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
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
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
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
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."