“The biggest myth about dreams is that they are frivolous manifestations reflecting basic occurrences of our daily experiences,” said Chicago psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber.
But dreams are actually an important part of self-discovery. (More on that later.) Below are a few fascinating facts and findings about dreams.
1. People with disabilities dream as though they don’t have them.
The following is an excerpt from a person who participated in a dream study:
“I was supposed to and wanted to sing in the choir. I see a stage on which some singers, male and female, are standing… I am asked if I want to sing with them. ‘Me?’ I ask, ‘I don’t know if I am good enough.’ And already I am standing on the stage with the choir. In the front row, I see my mother, she is smiling at me… It is a nice feeling to be on stage and able to chant.”
What’s particularly curious about this dream is that the dreamer was born deaf and doesn’t speak. Recently, two studies published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition have found that people with disabilities still dream as though their impairments don’t exist.
One of the studies explored the dream diaries of 14 people with impairments (four born with paraplegia and 10 born deaf who can’t speak). Thirty-six able-bodied individuals served as controls. August 2011’s New Scientist featured the research, stating that findings showed that:
About 80 percent of the dream narratives of the deaf participants gave no indication of their impairment: many spoke in their dreams, while others could hear and understand spoken language. The dream reports of the people born paralyzed revealed something similar: they often walked, ran or swam, none of which they had ever done in their waking lives.
Even more interesting, the article states that: “…there was no difference between the number of such bodily movements in the dream reports of the people with paraplegia and in those of the deaf and able-bodied subjects.”
The second study found similar results. Researchers looked at the dream reports of 15 people who were either born with paraplegia or had it later in life (because of a spinal-cord injury). They also included 15 able-bodied controls. Their reports revealed that 14 of the participants with paraplegia had dreams that they were physically active. And they dreamed about walking just as often as the able-bodied participants.
One of the researchers, Ursula Voss at Germany’s University of Bonn, believes that “dreams are tapping into representations of limbs and movements that exist in the brain and which are independent of our waking reality,” she told the New Scientist. She and researcher Alan Hobson at Harvard Medical School speculate that the key is genetics. According to the magazine:
The pair say the recent dream studies suggest that our brain has the genetically determined ability to generate experiences that mimic life, including fully functioning limbs and senses, and that people who are born deaf or paralysed are likely tapping into these parts of the brain when they dream about things they cannot do while awake.
2. Younger people report dreaming in color more often than older adults.
In a recently published study (one survey conducted in 1993; the follow-up in 2009), researchers found that about 80 percent of participants younger than 30 years old dreamed in color. But by 60 years old, only about 20 percent said they did. (How often participants dreamed in color increased from 1993 to 2009— but only for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.) The researchers speculated that color TV might play a role in the generational difference.
Another study using both questionnaires and dream diaries found older adults also had more black and white dreams than the younger participants. What seemed to be particularly noteworthy is that older people reported that both their color dreams and black and white dreams were equally as vivid. The younger participants, however, said that their black and white dreams were of poorer quality. As the BPS Research Digest blog noted, “This raises the possibility that the younger participants didn’t really have any black and white dreams at all, but were simply labelling poorly remembered dreams as black and white.”