Dreams have long been the subject of psychology. “Studies of dream content have often relied on diaries collected as part of a therapeutic context,” said Steven J. Hoekstra of the Department of Psychology at Kansas Wesleyan University and lead author of a new study. “This study wanted to explore the racial dimension of dreams, particularly the degree to which the dreams’ social demographic characteristics reﬂected the experiences of the dreamer.” Hoekstra and his colleagues wanted to determine if people dream in racial color and if so, to what extent. They also wanted to know if the racial content of a dream was based on experience, exposure to media, or other influences. “The identity of the individual also could serve as a source of dream content, where the self would serve as a referent and inner self issues could be expressed in one’s dreams,” said Hoekstra.
The majority of the dreams people have are quite uneventful, which led Hoekstra and his colleagues to believe that emotional content underlying the dream was relevant to the racial patterns. The team also theorized that, according to Freudian thought, dreams represent the deeper consciousness of an individual and the expression of race suggests internal perceptions of self.
Hoekstra surveyed white students from a largely white college, and black students from a historically black university for his study. He assessed their media exposure and their experiences with other races. Interestingly, he found that the participants did dream in racial color, but were rarely aware of it. “It is important to note that participants found this to be a very challenging task in that many participants reported not necessarily paying much attention to the issue of race in their dreams previous to this study,” said Hoekstra. “It is therefore possible that the ﬁndings reﬂect some sort of projection or demand characteristic of the task, or some memory-based retrieval bias, rather than actual content of one’s dreams.” He found that more media exposure resulted in more African American representations in dreams and believes that further research using dream journals would be beneficial to understand the impetus for dreaming in color or black and white.
Hoekstra, S. J., Stos, A. N., Swendson, J. R., & Hoekstra, A. E. H. (2011, November 28). Racial Bias in Dream Content. Dreaming. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026474
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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