In a previous post entitled Have You Experienced Daytime Parahypnagogia?, I discussed my hypothesis of a previously undocumented altered state of consciousness, DPH for short. I conceptualized the experience as an extremely brief dissociative dreamlike episode occurring during waking hours that interferes with attention and alertness. It consists of a flash of an auditory or visual image, a thought, an insight and/or a spark of creativity. One is conscious of the event, but as in a dream, the memory of the content fades quickly as attention becomes refocused on the matters at hand. Following my publication in Medical Hypotheses, I conducted an empirical study to determine the extent and manner this phenomenon is experienced. I sampled two populations: clinical psychologists and university students.
I sent questionnaires to 500 out of 2000 randomly selected members of the New Jersey Psychological Association with 164 responding. I had almost 100% cooperation in my survey of 267 William Paterson University students. As the questionnaires were also addressing daytime sleepiness, I included a qualifying question to determine whether the participants should continue with the DPH section or move on to the next. Forty-five percent of the psychologists and 55% of the college students endorsed the question “During ordinary waking hours, have you ever experienced a spontaneous and momentary change in consciousness that consists of a flash image, thought, dream and/or creative insight that is quickly forgotten (as distinct from a daydream or mind wandering)?”
Of those who responded in the affirmative to the qualifying question, about one-fifth of both the psychologists and the students agreed that their experience was hypnagogic or similar to illusions that some people have just before falling asleep. About three-fifths of both groups reported a visual imagery component. About a fifth of the students and 3% of the psychologists mentioned an auditory component. Half of the students and a third of the psychologists described a dream-like event while 35% of the students and 15% of the psychologists believed it to be trance-like. 47% of the students and 58% of the psychologists found these brief encounters generally pleasant. Psychologists were more likely than not to perceive the thought content of DPH as rational, while students were more likely to describe such thoughts as bizarre. Twice as many psychologists than students (60 v 30%) had a flash of insight during DPH while 57% of the psychologists and 39% of the students noted a creative spark.
About a third of all respondents described the occurrence as similar to what one experiences while beginning to doze off. For a little less than half, the event is sudden and unexpected. Psychologists were more likely than students to say the experience was relevant to what was going on. 35% of the students and 45% of the students found the content easy to recall and thus may not have been experiencing DPH in the way that I proposed. 60% of the students and 84% of the psychologists noted that the state usually lasts under five seconds, consistent with the conjecture.
I had suggested that DPH is what happens when one almost falls asleep. But only about a third of my sample depicted the experience this way. And only a fifth characterized the state as hypnagogic. Yet many more represented their experience as dreamlike or consisting of flashes of insight or creativity, consistent with the hypothesis. From this data I would estimate 15 to 25% of all respondents and 30 to 50% of those who answered yes to the qualifying question have actually experienced DPH as originally conceived.
Click here for the next installment, where I discuss the conditions under which DPH occurs and the manners in which this unnerving and distracting phenomenon interfere with functioning.