Thematic, Literal and Associative Dream Imagery Following a High-Impact Event

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Abstract

The present study investigated the effect of a high-impact waking stimulus on adults' dreams. Sixty-seven participants recorded dreams following viewing of a traumatic digital video disc (DVD; September 11 media coverage) and an education DVD (a Psychology 1 lecture). There was significantly more intense central imagery (Hartmann, 1998, 2011) and negative emotion in the dreams following viewing of the stressful DVD. Scales were developed to assess imagery related to the content of the DVDs. A set of scales loosely based on Garfield's (2001) common dream themes measured thematic content. Significantly higher ratings were obtained for six out of the nine themes identified as relevant (e.g., chased, attacked, or threatened) in dreams following viewing the September 11 DVD, as compared with those following the education DVD. As predicted there was significantly more September 11-related literal, closely, and distantly associated imagery following viewing of the September 11 DVD. The results provide experimental support for connectionist processes in dream production as postulated in Hartmann's (1998, 2011) theory, and other theories predicting metaphoric dream imagery related to waking concerns.

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