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Conservatives Have Scarier Dreams

Liberals dream of the bizarre and fanciful, says study

THURSDAY, July 26, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- To sleep, perchance to have nightmares. That may be your lot in life if you're a conservative Republican, while your liberal Democrat friends enjoy nightly flights of fancy.

A California researcher says his study suggests that your political views may predict the trends in your dreams.

Kelly Bulkeley, an author and lecturer on dream research at California's Santa Clara University, says, "The people on the right were much more likely to have nightmares than people on the left. Their nightmares had more fear, aggression and helplessness, while the scary stuff among people on the left was moderated by other elements that offered some possibility of hope or power to deal with a frightening situation."

In his study, Bulkeley asked 56 students about their political beliefs: "I picked just the people who were ideologically pure, people definitively on the left or right."

He found 14 conservatives and 14 liberals on the far sides of the political spectrum. He then asked them about the most recent dream they remembered. "Given a couple minutes, most people will remember something," he says.

"There's a lot of evidence to suggest that learning about a single dream gives you a good picture of a person's dream life," though he says more can be learned by the more difficult task of tracking dreams over several weeks.

Bulkeley discussed his findings recently at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Dreams at the University of California (UC) at Santa Cruz.

He says the conservative people reported frightening dreams of family members being murdered and of threats to children. One man dreamed his hair fell out, and he couldn't do anything about it.

"The people on the left tended to have dreams that were more bizarre and fanciful, with more unusual settings, characters and actions," Bulkeley says.

People on the left weren't immune to nightmares, but their dreams were different, he says. One young man dreamed about being in a room with a huge telephone keypad that he had to press in a specific order. "Unlike some of the nightmares on the right, where there's utter bleakness or despair, he has three friends telling him how to do it up on a balcony," Bulkeley says.

While the differences between conservative and liberal dreams are clear, the reasons for them aren't, Bulkeley says.

"Maybe they reflect greater inner conflict (in conservatives). They're more anxious or insecure, and people on the left are more secure, less anxious and more imaginative or creative," he says.

Or, he says Republicans simply could have a better handle on the world.

"As my conservative friends like to point out, it may be that people on the right have a greater realism, a sensitivity to the threats and dangers out there in the world, while people on the left are irrational and caught up in their own fantasies. Their heads are off in the clouds," he says.

Bulkeley acknowledges his study was small, while another dream expert says more research clearly is needed.

Veronica Tonay, a psychology instructor at UC Santa Cruz, says, "People's dreams reflect their similarities and differences, and they do reflect waking concerns."

"Maybe Republicans feel under threat in some way, while Democrats seem to be seeking more harmony," she says.

No matter whom you vote for, nightmares are entirely normal; feelings of fear or anxiety make their way into 65 percent of dreams, Tonay says.

"Nobody knows what the function of dreams are, but we hypothesize that they serve as some type of emotional balancing function," she says. "They clear your mind of stuff that's been emotionally charged. If you have extreme emotions during the day, and you're not aware of them, you'll have them at night."

What To Do

Learn more about nightmares and why they occur from the Association for the Study of Dreams.

Can you control your dreams? Some people think you can, with proper training. Learn about so-called "lucid dreaming" from the Lucidity Institute.

SOURCES: Interviews with Kelly Bulkeley, Ph.D., adjunct lecturer, Santa Clara University and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.; Veronica Tonay, Ph.D., psychology instructor, University of California at Santa Cruz; July 11, 2001, presentation, annual meeting, Association for the Study of Dreams, Santa Cruz, Calif.
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