from the plan. This format of goal setting will lead one to change their behavior easier with no leniency in their routines. However, it has been shown that while action planning may be quite effective with changing simple behaviors, changing complex lifelong behaviors may prove difficult or unsuccessful in certain cases.
Coping planning is used for overcoming unplanned and expected obstacles in the behavior change process. An example of this may be that the weather outside is unsuitable for running so I may go run in a gym instead. This type of planning keeps potential planning mishaps from happening, and promotes the maintenance of that behavior. Once action planning is started, after a period of a few months coping tends to take over as the main plan and keeps one on track to their goal or maintaining it.

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