Ib Extended Essay: Dreams and Memory Consolidation

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Is there a link between dreaming and the processes of memory consolidation?

Candidate Name: Oscar Louw
School: Wesley College, Melbourne
Date: 6 June, 2010
Word count: 3434

Contents

Abstract …………………………………………………………………………….i.

Introduction ………………………………………………………………………..1.

Body of text…………………………………………………………………………2

Conclusion………………………………………………………………………….6

References………………………………………………………………………….8

Abstract

This essay will pose the question “is there is there a link between dreaming and the processes of memory consolidation?” A review of research and literature in this area was undertaken, focussing on the biological and behavioural studies of the effects of sleep on memory consolidation; the neural structures in which memory processes are stored; the link between sleep stages and the consolidation of different forms of memory, and how the content of dreams reflect this. The responses from the scientific and psychological communities to these studies were also examined, in particular the criticisms towards the methodological aspects of some of the studies, the inconclusive results from certain sleep deprivation studies, and the presentation of alternative hypotheses were explained. This wide review of literature on the debate from the last three decades ultimately leads to the conclusion that there is definitely a clear link between the processes of memory consolidation and dreaming, namely that dreaming is a by-product of different types of memory consolidation processes in different stages of sleep, but the exact mechanisms by which this occurs needs more research to be fully understood.

Introduction

Sleep is an extremely interesting phenomenon in which the mind almost completely departs from the usual realm of consciousness (Foulkes, 1999). Many theories have been proposed over the years as to why we need sleep. An essential part of sleep is the surreal world and narrative that is experienced during the state known as dreaming (Combs & Krippner, 1998). Dreaming has been a source of fascination for many cultures over thousands of years, from primitive cultures to the ancient Greeks. Explanations for the functions of dreams have ranged from communicating with the gods, providing visions of the future, and divining a person’s character (Aristotle, translated by Beare 2007).

Dreaming, in particular, has also been of particular interest to psychologists, beginning with Freud and Jung, who believed that dreams were a window into the subconscious and could be used to analyse the character of a person (Gross et al. 2000). Freud’s ideas are and always have been controversial, but they pioneered the topic of dream analysis and psychotherapy. Most of Freud’s theories have become obsolete with modern advances in medical science, but what remains is the concept that dreams must serve some kind of purpose (Gross et al. 2000).

Most human behaviours have been shown to serve some kind of evolutionary purpose, so it makes sense that dreaming must have a function. Among the general public, it is a widely accepted notion that being well rested improves memory capabilities, however in the sleep research community the relationship between sleep and memory is a very nuanced and debated topic (Frank & Benington 2006). With the discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and importantly, its association with dreaming, a large body of research has focused on determining the exact functional purpose of REM sleep and dreaming. Amongst these theories is the hypothesis that REM sleep is an essential aspect of memory consolidation, and that dreaming is the conscious manifestation of the brain’s neuronal activity associated with the processes of memory consolidation (Feldman & Dement 1968, Payne & Nadel 2004).

This essay will ask the question: is there a link between dreaming and the processes of memory consolidation? The essay will positively argue this research question, by providing more recent theories about...
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