Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Studies on Black and White vs. Colored Dreaming

In the mid-20th century, people generally thought most of their dreams were black and white; no longer. The key appears to be different levels of group exposure to black and white media. Two key questions are:

(1.) Does black and white media exposure lead people to really dream in black and white or does it lead people to erroneously report that they do?

(2.) Do people who report dreaming in color really dream in color or are the colors of most of the objects in the dreamworld unspecified? (If you have trouble conceiving of the latter, think about novels, which leave the colors of most of their objects unspecified.)
Two recent studies (Schredl et al. 2008; Murzyn 2008) cast a bit more light on these questions. Both researchers asked general questions about people's dreams and also had people answer questions about their dreams in "dream diaries" immediately upon waking in the morning.

First, both studies confirm that college-age respondents these days rarely report black-and-white dreams, either when asked about their dreams in general or when completing dream diaries. Murzyn finds that older respondents (aged about 55-75 years) more commonly report black and white dreams, but even in this group the rates of reported black and white dreams (22%) don't approach the levels of 50 or 60 years ago.

On issue 1: Both Schredl and Murzyn find that people with better overall dream recall report more colored and less black and white dreaming. Schredl also finds that people with better recall of color in (waking) visual displays report more color in dreams. On the face of it, this might suggest that reports of black and white dreams come from less credible reporters; but it could just be that the kind of people who dream in black and white are the kind of people who dream less often and less vividly and are less interested in color memory tasks; or black and white dreams may generally be less detailed. Also, it's possible that the experimenters' different measures corrupt each other: People who describe themselves as having frequent colored dreams may find themselves more motivated to report richly detailed colored dreams and to try harder on color recall tasks (as if to conform to their earlier self-portrayal) than do those reporting black and white dreaming.

On issue 2: Both studies find that respondents generally claim to dream in color or a mix of color and black and white, rather than claiming to dream neither in color nor in black and white. In Murzyn's questionnaire, only one of sixty respondents claimed to dream neither in color nor black and white (which matches my own findings in 2003). In their dream diaries, Murzyn's participants described only 2% of their dreams as neither colored nor black and white. In Shredl's dream diaries, participants listed objects central to their dreams and stated if those objects were colored. By this measure, 83% of dream objects were colored (vs. 3% black and white, 15% don't recall). Therefore, if it's true that most dream objects are neither colored nor black and white, respondents themselves must not realize this, even about their own immediately past dreams. This may seem unlikely, but given the apparent inaccuracy of introspection even about current conscious experience I consider it a definite possibility.

52 comments:

Genius said...

I think (introspecting) that when I dream I don't see colour unless I ask myself "what colour is that object" but if I do ask myself that question then I do see in colour.

This sort of thing is made clear when I do an experiment (I am aware I am in a dream) of looking at a wall really closely - I can see all sorts of texture and apparent contrast that I obviously could not see before - and it starts to change as I concentrate more on it (in predictable ways - eg I might be thinking of the wall in the context of a terrain in which case it might get some grass or something silly like that). I'm reasonably confident I can do the same with colour, and I am also pretty confident the walls did not have any defined texture before I looked at them.

Genius said...

Also dream colour may be slightly different from "real colour" (more hollow if you like). A bit like (although not as extreme) dream pain is different from real pain.
In that context saying I dream in colour or not might say something about my definition of "seeing a colour".

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Nicely expressed, Genius. I'm inclined to agree with you, though I think it's still an open question. I definitely think that we should be cautious about what we infer from the fact that most people (these days) describe their dreams and most of the objects in their dreams as colored.

John Eje Thelin said...

And what about those of us who generally don't dream in images? My dreams are 90% spatial positions, locations and feelings. For instance, I will usually be in a familiar location, and I will know that to my right is a person for whom I feel a certain way, If that feeling is applicable to several different people (such as my two step sons), I will not know who it is in the dream. And the only reason I can tell you details about the location later is because of the memory I have of it from waking hours.

It's worth noting that I have a very vivid sense of location when it comes to my otherwise rather shaky memory. I can enter an apartment I haven't been in since childhood and know its layout pretty much right away. I could probably find my way around my old neighborhood from when I was five, even though I've only visited it once, 24 years ago.

I am also more likely to identify people around a table by position than any other attribute when discussing events with someone later.

Oddly, I think I have a fairly strong visual imagination, used to work as a graphic designer and generally remember how to spell words from how they look.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, John! Very cool report. Murzyn had an option "neither" in her questionnaire (following my own 2003 questionnaire with that same option), for people who think they dream neither in color nor in black and white. In her questionnaire, as in mine, fewer than 3% of respondents chose this option.

I suspect the option tends to be overlooked; I suspect people too swiftly assume dreams must be either colored or black and white. So I appreciate your report!

Genius said...

I suppose that is a little like how blind people (complete from before age of 5) dream in sounds and other senses. Which makes a lot of sense.
I suppose blind and deaf people just get "dream touch" sort of dreams. I wonder of the dream touch is as hollow as it is in my dreams or if it is richer because it is the main source of information.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Genius: There's an early introspective psychology article on "taste dreams"! I think another possibility -- how would we examine this? -- is that some dreams have narrative structure but no sensory experience or sensory imagery at all.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon August 24: Thanks for the kind words, but your links seemed marginally spammish. Feel free to repost without the links.

Anonymous said...

Came across this why searching about black&white vs color dreams and saw that you're a Philosophy professor @ UCR.

Just wanted to give a shout out! I graduated from UCR in winter '10 and took a few phil classes with Graham and Nelson!

Good info, fun topic!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I dream in color, and i can deffinayely say that the colors that i see in my dreams are so bright and beautifull!!! Some of my dreams are like movies, sometimes even better!! So, how can u explain that ??

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

It would be nice to have some objective means of verifying statements like yours.

Anonymous said...

I rarely see colors in my dreams anymore.
i wanted to share about something maybe related to that .
I was given some laser light therapy when quitting smoking and was starting to get very bored with it as everything was flashes of white light.
On the second session I started to massage some point in the back of my head and suddenly it was a color light show. I asked the owner about it but did not get any answer of why that was happening.
Never tried again since

Heidi Boyer said...

I dream very much in color - bright, beautiful color, much more intense than in waking life at times, particularly when dealing with certain things. While I never dream in black and white, there are certain things that really stand out in their color: make-up on other people's faces, natural landscapes, more chaotic, carnival-esque type scenes, certain ornate little objects. My brain finds it important to really crank up the saturation on these things, almost as though it is trying to make a point! Cities, on the other hand, particularly parking garages and under-the-bridge type scenes, which have been dream haunts of mine as of late, are much dimmer. Still in color, but dimmer; these dreams feel "darker" emotionally, and I am less emotionally involved. I suppose there is something to be said for that as well. I believe these things vary dramatically from person to person, depending on what they are exposed to in life and what kind of symbols and archetypes their subconscious minds gravitate towards.

ABK said...

I have noticed that when I dream during the night time they are coloured and when I pass that night time and sleep in and wake up late around 10 am then those dreams are darker like black and white. Maybe it has something to do with the day light that makes the dream black and white or devoid of colours?

ABK said...

What I have noticed is when I dream during night time they are coloured but sometimes when I sleep in and wake up late around 10 am then those dream are more like black and white and kind of gloomy or with dark backgrounds. I wonder if it has something to do with the day light?

Harry said...

I have dreamed only twice in color - don't remember the first time but the second was recently and I do not remember all the dream - only what was in color. It was a bunch of yellow tulips - the most beautiful of color - very bright

Arie said...

My dreams are always very heavily loaded with sensory stimuli - sounds, tastes, colours, smells and feelings. For a long time I wasn't aware that not everyone dreams in this way, not until I talked about it with some friends (since members of my family dream in similar way). The curious thing about my dreams is, as few people mentioned before, that the vivid, stimuli-loaded parts seem to be the focus of the dream.

Kirk said...

Thanks for the study. I was searching on this because I never have dreamed in black and white. I am 42, and have vivid recollection of dreams every morning when I wake up.

My dreams are like a movie, and are vivid in color, sound, touch, and also taste. I don't recall smell being there, but the others are vivid.

I also have dreams where I speak other languages fluently, and when I wake I have used google translate on some of the words or phrases and they are correct in grammar and conjugation.

Most commonly I have had dreams in Spanish (which I did study in school), but also Czech and Sanskrit, which I have never been exposed to so I can't wrap my head around how I could pull out those words or phrases from my unconscious.

Anyway, the trouble with my dreams is that they will be so vivid that I often awaken tired from the dream. I am not always myself in the dream, and in fact usually the people in the dream are not people I know in real life.

Again, very vivid and movie like with a very detailed script. I usually remember multiple dreams every night.

Anonymous said...

oh, the person dreaming in vivid deep saturated color must have a nice TV.

Anonymous said...

Honestly I can say that my dreams are never vivid but not a completely black and white. Colors do seem bland and neutral though because I can't look back and think of seeing anything brightly colored. Even then I kind of wonder if my mind is filling in the gaps because I obviously know a persons hair is (typically) brown or blonde for example and that the sidewalk is gray, dirt is brown, grass I'd green and so on. But with optional colors with a rose for example... I guess my dreams always chose to have it a white rose, or beige wall with beige carpet.
Very questionable on my own half... I just know that my dreams seem to be uninteresting when it Comes to the color spectrum.

Anonymous said...

My dreams are very real. There is normal color, sound, taste, and smell. My sense of touch is slightly less detailed than real life. While in a dream I rely on logic errors and the lack of detail in my touch to determine that I am dreaming.

Anonymous said...

it's been reported that older people lose most or asll the color in their dreams but I'm over 60 & I still do dream in color & sometimes in LSD colors which i've been told is either impossible or
extremely rare, I own it up to my background in Medical Quantum physisics, anyway I can teach people over the internet most of you would have to pay to get the FACTS of what i know, anyway good luck to everyone in your own self testing.

Anonymous said...

As long as I remember myself, I dreamed in color. It was never a question for me, and one day I was amazed to hear that dreaming in color was a subject of "studies", or even a controversy. To this day I clearly remember my first "scary" dream. I was no older than 3, we did not have a TV in the house until I was 6 (and it was a B&W TV, I remember how my dad turned it on, and there was a hockey game on...) In that scary dreamI saw a large dark green toad, sitting in the bright sun, I ran to look for my mom, and I saw mom wearing a summer dress, we were somewhere in the city, on the steps of a large building with columns, like a museum, a library, or an Opera... Everything was in color. Interesting that I have remembered and could visualize that dream all my life!

BeHurd said...

Just as a shout out....what about the fact that there are "cones" in our eyes through which we see colors in our waking life, i.e., we create the colors in a rainbow---it is our eyes perception. Holding that true...then wouldn't ALL color in dreams (since I have a combo of b&w and color and sepia) be merely my mind construct?processing of the MENTAL images? What word on that approach?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

BeHurd: Clearly the dreams are constructions, yes. It does seem odd that we would construct only in black and white and never in color, given our rods+cones visual experience.

AlanC said...

I rarely dreamed in color until I began a program of hormone replacement (testosterone). Now I have dreams in which things are of indistinct color, sort of sepia toned, but often one thing is very vividly in color such as a green-green grass along an otherwise indistinct road.

Anonymous said...

I've dreamed so deep I didn't people dreamed black and white. Everything in my dream has color even the people are colored and animals and fish that's one of my fav things I'm greatful for. I've even written a full story with detail of one of my dreams years ago. I have repeat sceeneries but in different ways people items and such threw out years. And rarely have different sceens. My dream story is online under " quizilla " titled " spiritair "

Anonymous said...

I dream in color, I have vivid dreams and I dream every night (:

Jac said...

When I was a child and my family had a black and white TV, I was more likely to dream in black and white, or dreams had a green-grey tinge. It used to be said this indicated anxiety or jealousy and although that doesn't seem logical, the dreams I recall from that time were based on the resentment I felt about getting a baby brother! I bore people rigid with the retelling of my dreams; I do seem to recall more of them than most. I often dream that objects are simultaneously different eg a bird is also a kettle. It seems reasonable enough at the time, so maybe that's true of colours, absence of colour and other senses too? I used to struggle to read more than a line or two of anything in a dream. Since the arrival of Facebook, I find I can read more in my sleep - I should spend less time on there!
. I have also died in my dreams. Twice I was instantly 'reborn' as myself and the third time, when a dream about flying over the tip of a mountain was interrupted by a loud noise in reality, I went into the mountain and exploded. I awoke with sleep paralysis and thought I was about to have a heart attack, it was the most physically shocking thing I have ever encountered, awake or asleep, but I was young and healthy at the time. Don't know whether that is of any help with your research, but I hope it was interesting anyway. Sweet dreams!

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to dream in Dolby stereo?

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to dream in Dolby stereo?

Anonymous said...

Well ever since I was a kid (5) yrs old I've always dreamt in color leaves sometimes being green, orange, or reddish yellow.. Grass green; sky is either sky blue, dark blue, or grey.. With white clouds or grey clouds... My dreams are very vivid and detailed... And there's one more thing I can't die in my dreams no matter the situation hit by a train, a car, a truck, shot in the head 6 times by a gun, stabbed several times, I've even jump outta a 40 story building and hit the ground and was able to get up and walk away, I've even gone skydiving and my parachute didn't open so I fell towards the earth and wen I collided with the planet it hurt like hell but I didn't wake up nor did I die.. I got up dusted myself off and kept dreaming... But here's what's interesting when I finally woke up which ever part I landed on was sore in the morning... also what I'm starting to noticed tht certain ppl within my dreams know tht I can't die so they are testing my limitations, like bashing my head in with a bat, or even continuing to shoot me multiple times or even stab me.... My dreams are very weird I can count numbers, read a book, magazine, billboard, and or dream different versions on my self and they all have a single brainwave of myself but have different personalities of myself it's hella weird and last but not least I can talk to myself as in turn around and face myself and tell myself to wake up

Anonymous said...

I recently had a dream in black and white for the first time that I can recall, however I only realised it was in b & w when colour came flooding into my dream.

Mickey D said...

I'm 50 now. I recall a dream when I was around 5-8 years old. I was falling into a black abyss and I could see the bottom getting closer. I rolled out of bed and hit the floor. Seems funny now. It scared the heck out of me to the point that I still recall it. I didn't die in the dream, I just woke up. The only color I recall from that dream is black.

I don't really remember my dreams well enough to know if they have been in color. Maybe I will think about when I wake the next time. I don't recall my dreams being in B&W or color.

I do find it interesting that color does not exist anywhere in the natural universe external to the mind of a being. Color does not exist in the objects we see or in the light waves "wavelengths" refracting from the objects. I figured that part out on my own after reading how the eye functions with regard to color and light. I have a technical background so I understand about light and radio waves, etcetera.

From what I have read color does not exist even after it passes through the rods and cones in the retina. Only "information" is present at that point that was "derived" from the various wavelengths (cycles) of light. 100% of color is not present anywhere until our minds "create" or perceive it.

I believe this information to be basically correct. Don't harp on my wording as we all perceive the wording little differently. Lol. I have found that people have trouble wrapping their head around this and many "uninformed" people disagree. Most think that color exist on objects in the external universe or in the light wavelengths refracting from an object. From what I know it is a fact that color only exist in the mind of a being, including black,white and shades of gray. These are also colors. Check your crayon box.



Anthony Martin said...

I am 15 and I dream in black and white almost always unless the object in question is meant to stand out...for example one time I dreamed that a mysterious force was decorating a Christmas tree and I saw everything in black and white except for the lights that mysteriously floated onto and wrapped themselves around the dream and on an unrelated note the lights the tree was being decorated in we're those old fashioned c7 lights which I've never used in my life. Our unconscious imagination can so whatever it wants and really shouldn't be over analyzed unless it has a direct connection with an issue in our waking lives.

Anjii said...

I have always have very vivid and extensive dreams, including many that repeat themselves, but with slight changes. I have very clear recollection of a handful of dreams from childhood on. I also have control to change some of my dreams while I'm in them, and the ability when I'm woken (by kids wanting breakfast), in the middle of a dream that I would like to "finish", I can go back to sleep within 10 minutes and continue from where I left off.

As for color, my dreams are colored, but only occasionally are the colors bright and part of the focus of the dream. More often than not, they're just "there".

What led me to find this through google, was this morning my 5 year old son told me about his dream and in passing mentioned that his dreams never have color and that he was trying to put color in this dream but it wouldn't work. I was curious, but distracted by life. Then an hour later I saw a link on Facebook about a collection of historical B&W photos that had been colorized by artists. I showed them to my son and he said, "Yeah, my dreams look like that (pointing to B&W), not that (pointing to colorized)... but they're not about that guy! (giggle)".

That's when I started googling and came to this after a few studies and articles with similar conclusions. I am now more confused and fascinated by his dreams than ever, since it doesn't "fit" the science in progress. At 5 years old, he has seen maybe 2 or 3 B&W movies and a handful of tv episodes, so that doesn't account for his exclusively B&W dreams. Also, the fact that he brought it up without provocation, because it's something he has consciously observed, AND the fact that he has actively and unsuccessfully attempted to colorize his own dreams suggests that he doesn't fit into the categories of "lack of awareness" of the colors either.

He is a very interesting kid (and as smart as he is, he has some definite mental/behavioural quirks, due to nearly starving to death in utero and being taken out prematurely. I would REALLY love to crawl into his brain and see how it works!

farm gal said...

There is one dream I had many years ago that I remember vividly. A friend brought me a beautiful peach colored dress, just the other day I found a blouse (and bought it) that was the exact same color as my dream. Often I will dream that I am a ballet dancer (can't dance to save my life) or an excellent swimmer (can't do that either). One of my favorite dreams is visiting a house that is beautifully decorated. The most recent one was decorated in a mauve color with gold accents. But I have had several with mixed black, white and color.

Rachel Alberts said...

I definitely just dreamt in full color. I dreamt I was photographing my friends engagement pics and there was a definite color scheme of turquoise and blue. Then a little blonde haired kid came out of a back room and shot me with a yellow toy gun...

Mumbles said...

I remember the first time anyone told me that some people dream in black and white. It was shocking to me, even the idea. If I've ever had a dream without color, I don't remember it, and my dream recall is pretty good. Even when awakened mid-dream, I recall the colors. My old neurologist told me it might have something to do with my calcified pineal gland and sleep disorder, but I have no idea if that's even an issue. My 15 year old son says he normally dreams in color except in his more scattered, early stage dreams. Those are usually in black and white.

Fascinating stuff, I enjoyed reading.

Kris

Carol said...

So I have dreamt in black and white and I have also dreamt in color. I've even dreamt with elements of both. For instance, I was in a diner and everything was black and white except the counter at the bar area, which was red. And now, as of today, I've dreamt in animation. Never before have a dreamt I was a cartoon. If find this extremely odd. I'm wondering if I've reached a new level of crazy or perhaps it's simply exhaustion. Comments? Please email me at shesalwayswriting@yahoo.com with subject: Dreams or dreaming

Anonymous said...

Hi
I often dream in a crazy amounts of detail, even down to the smallest of objects, always in full colour, full conversations that come with a range of emotions and in a range of places and situations that I am not always familiar with. Waking from these dreams and nightmares is exhausting as I feel like I haven't slept. Any ideas why this happens? I remember it happening as a child a being very scared and confused by it. Thanks Michelle

Anna Miriam Benini said...

Fascinating. I definitely dream in colors, which are usually intense. The colors are there to start with without any focus on my part trying to see them. I also feel warm/cold/wet/dry feeling and other touch-smell-taste sensations, but i think i do not hear sounds.
Seems like we all use different senses in our dreams- I am not sure it is related to the senses we use most in our real life, I am a dancer and studied music as well but still hear no sounds.

del bond said...

100% dreamt colours last night. Was being chased by police car and woke up remembering the flashing blue and red lights. Cant recall any other colours though

Anonymous said...

I also dream this way! I've never met anyone else that does!

Anonymous said...

I find it of great interest that you have the ability to "pick up where you left off" in dreaming, as I also am able to do this. I have never encountered anyone else that could.

Anonymous said...

While lucid dreaming recently, I've noticed 3 different instances where a color shows up in my dreams. A woman in a bright, red dress sitting in a bright red chair, a neon blue object, and a random plain of yellow. One of those times, I was in control enough to observe what was around the colored object. I wasn't really sure if I would call it black & white, (it was hard to tell) but I would definitely decribe it as void of color.

I would guess that most of my dreams are void of color.

Ronnie MacLeod said...

I dreamed exclusively in black & white until my late teens, I seem to recall being blown away by my first dream in color, not long after I bought my parents their first ever color TV. I often wondered if the change was connected to the change in TV viewing or just growing up and leaving home... I don't recall having a specifically black & white dream since then.

Anonymous said...

Wow Just found the this site while looking up black and white dreams.
I while watching a black and white show will sometimes if it is a very good show will in my mind fill in the color. I don't even think about it when I dream. It is just in color. I remember the dream in color anyway. I love how you refer to the splintered mind. Its self explanatory almost. Our minds are pretty twisted. Who can know it?

ehartsay said...

This is very interesting to me, particularly your mention of people who dream neither in black and white nor in color.

Is it possible to dream in mid-color or even in fluid color or non-color?

I am asking this because, I actually don't know if I dream in color,

I rarely if ever remember things having color in dreams, BUT, I definitely DO NOT remember ever having dreamed in black and white. I am pretty sure that I would remember if I did because a black and white view would be really unusual to have.

I am thinking that I may dream with a sort of 'tepia', neutral color, very rarely ranging into a real color experience, but sometimes getting color.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

ehartsay: It seems to me like the possibilities are broader than we usually take them to be -- so maybe!