Scientists disagree as to what extent dreams reflect subconscious desires, but new research reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 96, No. 2) concludes that dreams do influence people's decisions and attitudes.
Social psychologists Carey Morewedge, PhD, at Carnegie Mellon University, and Michael Norton, PhD, at Harvard University, conducted studies to find out how people respond to their dreams. Their study of people in the United States, South Korea and India found that 56 percent, 65 percent and 74 percent of respondents, respectively, believe that dreaming reveals hidden truths.
The researchers then wanted to know whether dreams could influence people's decision-making. They asked 182 Boston commuters to consider which of four scenarios would most likely change their flight plans: the government raising the national threat level; consciously imagining a plane crash; learning an actual flight crashed along your route; or dreaming about a plane crash. Commuters said the dream would be just as unsettling as a real crash and more unsettling than consciously imagining a crash or a government warning.
People also seem to selectively find meaning in their dreams based on their biases, Morewedge says. In another study, the researchers asked people of assorted religious beliefs to imagine that God spoke to them in a dream and told them either to travel the world or go work in a leper colony. The very faithful said that either dream would be meaningful to them, while the more agnostic said the travel commandment might be somewhat meaningful, but not the leper colony commandment.
These experiments gauge people's attitudes, not their behaviors, but Morewedge thinks one follows the other. In a different study, he found that 68 percent of people believe their dreams can predict the future. If they believe that, and they have a dream that weighs heavily on them, "it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy," Morewedge says.