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There are various ways of writing down dreams upon awakening in one's dream journal. I've seen long, detailed descriptions that read like novels and take a page or two. Then there are terse notes of place, action and characters.

In both cases, it is possible that the dream is forgotten, and upon reading the description, no recall happens, instead the mind starts to visualize the writing anew.

This makes me ask - Is there a key feature of a dream that prompts recall upon reading/thinking it? Is it a place, a feeling or something else? Is it recalling a known dream, then reading the description?

For example, in my current dream journal, i note the following:

  • Record the location, note indoors/outdoors
  • Record the main action, focusing on feelings
  • Record light level (ex: dark/light)
  • Mention dream characters
  • Record the topic of conversation
  • Record any remembered phrases or response

But the above list is still not guaranteed to trigger recall

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  • $\begingroup$ Upon reflection, it appears to me that this question is related to the following one. Two people shared an experience. How can one person describe that situation to another person later to cause that person to recall the situation? $\endgroup$ – Alex Stone Dec 2 '14 at 20:57
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No recall happens when reading the description is probably because one is focusing on reading and visualizing it but not recalling. I think there are different key features to prompt recall for different dreams, since dreams are a mixture of several features, and their proportion or intensities varies in different dreams (Foulkes and Vogel, 1965). E.g., in a dream with intense emotion, emotion/feeling contributes more to the recalling while people, place account more for the recalling in a dream consists of events.

Foulkes, D., & Vogel, G. (1965). Mental activity at sleep onset. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 70(4), 231.

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