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People With Hearing Loss Have More Vivid Dreams

Hard of Hearing students report more sensory and emotional dreams.

It’s often thought that when one sensory modality is weakened, the other senses become more attuned to compensate. For example, someone with significant hearing loss may then be more visually sensitive. One recent study set out to investigate whether this sort of compensation might also occur during dreams. Do individuals with hearing loss experience more visual dreams? And what about their hearing, do they struggle with comprehension or confusion even in sleep?

In the past, researchers have compared the dream content of hearing loss vs. hearing individuals with conflicting results. For example, Mendelson, Siger, and Solomon (1960) conducted interviews on dreams with participants with congenital deafness, hearing loss acquired before five years, and hearing loss acquired later. They found that several facets of dream experience were amplified in the congenital hearing loss group, including: dream recall frequency, color, vividness and spatial depth. However, Stoyva (1965) reported that dream recall frequency did not differ for hearing and deaf groups. So far, it is not clear whether other sensory modalities are amplified in the dreams of individuals with hearing loss or not.

Another avenue of research looks at how hearing loss effects other aspects of experience, besides sensory perception. For example, developing with hearing loss effects one’s social, cognitive, and emotional development. These are all very relevant themes for dreaming, and it is likely then that the social/emotional atmosphere of living with hearing loss is translated into dreaming.

Given this background, the current study aimed to assess how dream recall and dream content is altered in individuals with hearing loss. Participants included 86 students with hearing loss, aged between 15 to 20 years. All of these students had at least a 60 dB loss in both ears. In other words, these are individuals who find it very difficult to understand speech at a normal volume, even while using of a hearing aid. These students were compared to 344 normal hearing students between the age of 15 to 18.

All participants responded to a 25-item questionnaire measuring frequency of dream recall (for dreams, nightmares, and lucid dreams), dream vividness, dream sensory experience (11 different items), and frequency of emotions (10 items).

The 11 sensory items assessed visual experience, color, hearing, skin, kinesthetic, gustatory, olfactory, visceral pain and temperature sensations in dreams from the previous month.

The 10 emotion items assessed joy, hope, happiness, anger, sadness, fear, feeling tense, anxiety, surprise and shame.

Analyses revealed that individuals with hearing loss did indeed score higher on many of these items. For instance, they reported higher recall frequency for nightmares and lucid dreams, which are considered intense and vivid dream experiences (nightmares being intensely negative whereas lucid dreams are intensely positive). Hard of hearing individuals also experienced more sensory vividness in their dreams, with higher scores for experience of taste, smell, pain, and temperature. Finally, they scored higher on several of the emotions, including hope, anger, fear, feeling tense, surprise and shame.

In general, these results support sensory compensation models of hearing loss, and extend these models to the dreams of individuals with hearing loss. It is interesting to note that the main differences in sensory experience occurred in the more minor modalities, e.g. skin, gustatory and olfactory sensations, as opposed to the more obvious modalities of visual and kinesthetic sensations. In general, dreams are marked by the presence of the major sensory modalities, again visual, auditory and kinesthetic sensations, while very few dreams report the presence of smell or taste. Perhaps the diminution of auditory content is compensated by these lesser used sensory modalities.

At the same time, the emotional content of dreams of hard of hearing participants, along with their more frequent recall of intense dreams such as nightmares and lucid dreams, suggests a shift in more global mechanisms of dream production. It is likely that the emotional development of individuals with hearing loss shapes their dream content, especially in the realm of social emotions, such as tension or shame. Overall the authors suggest that the dreams of individuals with hearing loss are intensified in both sensory and emotional realms, thus corresponding with their more vivid and frequent recall for dreams.

Okada, Hitoshi, and Kei Wakasaya. "Dreams of hearing-impaired, compared with hearing, individuals are more sensory and emotional." Dreaming 26.3 (2016): 202.