We know our dreams aren’t real — and we certainly know that the actions of the people in our dreams can’t be held against them in real life. But a new study suggests we may be doing exactly that, albeit at an unconscious level.
Psychologist Dylan Selterman and colleagues have discovered that the contents of our dreams can influence the way we treat our significant other the next day.
The new research, which was just published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, suggests that if we have certain dreams about our partner — about them cheating on us, or causing negative emotions like jealousy — we may unknowingly carry the resulting emotional baggage into the relationship itself. As a result, dreams of our significant others can influence and even predict our behavior in the relationship.
To reach this conclusion, Selterman’s team studied 61 participants between the age of 17 and 42 who were in committed relationships for at least the past half-year. Over the course of two weeks, each participant had to complete a twice-daily writing assignment in which they recorded their dreams and interactions with their partners.
Looking at the reports, the researchers discovered that certain types dreams could be linked to behaviors and feelings the next day. Specifically, dreams of jealousy were linked to reports of increased conflict, while dreams of infidelity resulted in feelings of decreased intimacy and love.
Selterman says that these behaviors arose independent of attachment styles, overall relationship health, and anything that might have happened between the couple the day before.
Interestingly, dreams of sex created an instant intimacy boost — but only for couples who said they were in a highly committed relationship. What’s more, couples in healthy relationships tended to report fewer negative effects following dreams of jealousy.
The theory behind why this happens is hardly rocket science. It’s just classic priming — a psychological effect where exposure to a certain stimulus influences our responses to a later stimulus. But what makes this form of priming particularly unique is that the associations are instigated during the dream state from stimulus that's not real! And the priming itself operates on a largely unconscious level.
The study also shows show that dreams may be an under-appreciated aspect of our social lives. They may be doing more to influence our behaviors — and the quality of our relationships — than we realize.
Check out the entire study: “Dreaming of You: Behavior and Emotion in Dreams of Significant Others Predict Subsequent Relational Behavior.”