The "ways" we look at dreams: Evidence from unilateral spatial neglect (with an evolutionary account of dream bizarreness)

Fabrizio Doricchi, Giuseppe Iaria, Massimo Silvetti, Francesca Figliozzi, Isabelle Siegler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite decades of research, the question of whether the rapid eye movements (REMs) of paradoxical sleep (PS) are equivalent to waking saccades and whether their direction is congruent with visual spatial events in the dream scene is still very controversial. We gained an insight into these questions through the study of a right brain damaged patient suffering attentional neglect for the left side of space and drop of the optokinetic nystagmus (OKN) with alternating rightward slow/leftward fast phases evoked by rightward optic flow. During PS the patient had frequent Nystagmoid REMs with alternating leftward slow/rightward fast phases and reported dreams with visual events evoking corresponding OKN such as a train running leftward. By contrast, just as in waking OKN, Nystagmoid REMs with alternating rightward slow/leftward fast phases were virtually absent. REMs followed by staring eye position or by consecutive REMs were also observed: these showed no asymmetry comparable to that of Nystagmoid ones. The selective disappearance of Nystagmoid REMs in one horizontal direction proves, for the first time, that in humans different types of REMs exists and that these are driven by different premotor mechanisms. Concomitant drop of OKN and Nystagmoid REMs toward the same horizontal direction demonstrates that phylogenetically ancient oculomotor mechanisms, such as the OKN, are shared by waking and PS. On this evidence and converging findings from animal, neuropsychological and brain imaging studies, a new evolutionary account of dream bizarreness is proposed. Classification and labelling of the different types of REMs are also provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-461
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


  • Dreaming
  • Nystagmus
  • Optokinetic
  • REM sleep
  • Saccade
  • Spatial neglect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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