Dreams are more negative than real life

Dreams are more negative than real life: Implications for the function of dreaming

Authors: Katja Valli; Thea Strandholm; Lauri Sillanmaumlki; Antti Revonsuo
Published in: journal Cognition & Emotion, Volume 22, Issue 5 August 2008 , pages 833 – 861
Dream content studies have revealed that dream experiences are negatively biased; negative dream contents are more frequent than corresponding positive dream contents. It is unclear, however, whether the bias is real or due to biased sampling, i.e., selective memory for intense negative emotions. The threat simulation theory (TST) claims that the negativity bias is real and reflects the evolved biological function of dreaming. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis of the TST that threatening events are overrepresented in dreams, i.e., more frequent and more severe in dreams than in real life. To control for biased sampling, we used as a baseline the corresponding negative events in real life rather than the corresponding positive events in dreams. We collected dream reports (N=419) and daily event logs (N=490) from 39 university students during a two-week period, and interviewed them about real threat experiences retrievable from autobiographical memory (N=714). Threat experiences proved to be much more frequent and severe in dreams than in real life, and Current Dream Threats more closely resembled Past than Current Real Threats. We conclude that the TST’s predictions hold, and that the negativity bias is real.

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