Dreams study gets mooned by silly headlines

Set up for better dreams? Professor Wiseman reveals his dream study results.

Mass participation experiment reveals how to create the perfect dream

Today psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire announces the results of a two-year study into dream control. The experiment shows that it is now possible for people to create their perfect dream, and so wake up feeling especially happy and refreshed.

In 2010, Professor Wiseman teamed-up with app developers YUZA to create ‘Dream:ON’ — an iPhone app that monitors a person during sleep and plays a carefully crafted ‘soundscape’ when they dream. Each soundscape was carefully designed to evoke a pleasant scenario, such as a walk in the woods, or lying on a beach, and the team hoped that these sounds would influence people’s dreams. At the end of the dream, the app sounded a gentle alarm and prompted the person to submit a description of their dream.

The app was downloaded over 500,000 times and the researchers collected millions of dream reports. After studying the data, Professor Wiseman discovered that the soundscapes did indeed influence people’s dreams.

Other members of the team who recorded the public’s dream data noted that people’s dreams seemed especially bizarre around the time of a full moon when people experience more disturbed sleeping patterns. Some news outlets have taken this small aspect of the study and ran with it. The article that caught my eye from the Daily Star described it thusly:

Why a full moon sends us barking mad A FULL Moon really does turn us all into lunatics, a new study has found.

This is not what the study says. It says that dreams are weirder, not that strange things actually happen in real life. The article goes on to note that lunacy during the full moon is real which is misinformed. Studies show that there are not more incidents of strange occurrences during a full moon such as murders, births or accidents. Sadly, this is commonly what happens when reporters are not careful with understanding a scientific result. (Even the Daily Mail did better, focusing on the dreams, not some myth about lunacy!)

Regardless of that misdirection, the dream study coincides with the release of Wiseman’s new book on sleep. It make sense the some outside stimulus will affect our sleeping brain. But the study did not provide us the tools to create the “perfect” dream. That looks to be a ways off. Darn.

The Guardian UK also has a good writeup of the study, not sensationalized, that includes potential weaknesses of the results. The study has not been published in a journal.

  3 comments for “Dreams study gets mooned by silly headlines

  1. Bonnie
    March 28, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    I’ve given up trying to convince true believers that the full moon cannot affect behavior. Irrational thinking is not affected by rational arguments.

    “The soundest argument will produce no more conviction in an empty head than the most superficial declamation; as a feather and a guinea fall with equal velocity in a vacuum.”

    -Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832)

  2. Brian
    March 28, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    One way a full moon could affect dreaming is the moon happens to make your house brighter, and clouds going past the face of it, or it going down or coming behind trees or buildings, probably makes shadows that you pick up on while sleeping. Nothing more than a shadow play, basically.

  3. March 28, 2014 at 2:21 PM

    I agree Bonnie. It is almost impossible to explain rationality to most people, either the penny drops or it does not. Perhaps this is the result of conceptions picked up when we were very young that may have become hard-wired in our minds. For example, not many people accept that free will is an illusion even though very simple logic demonstrates that this must be so.

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