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Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 Sep 17;8:717. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00717. eCollection 2014.

Tickle me, I think I might be dreaming! Sensory attenuation, self-other distinction, and predictive processing in lucid dreams.

Author information

1
Theoretical Philosophy Group, Department of Philosophy, Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz Mainz, Germany.
2
Institute of Cognitive Science, University Osnabrück Osnabrück, Germany.
3
Department of Neurology, University Hospital Zurich Zurich, Switzerland ; Institute of Physiology and Zurich Center for Integrative Human Physiology (ZIHP), University of Zurich Zurich, Switzerland.

Abstract

The contrast between self- and other-produced tickles, as a special case of sensory attenuation for self-produced actions, has long been a target of empirical research. While in standard wake states it is nearly impossible to tickle oneself, there are interesting exceptions. Notably, participants awakened from REM (rapid eye movement-) sleep dreams are able to tickle themselves. So far, however, the question of whether it is possible to tickle oneself and be tickled by another in the dream state has not been investigated empirically or addressed from a theoretical perspective. Here, we report the results of an explorative web-based study in which participants were asked to rate their sensations during self-tickling and being tickled during wakefulness, imagination, and lucid dreaming. Our results, though highly preliminary, indicate that in the special case of lucid control dreams, the difference between self-tickling and being tickled by another is obliterated, with both self- and other produced tickles receiving similar ratings as self-tickling during wakefulness. This leads us to the speculative conclusion that in lucid control dreams, sensory attenuation for self-produced tickles spreads to those produced by non-self dream characters. These preliminary results provide the backdrop for a more general theoretical and metatheoretical discussion of tickling in lucid dreams in a predictive processing framework. We argue that the primary value of our study lies not so much in our results, which are subject to important limitations, but rather in the fact that they enable a new theoretical perspective on the relationship between sensory attenuation, the self-other distinction and agency, as well as suggest new questions for future research. In particular, the example of tickling during lucid dreaming raises the question of whether sensory attenuation and the self-other distinction can be simulated largely independently of external sensory input.

KEYWORDS:

agency; dreaming; lucidity; predictive processing; self-other distinction; self-tickling; sensory attenuation; tickling

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