When Did Your Dreams Come True?
After analyzing the dreams reported by Lab readers, two psychologists have drawn a fascinating graph of which of your dreams came true — and there’s nothing mystical about their explanation of this pattern. As a bonus, one of the psychologists has recorded a song about dreams that you can listen to at the end of this post.
The psychologists, Carey Morewedge of Carnegie Mellon University and Michael Norton of Harvard, collected responses from Lab readers who filled out a survey mentioned in a previous post that appeared along with a Findings column on the psychologists’ dream research). These self-selected volunteers aren’t a random or representative sample of either Lab readers or the general population, but the researchers find their answers revealing in other ways. Here’s the summary of the research from Dr. Morewedge and Dr. Norton:
We were excited that more than 900 TierneyLab readers completed our survey. Interestingly, more than 75% of respondents were female; we’re not sure if that reflects the readership of the Times, or women’s greater interest in interpreting their dreams.
We first asked people to select which theory of dreams they thought was most accurate, from four options: the Freudian theory (that dreams reveal hidden insights), the theory that dreams assist in problem solving, the theory that dreams assist in memory retention, or the theory that dreams are the byproduct of unrelated neural activity. As in our other research, the Freudian theory proved most popular: a majority of your readers (51.0%) reported believing the Freudian theory of dreaming to be most true, more than the learning (15.5%), problem-solving (13.8%), or byproduct theories (19.7%)
We also asked readers if they could recall a dream that did come true and to describe that dream, and if they could recall a dream that has not come true and to describe that dream. For both dreams, we asked readers to tell us how recently that dream occurred.
Eight-eight percent of readers could recall a dream of the future that remained unfulfilled and a whopping 33 percent could recall a dream that had come true. Most importantly, as the figure below demonstrates, dreams that readers reported had come true tended to be much older (the white bars) than dreams that had not (the black bars).
We believe this suggests that people have countless dreams that do not come true – indeed, nearly everyone could remember such dreams – but many people also have one dream, often from many years ago, that they believe came true. Rather than weight these two facts equally (“I have millions of dreams and only one came true – I wonder if that’s really because dreams come true or because if you have a million thoughts some of them are bound to map onto reality”), people seem to take evidence of one dream coming true as evidence that dreams generally come true (“That dream I had about failing the test in fourth grade came true because I did fail that test; therefore dreams come true”).
This is a bit like staring at a tree branch and willing it to move with one’s mind: one time in a thousand, the wind might move the branch in exactly the direction you are willing it to, but it might not be wise to take that event as evidence of your telekinesis. We can’t rule out the possibility, however, that the only reason dreams that haven’t come true are more recent is simply because we simply haven’t given those dreams enough time to come true!
By the way, about 28 percent of the respondents to the survey said they believed that dreams do indeed foretell the future — a percentage that to me surprisingly high, given that these are readers of a science blog, but again, this is a group of self-selected volunteers that’s not necessarily representative.
Do you have any thoughts on these results — or on whether dreams come true?
To stimulate your reflections — and get into the mood for the interdisciplinary approach of the researchers — you can click below to hear a song about dreams written by Dr. Norton. It reflects on the different beliefs that people have about what their dreams mean. That’s Dr. Norton playing guitar, and singing along with Jess Carroll.