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Do Dreams Reveal Hidden Truths?

Study Shows People in Diverse Cultures Believe Dreams Contain Important Insights

Dreams and Solving Problems

The researchers say more study is needed to fully understand how people interpret their dreams and whether they do actually reveal hidden information.

Behavioral psychologist Deirdre Barrett, PhD, has been studying dreams for more than a decade.

An assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, Barrett tells WebMD that she has come to believe that, like waking thoughts, some dreams are important and others aren't.

"Many of our waking thoughts are really trivial and repetitive and some are profound and meaningful," she says. "I think dreams are the same way. Some may reveal hidden truths, but some are just noise."

Barrett's own research suggests that dreams can be a useful tool for problem solving.

In one study, Barrett asked a group of students to think about a particular homework or personal problem that they needed to solve as they drifted off to sleep.

The students kept notebooks by their beds and were asked to try to recall their dreams when they first woke in the morning before thinking about anything else.

Over the course of a week, about half the students reported that they dreamed about the problem and half of these students said they dreamed a solution to the problem.

Barrett says there are countless anecdotal reports of dreams helping people solve problems, including two Nobel Prize winners who claim their breakthroughs came to them in their dreams.

Nobel laureate Otto Loewi famously credited a dream for providing the experiment that allowed him to prove that the transmission of nerve impulses was chemical and not electrical.

And World War II general George S. Patton publicly said that he came up with battle plans in his dreams.

"These are anecdotes, but they come from areas where you would not expect people to exaggerate the importance of a dream," Barrett says. "Scientists and generals don't get brownie points for having dreamed their ideas. They are more likely to get made fun of."

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