BOB HIRSHON (host):
Dreaming up answers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
Many creative thinkers, including artists, musicians and scientists, report getting new insights through dreams. Harvard clinical psychologist Deirdre Barrett studies creative dreaming, and has found that t he dreaming brain specializes in visual-spatial solutions.
Problems that start off as visual always get solved in a straightforward visual way in the dream, but things that are more of a word problem or math problem often get represented in images, because that seems to be the part of the mind that’s most active during dreaming.
She says dreams also excel at solving problems requiring outside the box thinking, probably because our prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that filters out ideas that are silly or inappropriate—is quiet during sleep, allowing unusual ideas to surface. She says visualizing a problem before going to sleep, and having paper, pen and a flashlight on a bedside table frequently yields valuable new insights. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.