Researchers from Berlin and Munich discovered that lucid dreamers tend to have larger anterior prefrontal cortex—an area in the brain that enables self-reflection or metacognition. Hence, these individuals are more likely to self-reflect and have considerable degree of personal awareness when they are awake.
Lucid dreaming involves awareness of being in a dream state and a capacity of exerting a degree of control over the dream environment and dream experience.
Metacognition, on the other hand, is an automatic awareness of knowledge capability, and abilities to understand, control, and manipulate cognitive processes. It is a higher order thinking that simply means cognition about cognition.
In the article “Metacognitive mechanisms underlying lucid dreaming” published in The Journal of Neuroscience, neuroscientists E. Filevich, M. Dresler, T.R. Brick, and S. Kühn from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry have compared brain structures of frequent lucid dreamers and non-frequent or non-lucid dreamers to better understand the nature of lucid dreaming.
Researchers also subject the participants into brain scans while solving metacognitive tests while being awake.
The results revealed that lucid dreamers have larger anterior prefrontal cortex. This area in the brain is responsible for controlling conscious cognitive processes. In addition, it plays a critical role in the human capability of self-reflection or metacognition.
Thus, the results of the study suggest a close association between lucid dreaming and metacognition. Furthermore, based on the brain scans, a larger anterior prefrontal cortex suggests that lucid dreamers often embarks on self-reflection and have high degree of personal awareness.
“Our results indicate that self-reflection in everyday life is more pronounced in persons who can easily control their dreams,” said Elisa Filevich, post-doc in the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
Researchers are planning to expand their study, particularly by understanding whether metacognitive ability is acquirable. They intend to train volunteers in lucid dreaming and examine whether doing so could improve their capability of self-reflection.