Recalling a dream could affect the neural processing of emotional stimuli

Recalling a dream is associated with increased activation of brain regions involved in emotional processing, according to new research. The findings, which appear in the journal Dreaming, provide preliminary evidence that dream recall impacts the processing of emotional stimuli.

“We are interested in dreams, because dreaming seems to have a pivotal role in the emotional human life but also in many animals. Moreover, dream analysis has important clinical implications in psychological practice,” said study author Carlo Lai, an associate professor at Sapienza University of Rome.

In the study, 37 women between the ages of 18 and 35 years were shown a series of emotional images as the researchers monitored their electrical brain activity. In the middle of this task, the women were asked to either recall a dream or report their personal work experiences.

Compared to those who recalled work experiences, participants who recalled a dream tended to have increased activation of several regions in the brain’s limbic system during the second half of the task. These regions included the amygdala, hippocampus, amygdala-hippocampus junction, parahippocampal areas.

“This finding confirms that dream recalling seems to affect the emotional state and the processing of emotional stimuli. Specifically, to recall a dream seems to facilitate a greater involvement of limbic and temporal brain circuits during emotional processing, a possible neural correlate of a greater reactivity to emotional stimuli,” the researchers wrote in their study. “This interpretation sustains the clinical and psychodynamic evidence where recalling a dream can favor a greater disposition to feel and to process emotional meanings.”

“The average person could reflect on the importance of dream recall because our results suggest that the recounting of dreams puts us in contact with our deep emotions,” Lai told PsyPost.

But the study includes some limitations.

“First of all, the most important caveat could be to not consider the dream as some magical experience, and to not use the dreams as superstitious suggestions. Nevertheless, the exact function of the dreaming and why other animals also seem to dream needs further investigation,” Lai explained.

“From recent studies, it seems that dreaming could have a preparatory function to the predictable emotional state of our future daily activities. This is, indeed, a very interesting hypothesis.”

The study, “Neural Correlate of the Impact of Dream Recall on Emotional Processing“, was authored by Carlo Lai, Giada Lucarelli, Gaia Romana Pellicano, Giuseppe Massaro, Daniela Altavilla, and Paola Aceto.