Do Psychopaths Dream?

Updated: 02.02.08
Did you every wake up and say, “Wow. That dream was so real.”

My guess is that psychopaths — at least some — don’t do that. If you want to see if someone has psychopathic tendencies, maybe a one question, binary, yes-or-no question is, “do you dream” ?

I’m researching white matter as part of January’s “White Matter” month in keeping with the January “white sale” traditions. I noticed that in recovering alcoholics I know, they don’t report dreams, and some have said they don’t dream. And then in suspected psychopaths I know, same thing — lack of dreaming.

So, I’m researching that — my hunch is that it’s in the white matter.

So far, REM sleep originates in the brain stem, and dreams have something to do with the frontal lobes. White matter lesions — like those caused by addiction to alcohol or substance abuse — cause reduction in dreams, and lesions in the ventromedial prefrontal white matter cause cessation of dreaming. Dream imagery has something to do with complex cognitive processes bounced around between frontal areas of the brain.

Platypuses have REM sleep, but it is not known if they actually dream, because there is no frontal lobe activity.

Antique Scientific Illustration Platypus

Echidné épineux ; Ornithorhynque ; Museau vu en dèssus. Guillon, M. (Marie-Nicolas-Silvestre), 1760-1847 — Artist (via NYPL Digital Gallery)

UPDATE: 02.02.08:  There is a relationship between insight or awareness of your own mental illness (anasognosia or anosognosia) and dreaming — this may have to do with white matter (see the original post above.)

 Archives of Gen. Psychiatry, Vol. 37 No. 3, March 1980. 3,ch 1980

Focusing on dreams. A preparation program for psychotherapy

R. D. Cartwright, L. W. Tipton and J. Wicklund
Forty-eight patients selected as potential early dropouts from insight-oriented psychotherapy were offered a two-week program to prepare them for treatment. Thirty-two were sleep-monitored for eight nights; half were given access to their dreams by awakening them from rapid eye movement (REM) sleep periods; the other half were awakened as often, but only from non-FEM (NREM) stages. A third group of 16 subjects went directly into treatment. All laboratory subjects were asked each morning to recall and discuss the reports they had given during the night. The effect of these discussions was measured on the drop-out rate during the first ten treatment hours and on the development of treatment-appropriate behaviors. Those who successfully retrieved and discussed dreams as opposed to other content stayed in therapy at a significantly higher rate and used the hours more productively.