Author Archives: gord0n

Thinking About Sleeping

A new article on the association between REM sleep and dreaming reveals some extremely interesting information about the nature of sleeping, and dreaming.  This topic is so intriguing because it affects us literally every day, in ways that we probably wouldn’t necessarily notice before learning about it here.  The article mentions research connected to the associative processing that occurs during REM sleep, and how this can be lead to increases in insight and creativity.  This research has shown that when awakening from REM sleep, participants are better at using their cognitive resources to solve problems requiring creative associative processing, such as anagrams.  Another set of research shows that when people take naps containing REM sleep, they have been tested as performing better on tasks where subjects are required to find a link between supposedly unrelated words.  An example of this remote associates task is:  Plummer, tobacco, tube, where the word relating these three words is pipe.  Awakening just after the REM cycle, this answer was easier to come by for most participants.things-to-do-in-lucid-dream

REM sleep is suggested to connect and integrate memories and situations.  During sleep, our brains prefer to consolidate memories that are important in the future, like emotional experiences.  In context, we will have an easier time remembering emotional experiences than neutral ones.  A study by Carr and Neilsen, in 2015 looks at the associative power of REM sleep as it relates to emotional or neutral words.  The participants were split into three groups.  One group was awakened from REM sleep, another from NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep, and the third was kept awake.

Subjects awakened following REM sleep showed a connection to broad, unusual associations between words.  To explain, when subjects heard a word like “friend” before sleeping, then awakened from REM sleep, they were more likely to come up with words deviating from the three most common words associated with friend.  So, instead of saying “buddy, companion, or ally” people in this group would be more likely to come up with words such as “comrade, or acquaintance.”  This effect was only seen in words that had emotional influence, and not in the neutral word, such as “canoe.” The differentiation comes when the REM group from the NREM group and the group left awake are asked.  These two groups came up with responses more consistent with the typical word associations to both types of words.  It was also found that the deviation of the words given by the REM sleep group was increased when the word was a positive emotional word.  This suggests that positive emotional experiences may be more focused, connected and enhanced, during REM sleep.

To relate dreaming, the REM cycle contains dreams that are often more clear, bizarre and emotional.  These characteristics reflect this emotional and associative memory process that these studies are suggesting occur during REM sleep.  Dreams are now being seen as a sort of virtual reality for problem solving as well as solutions to stresses, opening the mind to creative ways to approach problems and provide solutions to concerns.  sleep-and-dreams-and-creativity-300x168

What about the bad dreams?  Your mind has a way of associating problems that you may be experiencing it, and attempting to find solutions and form connections within the dream.  The perceived negativity of these types of dreams can restrict the associations, and cause a narrow-minded outlook of the nature of the dream.  To avoid this, it is recommended to approach sleep with a positive mind-set to help enhance the processing while in sleep.

To conclude this interesting topic, and provide fruitful thought about the nature and importance of sleep, an excerpt from the original article wraps this topic up with “some things to consider before you go to sleep:

  •  REM sleep is very important for integrating recent experiences into elaborate memory networks (so give up the all-nighters!)
  • The memories or experiences which are of greatest concern to you will more likely be processed during sleep.
  • You can borrow the associative power of REM sleep by reflecting on problems immediately when you wake up.
  • The best nap length to target a REM awakening is between 60-80 minutes. (Or, you could try ultra-short naps to capture the associative state that occurs right at sleep onset, read more about this in a previous post).
  • Positive emotions can enhance associative thinking. Try to maintain a positive outlook towards your waking experiences.
  • Remember your dreams! If nothing else, recording and reflecting on dreams can lend insights to emotional struggles or creative inspiration to your work.”


Cai, D. J., Mednick, S. A., Harrison, E. M., Kanady, J. C., & Mednick, S. C. (2009). REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(25), 10130-10134.

Carr, M., & Nielsen, T. (2015). Morning Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Naps Facilitate Broad Access to Emotional Semantic Networks. Sleep.

Hartmann, E. (1996). Outline for a theory on the nature and functions of dreaming. Dreaming, 6(2), 147.

Walker, M. P., Liston, C., Hobson, J. A., & Stickgold, R. (2002). Cognitive flexibility across the sleep–wake cycle: REM-sleep enhancement of anagram problem solving. CognitiveBrain Research, 14(3), 317-324.


Remember Not to Forget to Remember

Sometimes the hardest thing about remembering to do something… is remembering to do that thing.  Our brains use processes of information encoding, storage, and retrieval to help us remember specific things from the past, but what about our brain’s ability to remember things in the future?  It can be hard to remember upcoming events such as an upcoming dentist appointment, a meeting to attend, or an upcoming test.  Our memory is designed to support the retrieval of events from both dimensions.  In planning and organizing upcoming activities or setting goals for the future, we use what’s called prospective memory.  This type of memory is extremely important, just like the memories of the past, or retrospective memories.

Effectively using prospective memories relies somewhat on your ability to use a system of episodic memories, and the attending to of autobiographical events.  Episodic memories are composed of your recollection of past experiences at any time or place.  Using these episodic memories helps you create a foundation for understanding of future contexts and enhances your prospective memory.  Autobiographical events such as time, place, and emotions are utilized in planning and achieving future goals.  Just as the autobiographical factors may affect your ability to remember past events, the same is true in forming a foundation for remembering future plans.

One article divides prospective memory into three categories:  Time based, event based, and activity based memories.  These categories are based on your use of retrieval cues when going through future memory recall stages.  These prospective memory categories will cause a foundation to be formed, which will help you along the retrieval process as you become aware of remembering your plans.  To exemplify, time based memories will be tied with time related characteristics, such as remembering that the specific time of the dentist appointment is at 10 am.  The event based characteristics are paired with events that you cause, which are related to the future task to be remembered, such as trying to remember to study for the test by placing the textbook in front of your TV.  Activity based events refer to the activity related to the plan, where you will more easily remember to put a check in the mail if you picture yourself stopping by the mailbox on your way to class, where walking to class is the activity.


It is suggested that these memories should all be used in unison to best mold together and enhance your understanding and recall of prospective memories.  Remembering to take note of time, events, and other cues can be used to remind yourself of the plan, which will help you retrieve the memory, thus performing the execution of the chore.  These heightened prospective memory techniques will help you visualize your goals, centrally processing the event and all of its implications, rather than only focusing on the outcome, where you may more peripherally know that the event should take place, increasing the possibility of failing to understand and perform the steps necessary to remember.   For example, if you know you need to turn in a paper for another class just before a class at 5:00pm, you may try to process and understand the time, as well as walking path implications, in addition to holding the paper in your hand as you walk.  This will help you form deeper knowledge of the plan, as forming the cues using the categories of time, event, and activity based memories will be more beneficial than simply stating “I need to turn the paper in before 5:00”.

Forming prospective memory representations will help narrow on the intended goal.  People can mold their thoughts in a way that makes retrieval cues more available, and it is possible to shape the encoding of information, which causes it to be easier to recall. Everyone can form their own prospective memory devices, create their own retrieval cues, and increase the likelihood of remembering a future event, given conscious thought.

It’s on the tip of my tongue

Ever been in a situation in which your are struggling to remember an exact word, while the word seems so obvious and know you can just so easily put your finger on it, and pull it to your consciousness? But for some strange reason, you cant seem to capture its essence, as hard as you try and as far as you reach?  Of course you have… In life, we call this the tip of the tongue phenomena.  Ever heard of it? It happens everywhere and occurs incredibly often, and can honestly be quite frustrating when does.  The feeling accompanying this marvel causes you to stress your brain to a point that causes a unique mental state, where the person is attempting to consciously use retrieval cues to try to access the word they are just so ready to spit out, located just a touch away.  When this happens, people begin to try to remember features about the word, and connections they have formed with the word, they think to themselves:  “What was the font of the word when i saw it? Big? Small?” and scramble to figure out,  “What were the first few letters? Ele? Ela?”  In addition to this, you might think about when you heard the word last, or what was going on at that time, and you may dance around in your thoughts, trying to locate the word’s presence using mental structures, remembering schema associated with this mystery word, and bringing up cues.


These thoughts are guided to help your mind connect with the word, and helping, hoping you eventually find that knowledge you were so pressured to posses.  The interesting part is, when you are going through these processes in your mind, your thoughts can potentially lead you down a path of skewed thinking, where it attempts to create the word using these mental cues, and present words associated with the criteria of the cues. This means, whenever something is on the tip of your tongue, you will go through whatever processes (retrieval, accessibility, recency) you can muster, to quickly interpret and generate the word.  So, you know you should already know the word, you put yourself under enormous pressure both socially and introspectively to grasp this word.  When this happens, it is so easy to rush ourselves down one of the hundreds of potential paths paths, which sometimes causes us to slip, and retrieve the wrong cues, leading to the wrong word.  We will start telling ourselves we saw the word earlier, in a different context, or we try to remember things related to the word, or other words like it.

When struggling to find the word, our mind uses cues to help us snatch it from our peripheral, and we will being to asses these cues, and puzzling together the mind’s entire understanding of the word.  Unfortunately for us, there is always a possibility we could be misattributing, or incorrectly identifying specifics of memories, meaning we are susceptible to a warp in perception as we go through the constant sift of all incoming possible words.  During this sift, research suggests ( that the tip of the tongue phenomena will actually cause a certain feeling, or a state that often causes people to be likely to have a biased perception, and they will radically think to bring the word to the consciousness, but its easily possible to remember words that are closely resembling the impossible word, or have certain connections with it.  In the research, The characteristics that people were most likely mislabeling words with were accessibility, font size and shade, and frequency in the language.  This means the easier a word was to access in the mind, the easier it is to read, and the more frequently one is associated with the word,  the more likely it is to be wrongly chosen.  The state of mind associated with the tip of the tongue feeling sometimes leads people to making begin making inferences about the word in rash ways, leading to a much higher occurrence of error in the recall of the word.  The feeling of something being on the tip of your tongue is seen creating a bias in the way people think, causing them to make mistakes during retrieval and think the word is more easily accessible.  This means the thought goes something like this:  I definitely know this word its so easy, and I should be right here, why can I not think of it, I know this work completely!  This causes people to make accessibility errors in their words.

frustrated builder

While this is a simple topic, it very closely addresses our discussions of retrieval , the memory system (both working and long term), implicit and explicit memories.  It’s something so complicated was going on inside your head every time you struggle to remember a word that should just be so obvious.  Just remember, next time you can’t remember the word you were looking for, when you finally spit it out… don’t always count on it.  Unless you know you’re right I guess…

Fantasizing About Success? Good luck…

Recent studies show that fantasizing about success, while it is widely suggested by parents around the world to set your goals high, is not always as heart warming as you may expect… It turns out, dreaming of your own success can actually be extremely detrimental to success.

While having a positive outlook as well as positive goals is a good thing, the over fantasizing of your hopes and dreams can impact you negatively in several ways.  Having these fantasies can prevent us from reaching our goals by causing us to fail to realize the potential problems that may arise, as well as keeping us in a state where we are already expecting to reach our goals, and thus reducing our overall drive, being that we don’t believe we will have to put forth as much effort as we do in reality.  We instinctively want our success to be recognized in the here and now, but this hurts the chances of actually being successful by causing us to neglect what is needed to work up to the expectations of our fantasies.

Girl dreaming about successful investment (euro's banknotes)

According to studies based on rates success in the categories of finding a partner, withstanding surgery, and finding jobs, those who spend more time dreaming of their success tend to do much worse.  In finding jobs, results have indicated that those who dream often of impending success had applied to fewer jobs, had fewer job offers, and had lower salaries if they did find a job.

In losing weight, the study by Gabriele Oettingen ( has found that women who hold a high likelihood or expectations of loosing weight found that they did in fact lose a considerable amount of weight.  On the other hand, the women that pictured themselves passing up food and held strong fantasies of losing weight actually tended to lose much less weight than women that saw themselves in a more negative light.  This shows that when the dreams are vivid and longed for, people may become less motivated to actually put forth the effort to successfully strive for their goals.  Oettingen went on to perform many more studies including how grades, degrees from vocational schools, and recovering from cancer, are all related to dreams and fantasies, showing many of the same results.

This research is not to say that positive thinking and goal setting is always negatively impacting your success.  However, despite some popular belief, it can be detrimental to the goal setter, when the intensifying of the thoughts of your future success becomes typical, it has been seen to lead to negative results in many aspects such as discomfort after surgery, an inability to find a job after college, or the long-lived search for a soul mate.

To prevent the over fantasizing that can so easily occur, researchers suggest that we must enjoy the daily progress and focus on the reality of the here and now, and begin to set realistic checkpoints, or day-by-day goals to keep your future in check.dream-big

This topic brings up a very interesting point, being that most of us have been told “be whatever you want to be” and that “the sky is the limit.”  The twist of reality is that goals along the way must be set to reach these limitless opportunities, but the goals don’t include picturing yourself in a stress-free, idealistic light that is the fantasization of your future.  The american dream of being whatever you want to be, and living the life you want to live may be rubbing off on the new generation in a negatively impacted way, making for a over exaggerated essence goal setting and sending your expectations for the future potentially skyrocketing, leading to a tint of blissful ignorance that can sometimes be unintentionally, but nonetheless,  creating as a lens, blinding us from the reality of the hard work and dedication needed to reach the goals, causing us to ignore all negatives and focus primarily on the positive possible outcomes.