Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Politics of Dreaming


ResearchBlogging.org Recent research has found an interesting relationship between dreaming and a person’s political orientation. Those who identify as politically liberal tend to recall their dreams more frequently than those who identify as conservative. Additionally, conservatives tend to report more mundane dream content, whereas liberals have more bizarre dreams. Better dream recall is associated with higher openness to experience, and liberals tend to be higher in openness to experience than conservatives. The difference in dream recall may be due to differences in openness between liberals and conservatives. These findings seem to suggest that liberals may differ from conservatives not only in their social values, but may be more imaginative than conservatives.
In a large scale demographic survey of Americans, those who identified as left-liberals recalled more dreams (including nightmares) than right-conservatives (Bulkeley, 2012). (Those who identified as libertarian or as moderates were excluded from the analysis.) Liberals were also more likely to talk about their dreams and reported higher rates of lucid dreaming. There was very substantial overlap between liberals and conservatives in their dream recall patterns though, indicating that this was not a large difference.  
Political liberals are more likely to report bizarre dream content than conservatives

These findings are in line with an earlier study by the same author (Bulkeley, 2006)  that also found that conservatives slept more soundly whilst liberals had more troubled sleep. Participants in this study were also asked to provide details of their most recent dream. An interesting finding was that conservatives tended to have more mundane dreams, containing only events that could occur in real life, whereas liberals were more likely to report bizarre dream content, such as flying or talking with someone who has died in real life. Liberals generally reported a greater variety of dream themes. Although there is considerable overlap, liberals seem to have a richer scope of dream experiences that is more likely to include fantastic elements and be less grounded in mundane reality.

The author also noted differences in the content of women’s sexual dreams depending on political orientation. Liberal women’s sexual dream reports were more elaborate and detailed than those of their conservative counterparts. Liberal women reported higher rates of sexual dreams (92% vs. 71%), even though the conservatives’ rates were fairly high (suggesting they were not on the whole too embarrassed to admit sexual dreams). Liberal females also were more likely to report sexual interactions with other women (24% vs. 4%). Liberal women may be more open to sexuality in their dreams generally and to homosexuality in particular than conservative women.

Bulkeley interpreted these findings in line with the “continuity hypothesis” of dreaming. This hypothesis proposes that people tend to dream about whatever is most important and emotionally salient in their lives. This is in contrast to Freudian and Jungian theories of dreaming which emphasised the disguised, symbolic nature of dream content.

A study on dream recall and big five personality traits found that higher openness to experience was associated with more dream recall (Watson, 2003). Openness to experience is a personality trait associated with the breadth and richness of a person’s inner life as well as their preference for variety and novelty versus sameness. This study had the advantage of using a daily diary method of assessing dream recall rather than asking a general question about dream recall as in the studies by Bulkeley. Political liberalism is moderately associated with openness to experience, so the greater dream recall of liberals may be due to their greater openness to experience. This would also fit in with the continuity hypothesis. People high on openness to experience tend to have a greater variety of inner experiences in waking life than more closed individuals, and their dreams therefore follow a similar pattern.

Openness is usually considered in terms of a number of component facets, including openness to ideas, values, feelings, aesthetics, actions, and fantasy. The facet most relevant to political orientation, and on which liberals and conservatives differ most strongly, is openness to values, which explicitly relates to a person’s attitudes to authority and tradition. Conservatism is associated with a preference for the familiar and the traditional, and conservatives tend to prefer conformity to the status quo. Liberalism is associated with greater comfort with change and innovation, and liberals are more likely to question authority and the value of tradition.

The findings about the differences in dream content suggest that not only are liberals more open to values but they are more open to fantasy as well. Although measures of the fantasy facet have no apparent ideological content, studies have found that other openness facets including fantasy, are positively associated with liberalism (McCrae & Sutin, 2009). This suggests that liberals not only differ from conservatives in their social attitudes but they tend to have richer inner experiences generally. This might make it easier for them to envision a new and better kind of society they would like to strive for. 

Whether or not being high in fantasy-related tendencies is considered a good or a bad thing depends on subjective preferences. People high in openness to experience tend to regard it as socially desirable, whereas more closed individuals demean it (McCrae & Sutin, 2009). Conservatives may see themselves as realistic, down-to-earth and grounded in reality, whereas liberals might view them as dull, unimaginative, and inflexible. Liberals might see themselves as visionary and forward thinking, whereas conservatives might see them as having their “heads in their clouds” and being out of touch with reality. In practice openness to fantasy may be a two-edged sword. Without imagination and fantasy there can be no creativity and hence no progress. On the other hand, fantasy that is ungrounded in practical considerations can shade into madness.

Finally, it may be worth reiterating that not only is there substantial overlap between liberals and conservatives in dream recall, but in personality as well. When considering whether to vote for a political candidate, bear in mind that some conservative policies could well be the product of a bizarre fantasy and that some liberals ones could be grounded in reality, and vice versa.


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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided.  

             This article has previously appeared on Psychology Today on my blog Unique - Like everybody else.

References
Bulkeley, K. (2006). Sleep and dream patterns of political liberals and conservatives Dreaming, 16 (3), 223-235 DOI: 10.1037/1053-0797.16.3.223
Bulkeley, K. (2012). Dream Recall and Political Ideology: Results of a Demographic Survey. Dreaming, 22 (1), 1-9 DOI: 10.1037/a0026170
McCrae, Robert & Sutin, Angelina R. (2009). "Chapter 17. Openness to Experience". In Mark R. Leary, & Rick H. Hoyle. Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behavior. New York/London: The Guildford Press. pp. 257–273. ISBN 978-1-59385-647-2.
Watson, D. (2003).  To dream, perchance to remember: individual differences in dream recall. Personality and Individual Differences, 34, 1271-1286 DOI: 10.1016/S0191-8869(02)00114-9

17 comments:

  1. I find this blog post interesting! I agree with the study that was done because, I find myself to be more liberal and my dreams are very bizarre. The study showed that liberals are more open and conservatives are not so open. With this being shown liberals are more apt to express their dreams to other people. After reading this blog post I agree with the continuity hypothesis of dreaming rather than Sigmund Freud. I believe in this because I think that your dreams are based on what is happening in your life at that particular time.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree the continuity hypothesis makes more sense than Freud's theory.

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    2. I disagree with Freud in comparison to this blog. I believe that you tend to dream about wishes and things you agree with, like the comparison between your political party. I don't think that "wish fufillment is the meaning of each and every dream" as he stated in "The Interpretation of Dreams"(Hockenbury). People simply dream about what is bothering them, what's changing in their lives, and as stated below what's happening in your life currently. Whether it be good or bad, it's what's going on in your mind, kind of life sleep thinking. Real life events that occur in your dreams.

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    3. Thanks for your thoughts Meaghan. The wish fulfillment theory has always had problems, such as explaining why people have nightmares. People who have had a traumatic experience frequently dream about the event, which is consistent with your idea that people dream about what is bothering them. I think dreams are like a form of sleep thinking, although a very confused form of thinking. The confusion probably reflects the reduced and uneven level of brain activity during sleep.

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  2. Is was stated that this study was the opposite of Freud and I believed that to be true. For example, Freud believed that behaviors that are consciously unacceptable, end up repressed and they come forth in your unconsciousness. So, as stated above, liberals who don't believe such behaviors are unacceptable, tend to live a more free and open life as shown in there dreams. It's the same with conservatives who live a bottled up life, tend to have bottled up dreams. So what you live like and your outlook on life, also reflects what you dream like. But, Freud would say conservatives would have the wild and sexual dreams because they are repressing them in their own life, a.k.a. "disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes."

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    1. Thanks for your comment, you make an insightful point about the problems with Freud's theory. Similar objections apply to Jung's theory, as he argued that dreams compensate for the one-sidedness of the conscious mind but the research findings contradict this idea.

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  3. This is an interesting post as I am in an Psych 101 class and learning about dreams and sleep. I feel as if this is a great post because it shows another element to how we dream and what we can get out of it. As a liberal, I can relate that I do have some weird, open dreams and it is cool to know thats why they are like that. It also makes you think of Freud's belief that dreams are fulfilled wishes. This may be true but I feel like that is too general for us to believe. We should look into how people act or do not act on their dreams.

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    1. Thanks for your appreciative comments. Liberals apparently talk about their dreams more, so maybe they are more likely to act on them? Enjoy your Psych class.

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  4. This post was very interesting because it shows what we get out of dreaming. I found the liberal and conservitives comparison very interesting. I never thought of dreams that way. I find myself being more a liberal while dreaming because my dreams are entertaining & different. After reading this post I find agree with the continuity hypothesis rather than Freuds belief, because I think dreams are based on what is going on in your life at that moment in time.

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  5. I find this article very interesting and I have to say I agree 100 %. I am a liberal just like most teens; I’m open to the idea of change. For me it makes sense to believe that people, who are more able to recall their bizarre dreams about weird places or new inventions that are in reality impossible, tend to be liberal. While conservatives don’t recall their dreams and are most likely to dream things that are based on reality because they are not so open to the idea of change. I’m learning about dreams in my pysch class and find this relates perfectly to the topic. I do agree with Bulkeley’s hypothesis that whatever is going on in your life at that particular time tends to show up in your dreams. I believe that our minds store certain things that we don’t want to face in the back of our subconscious for us to revisit in a not so scary place later, our dreams.

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  6. I completely agree with this article and this study. It makes a lot sense that since liberals are more open that their dreams would parallel this as well. Conservatives are less creative and closed minded which is why their dreams are less bizarre and more boring. Conservatives like keeping things the same so by them dreaming of everyday events or things that seem real is no change at all. Liberals differ by dreaming of new things or things they wish they could change.

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  7. I find this article very interesting and I have to say I agree 100 %. I am a liberal just like most teens; I’m open to the idea of change. For me it makes sense to believe that people, who are more able to recall their bizarre dreams about weird places or new inventions that are in reality impossible, tend to be liberal. While conservatives don’t recall their dreams and are most likely to dream things that are based on reality because they are not so open to the idea of change. I’m learning about dreams in my pysch class and find this relates perfectly to the topic. I do agree with Bulkeley’s hypothesis that whatever is going on in your life at that particular time tends to show up in your dreams. I believe that our minds store certain things that we don’t want to face in the back of our subconscious for us to revisit in a not so scary place later, our dreams

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  8. I agree with this blog post because I am a conservative and I very rarely remember my dreams and if I do, their not vivid enough to go into detail. The continuity hypothesis strongly agrees with the activation-synthesis model of dreaming because both these state that the dreaming images are internally generated and have something in common with an aspect of one’s life. This study would be a little more interesting if they also had the results of conservatives and Liberals with sleeping disorders.

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    1. Sleeping disorders would be an interesting area of study. Bulkeley claimed that conservatives tend to sleep more soundly than liberals although the size of the difference was small. There probably is a connection between dream recall and troubled sleeping.

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  9. Tyler psych 101 studentOctober 3, 2012 at 6:15 AM

    I like this post due to the liberal views in this article. I have vivid dreams both about what is happening in my life now, but also wild and specific futuristic events. But also The Arousal Theory plays a big part in your liberal female part. Liberal women may be more open to sexuality in their dreams by generally seeking out stimulating experiances. Also not being shy to admite these stimulations.

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    1. I just want to make clear that I did not intend to promote either liberal or conservative views in the article. Rather I was intending to describe the differences between liberals and conservatives without implying that one is "better" than the other.
      Your comments on Arousal theory are quite interesting. There is a positive correlation between openness to experience and the trait of sensation-seeking (a tendency to seek out arousing experiences) so there may well be a connection between liberal women and the desire for stimulating experiences.

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  10. I believe if the whole point of the experiment was to decide if Liberals dreamt like other Liberals and that Conservatives dreamt like other Conservatives then the experiment was useful. But I do not believe that the reason people dream the way they do is because their political officiation. I think people with similar ideas on things are more alike, so they are more like to dream the same. I think if you tested any big decision as the independent variable that separates the two groups, such as pro-life or pro-choice, then you will find they dream more similarly than the other group. i think the experiment is very thought provoking and was worth reading about.

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