Dreaming and the default network: A review, synthesis, and counterintuitive research proposal

Conscious Cogn. 2015 May:33:342-53. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2015.01.019. Epub 2015 Feb 24.


This article argues that the default network, augmented by secondary visual and sensorimotor cortices, is the likely neural correlate of dreaming. This hypothesis is based on a synthesis of work on dream content, the findings on the contents and neural correlates of mind-wandering, and the results from EEG and neuroimaging studies of REM sleep. Relying on studies in the 1970s that serendipitously discovered episodes of dreaming during waking mind-wandering, this article presents the seemingly counterintuitive hypothesis that the neural correlates for dreaming could be further specified in the process of carrying out EEG/fMRI studies of mind-wandering and default network activity. This hypothesis could be tested by asking participants for experiential reports during moments of differentially high levels of default network activation, as indicated by mixed EEG/fMRI criteria. Evidence from earlier EEG/fMRI studies of mind-wandering and from laboratory studies of dreaming during the sleep-onset process is used to support the argument.

Keywords: Default network; Dreaming; EEG/fMRI; Mind-wandering; Sleep-onset process.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Dreams / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology*