Due to their deeply personal, you-had-to-be-there nature, human dreams are quite difficult to study in the confines of clinical science – an approach based on objective and observable data.
Despite the inherent challenges, however, psychologists are still drawn toward the puzzle of why our dreams take on the various mundane, anxiety-inducing, adventurous, or downright nonsensical themes that they do.
Published this month in the aptly named journal Dreaming, a study led by Jonas Mathes at the Institute for Experimental Psychology at the Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf presents us with a new insight into a particularly troubling yet common subset of dreams – violent nightmares.
His team sought to investigate how often people have nightmares in which they commit violent acts against others, as well as to examine the situational motives of these acts within the dream and to assess whether individuals with certain personality factors are more likely to experience these so-called offender-nightmares.
Their two-part investigation asked two groups of people (39 and 60 individuals) who regularly experienced nightmares (not just unpleasant dreams, as those are more frequent than fun dreams in nearly everyone) to keep a journal detailing dream content for 28 nights. The first group was assessed for aggression using a well-known psychology questionnaire, whereas the second was assessed for aggression, neuroticism, and creativity.
The results suggest that our dream-selves can be surprisingly vicious: Between 18 and 28 percent of all dreams reported in the first group’s diaries involved aggression against another person.