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Recurrent dreams: clues to conflict.

Recurrent dreams: Clues to conflict

Do dreams bear any relation to how a person feels while awake? Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalytic offspring held that the imagery of dreams has psychological significance for the dreamer. Biologist Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the DNA structure, more recently proposed that dreams have no meaning; in his opinion, they randomly purge the brain of unneeded and overabundant associations stored in networks of brain cells (SN: 6/13/81, p. 378).

Recurrent dreams, however, do not fit into Crick's picture of disorganized, random dream production, say psychologists Ronald J. Brown and Donald C. Donderi of McGill University in Montreal. In fact, they report in the March JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, people experiencing a recurrent dream tend to report more psychological distress than people who either no longer have or never had recurrent dreams. The researchers conclude that decades-old clinical observations, most notably those of psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung, are correct in suggesting a relationship between recurrent dreams and psychological conflict.

"Most people outside of the psychoanalytic schools have treated dreams as a kind of accident,' says Donderi. "But the state of recurrent dreaming appears to be related to reports of decreased psychological well-being, regardless of the validity of psychoanalytic theory.'

The investigators used newspaper and radio ads to recruit 30 people who were currently experiencing a recurrent dream that had appeared for at least six months, 18 individuals who had had a recurrent dream in adulthood that appeared for at least six months but had not recurred for a year or more, and 19 people who reported never having experienced a recurrent dream in adulthood. Volunteers first completed a dreaming questionnaire; if a remembered series of dreams contained the same theme, characters and emotions, it was considered to be recurrent. Six standard measures of psychological functioning were also administered. Subjects then wrote down remembered dreams for 14 consecutive days. They slept at home, not in a sleep laboratory, and each subject recalled about one dream per night. The dreaming questionnaire and psychological tests were then repeated.

Recurrent dreamers, when compared with the other two groups, reported marked elevations in anxiety, depression, stressful life events and minor physical complaints. Their 14-day dream reports yielded larger proportions of aggressive, anxious and upsetting dream content than reports of the comparison groups. All subjects scored within or near the normal range on psychological tests, add the researchers, but "the data indicate a systematic and statistically significant deficit [for recurrent dreamers] across the entire range of well-being measures.' Subjects who no longer experienced a recurrent dream had the highest well-being scores and most tranquil dream content, says Brown, supporting Jung's contention that a recurrent dream ceases once some type of psychological conflict is resolved.

Another Jungian aspect of dreams, archetypality, was also found to be most common among former recurrent dreamers. Archetypal dreams contain bizarre, emotionally charged, often metaphorical elements and, according to Jung, reflect fundamental aspects of psychological functioning. Former recurrent dreamers, notes Brown, may have developed a greater awareness of their own unconscious processes through resolving a conflict and thus remember more dreams with archetypal content.
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Title Annotation:psychological implication of recurrent dreams
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 29, 1986
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