Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Dreaming of the war

Don’t mention this at the World Cup, but interviews conducted in the year 2000 revealed 17.3 per cent of German people who lived through the Second World War were still experiencing war-related dreams 55 years after it ended.

Michael Schredl and Edgar Piel interviewed representative samples of thousands of people in 1956, 1970, 1981 and 2000 about the content of their dreams. Participants had to indicate whether their dreams featured any of 20 different themes, among which were included four war-related themes – air raid, war captivity, war-zone exposure, and being on the run, as well as more mundane themes such as travelling and work.

Overall, war-related dreams were far rarer in the year 2000 than in 1956, except among people aged over 60, 17.5 per cent of whom still had war-related dreams, a level comparable to the 1956 average across all age groups of 19.9 per cent. In contrast, in 2000, just 8.6 per cent of interviewees aged between 18 and 29 reported having war-related dreams.

“The present study clearly indicates that World War II had a strong and lasting effect on the people visible in their war-related dreams at night”, the researchers said. “The findings are consistent with the ‘generational hypothesis’…i.e. political events or changes have their strongest effect on persons when experienced in late adolescence and early adulthood and when experienced directly”, they said.

Schredl and Piel said their study showed how “…eliciting and analysing dreams is an informative approach to study the effects of political events on the inner lives of people”, and that it added to earlier research such as that carried out among war Veterans showing nightmare frequency was correlated with time endured in concentration camp captivity.

Schredl, M. & Piel, E. (2006). War-related dream themes in Germany from 1956 to 2000. Political Psychology, 27, 299-307.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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