How many hours did you spend watching TV news coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks on that day?* Now, did you have dreams about it in the following days and weeks?
According to a newly published study, the more hours you spent watching news coverage, the more likely you were to have dreams with specific references to the attacks. Ruth Propper had been asking her psychology students at Merrimack College to keep dream journals for several weeks before September 11, and they continued to maintain them afterwards. In class on September 12, the students filled out questionnaires about how much time they’d spent listening to coverage on the radio or watching TV coverage of the attacks.
The average TV viewing time was 6.5 hours, with some students watching up to 13 hours. How did this correspond to dream content?
“When we compared these responses with the dream journal entries, we discovered that for each hour of TV viewing a subject reported, there was a statistically significant six percent increase in the proportion of the dreams containing a specific reference to the attacks,” says Propper. Among the individuals who watched less than three hours of television there were no specific references at all.
They also found that the more time students spent talking with friends and family about the attacks, the less likely dreams were to have specific images associated with the attacks (as opposed to generally related themes).
Of course, it’s also possible that the TV viewing did not cause the dreams. Some other factor might have caused both the increased TV viewing and the dreams. Undaunted, Propper and her coauthor conclude that the news media should avoid repeatedly broadcasting traumatic events in order to spare their viewers the psychological problems TV viewing might cause.
* Probably more than me: I was at work and in class until 10 p.m. When I finally arrived at home everyone was so sick of watching that I didn’t end up watching it at all.