It might seem the stuff of Christopher Nolan's Inception, but Aussie researchers say a combination of techniques can increase people's chances of having lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware they're dreaming and can manipulate the experience.

Although many techniques exist for inducing lucid dreams, previous studies have reported low success rates, preventing researchers from being able to study the potential benefits and applications of lucid dreaming.

Findings published in the journal Dreaming describe how new lucid dream induction techniques were tested in an experiment involving three groups of participants.

These included "reality testing", or checking your environment several times a day to see whether or not you're dreaming, and "wake back to bed", or waking up after five hours, staying awake for a short period, then going back to sleep in order to enter a REM sleep period, when dreams are more likely to occur.

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The third approach was "MILD", or mnemonic induction of lucid dreams, in which a person woke up after five hours of sleep, then developed the intention to remember they were dreaming before returning to sleep, by repeating the phrase: "The next time I'm dreaming, I will remember that I'm dreaming."

Among the group of 47 people who combined all three techniques, participants achieved a 17 per cent success rate in having lucid dreams over the period of just one week - significantly higher compared to a baseline week where they didn't practice any techniques.

Among those who were able to go to sleep within the first five minutes of completing the MILD technique, the success rate of lucid dreaming was much higher, at almost 46 per cent of attempts.

"The MILD technique works on what we call 'prospective memory' - that is, your ability to remember to do things in the future," explained study leader Dr Denholm Aspy, of the University of Adelaide's School of Psychology.

"Importantly, those who reported success using the MILD technique were significantly less sleep deprived the next day, indicating that lucid dreaming did not have any negative effect on sleep quality.

"These results take us one step closer to developing highly effective lucid dream induction techniques that will allow us to study the many potential benefits of lucid dreaming, such as treatment for nightmares and improvement of physical skills and abilities through rehearsal in the lucid dream environment."

How dogs put on their best faces for us

Dogs appear more expressive when they know we are watching them, researchers say. Photo / 123RF
Dogs appear more expressive when they know we are watching them, researchers say. Photo / 123RF

And you thought cats were expert manipulators.

UK scientists have shown for the first time how dogs move their faces in direct response to human attention.

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It turns out dogs don't respond with more facial expressions upon seeing tasty food, suggesting the animals produce facial expressions to communicate.

Brow raising, which makes the eyes look bigger - so-called puppy dog eyes - was the dogs' most commonly used expression in the new study, which involved 24 pooches of various breeds, aged one to 12, and all family pets.

"We can now be confident that the production of facial expressions made by dogs are dependent on the attention state of their audience and are not just a result of dogs being excited," said dog cognition expert Dr Juliane Kaminski, of the University of Portsmouth.

"In our study they produced far more expressions when someone was watching, but seeing food treats did not have the same effect.

"The findings appear to support evidence dogs are sensitive to humans' attention and that expressions are potentially active attempts to communicate, not simple emotional displays."

Most mammals produce facial expressions - such expressions are considered an important part of an animal's behavioural repertoire - but it had long been assumed that animal facial expressions, including some human facial expressions, were involuntary and dependent on an individual's emotional state rather than being flexible responses to the audience.

Kaminski said was possible dogs' facial expressions had changed as part of the process of becoming domesticated.

Is the cliche about psychopaths in high finance wrong?

Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman in the film American Psycho embodied the stereotype of a psychopath embedded in the elite world of high finance. Photo / File
Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman in the film American Psycho embodied the stereotype of a psychopath embedded in the elite world of high finance. Photo / File

When it comes to financial investments, hedge fund managers higher in "dark triad" personality traits - psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism - perform more poorly than their peers.

That's according to new personality psychology research, which also showed the difference was a little less than 1 per cent, annually, compared with their peers.

But with large investments over several years, that slight under-performance could add up.

"We should re-think our assumptions that might favour ruthlessness or callousness in an investment manager," said study leader Leanne ten Brinke, a social psychologist at the University of Denver.

"Not only do these personality traits not improve performance, our data suggest that they many hinder it."

The researchers measured personality traits of 101 hedge fund managers, then compared the personality types with their investments and financial returns from 2005 to 2015.

They compared not only the annualised returns, but also risk measures, and found managers with psychopathic traits made less profitable investments than peers, by just under 1 per cent per year.

Managers with narcissistic traits took more investment risks to earn the same amount of money as less narcissistic peers.

Some may be surprised that most hedge fund managers ranked pretty low on the "dark triad" traits.

However, the results did show correlations between personality traits, investment success, and risk management.

The findings built on the research group's earlier work which showed US senators who displayed behaviours associated with psychopathy were actually less likely to gain co-sponsors on their bills.

That study also showed those who displayed behaviours associated with courage, humanity, and justice, "were the most effective political leaders".

The results added to a growing body of literature suggesting that these personality traits were not desirable in leaders in a variety of contexts, ten Brinke concluded.

"When choosing our leaders in organisations and in politics, we should keep in mind that psychopathic traits - like ruthlessness and callousness - don't produce the successful outcomes that we might expect them to."