Are We Racially Colorblind When We Dream?

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.

Reference:
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 John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

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  • Jamie

    Jamie

    December 5th, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    think it is a little bit of a pipe dream to think that people are ever colorblind, no matter what they say

  • HollyM

    HollyM

    December 6th, 2011 at 5:18 AM

    Yeah it is kinda like you know you dream in color, but it is like you are not really aware of it, and it might not have the same kind of impact in the dream world that it would in the real world.

  • Jerry D.

    Jerry D.

    December 9th, 2011 at 8:21 PM

    That’s a thought provoking topic. When I consider that I don’t think I think about race at all in my dreams. Then again, where I’m from it’s mostly white people and black people are a very, very small minority. I can only think of three off the top of my head that live in my area. Perhaps if there was a more diverse population my dreams would be different.

  • Star

    Star

    December 9th, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    The only time I remember dreaming about a different race from me was a dream I had where I was deep in conversation with an elderly American Indian. It felt like a message dream more than an ordinary one. You intuitive types among us know what I mean by that. :)

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