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About that dream last night ...

February 19, 2009 |  1:44 pm

DreamsPsychologists disagree vehemently about the significance of dreams. Some believe dreams are simply the neurological detritus of the previous day while others suggest that dreams represent unconscious thoughts and feelings. Science may not have settled the question, but according to a new study, many people favor the Freudian theory. That is, they believe their dreams reveal hidden truths.

A study published this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology analyzes previous research that asks people what they think about their dreams. Across a range of ages and cultures, many people said dreams give them meaningful insight into their lives. The study shows that people tend to believe aspects of their dreams that correspond to their preexisting beliefs and experiences.

Perhaps most surprisingly, many people use information from their dreams to influence the decisions they make while awake and may even place more importance on information from dreams over conscious thought. The authors of study say it is the very randomness of the information in dreams that makes people tend to believe them. The study showed that people even tend to believe dreams that foretell an event. Bizarre dreams also get a lot of credence. "We suggest that in particularly strange cases, people may realize that the actual event is unlikely to happen, but their desire to interpret dreams leads them to perceive meaning nonetheless," the authors wrote.

People who believe their dreams may find that dreams become self-fulfilling prophesies, warned the authors of the paper, from Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard. For example, they wrote: "Dreams of spousal infidelity may lead to suspicious accusations, alienating one's spouse and potentially provoking actual infidelity."

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A scene from the film "Four Million Houseguests." Credit: ABC / Kane Productions