AMERICAN DREAM or NIGHTMARE: Dreams and Politics

Photo of Masks of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton by artist Landon Meier at Monsterpalooza

The 2016 U.S. presidential race – what a long, strange trip for all of us! Does the candidate of your dreams, or your worst nightmare, star in your nightly dreams? Let us know at My Dream Life: CONTACT

In recent years some psychologists have been digging into this intriguing question: what psychological factors may influence differences in political ideology? Some years ago political science professor John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska made headlines with his announcement that, based on his research, conservatives have a “negativity bias” that liberals do not share. Similarly New York University social psychologist John Jost labelled the conservative ideological bent as an “intolerance of ambiguity,” based on his research. Certainly political beliefs are too rich and nuanced to be determined by any single measure but Jost expressed this view in Behavioral and Brain Sciences:

“There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different.”

My Dream Life asks do differences exist between the dreaming behavior of “liberals” and “conservatives”? In a recent survey, people on the left side of the political spectrum reported higher frequencies of dream recall than people on the right. The same pattern was found when the two groups were divided by gender: Liberal males reported consistently higher dream recall than conservative males, as did liberal females compared to conservative females. These findings indicate that political ideology is a cultural factor influencing dream recall frequencies among adults in the United States.

Dream researcher Kelly Bulkeley’s intriguing book American Dreamers explores how dreaming behavior and political values might correlate. The book describes research that used the content analysis method to identify the basic patterns in dreaming of people with different political perspectives.

One of Kelly’s initial findings in the 1990s was that liberals had fewer nightmares than conservatives. Liberals also had more dreams in which they had personal power and experienced less mundane content. Bulkeley calls this dreaming pattern “expansive dreaming.” But perhaps timing really is everything. Some years later, during the Bush presidency, a similar study revealed that liberals were experiencing more nightmares at that time. These findings led Bulkeley to consider that this increase in disturbing dream content in liberals’ dreams reflected their waking life experience of a declining experience of power and control during the Bush presidency.

So we just have to ask…who will more likely be tossing and turning for a few years – liberal or conservative dreamers?

Based on his continued research, Buckeley wisely cautions us about the challenge of defining our terms before attempting to pinpoint polarizing differences between “conservatives” and “liberals”:

“…both terms have flip-flopped in their application to various political issues over the course of American history. This is one of the many reasons why we must be careful in how we talk about conservatives and liberals in America today. Ultimately I’m going to argue that everyone’s political attitudes are a mixture of both liberal and conservative ideals, and therefore it’s misleading to separate people into two absolutely distinct types of political personality.”

At this point, does the candidate of your dreams, or your worst nightmare, star in your nightly dreams? Let us know at My Dream Life: CONTACT US


Masks in photos by artist Landon Meier at Monsterpalooza.

Thumbnail photo: The Guardian

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