Sad REM Dreaming and Contract Grading


Brain Byte #3: bringing you research reports and big ideas in 5 minutes or less.

Sad REM dreaming

Dreams have been found to occur not only in REM (or Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, but in non-REM sleep as well. Sleep studies have reliably demonstrated that dreams originating in non-REM sleep have a positive effect on one’s self-concept immediately upon waking. In these instances, word completion exercises, where the participant is given the first two letters of a word and instructed to complete the rest, result in more positive words than negative: “kiss”, instead of “kill.” “Love” instead of “lose.” Waking in the midst of REM sleep, however, correlates with a downward shift in mood (and an abundance of negative words). This is thought to result from the high activation of the amygdala during REM sleep – a structure known to be intimately involved in our experiences of fear and anxiety. REM sleep’s connection to emotional distress may have a more pervasive effect than we give it credit for. In cases of severe depression, REM sleep occurs first and for longer periods of time, at the expense of non-REM sleep. Though the salience of our dreams slips away in the morning, the type and content can have lasting effects on our day. This research is in the journal Dreaming, as well as the International Review of Neurobiology.

Contract grading

A recent study suggests students may benefit from written contracts, rather than the traditional points system, in their classes. 40 college freshmen were assigned to a traditional or contract grading system in their introductory Psychology course. Those in the contract condition specified their desired grade and picked the assignments they would complete in order to reach their goal. Assignments were graded pass/fail, with multiple attempts allowed, but the teacher was at liberty to determine the “mastery criterion” (ranging from 80 to 100%) required to earn a passing grade. Contract graded students were found to be three times less likely to fail or drop the class, and three times more likely to earn an A. Perhaps more important was the finding that contract grading lends students a better perception of control over success, which encourages continued engagement and results in greater satisfaction. This study is in the journal SAGE Open.

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