When DreamsID started at the British Science Festival in Summer 2016 we aimed to help people to playfully examine their dreams and possibly get personal insight from them, and gift an artwork by which they could carry on the conversation about the dream with family and friends. Slowly we realised that we, and the audience at each event, were gaining empathic understanding of the life circumstances of the dream sharer. We have just had accepted our second scientific paper on dream sharing and empathy, in the American Psychological Association’s and International Association for the Study of Dreams’ journal Dreaming. (Co-authors include Michelle Carr and Katja Valli.) The manuscript is here https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa56640.
This study replicated and extended a previous finding that the discussion of dreams increases the level of empathy toward the dreamer from those with whom the dream is discussed. The study addressed mediating variables for the empathy effect. Participants were recruited in dyads who already knew each other and were assigned dream-sharer and discusser roles. Each dyad used the Ullman dream appreciation technique to explore the relationship of the sharer’s dreams to recent experiences in the sharer’s life, with a maximum of four dream discussions per dyad (mean length of dreams = 140.15 words, mean discussion length = 23.72 minutes). The empathy of each member of a dyad toward the other was assessed using a 12-item state empathy questionnaire. Forty-four participants (females = 26, males = 18, mean age = 26.70) provided empathy scores at baseline and after each dream discussion. For below median baseline empathy scorers, empathy of discussers toward their dream-sharer increased significantly as a result of the dream discussions, with medium effect size, eta sq = 0.39. Dream-sharers had a non-significant increase in empathy toward their discusser. Change in empathy was not linear across successive discussions, and was not related to length of dream reports, nor length of discussions. These findings of post-sleep, social effects of dreaming, with possibly a group bonding function, go beyond theories of dreaming that have a within-sleep emotional or memory processing function for the individual.