Did Your Dreams Come True?
John Tierney / Source: NY
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.
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.
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
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.
to Control Your Dreams