Dr Kelly Bulkeley of the John F. Kennedy University in California has been studying how cultural differences manifest themselves in dreams. A cultural difference that has caught his attention over the past few years is political affiliation. Why political ideology?
Political ideology is an appealing cultural variable to study for several reasons. First, most people are easily able to describe where they stand in the contemporary political landscape. This makes it relatively simple to distinguish different cultural groups for the purposes of comparative analysis of dream content. Second, a number of people feel great emotional intensity about their chosen political causes. For such people their political affiliation is a major element in their psychological identity, their sense of who they are. This increases the likelihood that political ideology as a cultural variable will have a discernible presence in dream content, particularly in the dreams of people who profess a strong adherence to a particular political party or ideological point of view.
The third reason why political ideology is an interesting cultural factor to study in dream content is that it holds the promise of opening new ways of looking at the world of contemporary politics. In the aftermath of the 2000 U.S. Presidential campaign, in which the Republican George W. Bush defeated the Democrat Al Gore in a extremely controversial and bitterly contested election, it seems relevant to explore the question of why the members of the country’s two major political organizations are so profoundly divided against each other. The angry, mutually scornful arguments between leading Republicans and Democrats indicate that the differences between the two political groups go much deeper than public policy and ultimately touch on issues that are psychological and even existential in nature.
He has done a number of studies since 2000, the most recent of which has some interesting findings that are not inconsistent with past discoveries. A recent article in the Ottawa Citizen which is a precurser to a published work in Dreams, a journal of the American Psychological Association, begins
If you've recently dreamed about sex with a stranger, flying or the dead coming back to life, chances are you're a liberal.
Sex, it seems, is one of the differences Dr Bulkeley found.
Liberals were far more likely to have sexual dreams about strangers and a variety of partners, while liberal women showed a greater tendency toward same-sex fantasies than their conservative counterparts (24 vs. four per cent).
"Especially for liberal women, there was a far greater variety in sexual partners and incidents of homosexuality," Bulkeley said. "Liberals tended to show a greater willingness to experiment with different things."
Conservatives, by comparison, were far more likely to report having sexual dreams about their spouse or current partner.
But there are other differences as well. The dreams of Liberals tend to be more fantastical while conservatives were more reality based
...liberals are more restless sleepers and have a higher number of bizarre, surreal dreams - including fantasy settings and a wide variety of sexual encounters. Conservatives' dreams were, on average, far more mundane and focused on realistic people, situations and settings.
"Conservatives seem to have more of a focus on the here and now and the material world, whereas liberals, in contrast, seem to have a much wider sphere of imaginative activity," he said.
"They don't just dream about what is, but what could be or what they wish could be."
Back in 2002, Dr Bulkeley found two interpretations to explain this
One way to read these findings would be this: The dreams of the people on the political right reveal them to be insecure, anxious, conflict-ridden, and emotionally repressed. When they are not terrified of imaginary threats they cling to the comforts of the status quo. They seek a kind of power through their political views that they lack within their deeper selves. By contrast, the dreams of people on the political left show them to be creative, progressive, and imaginative. They are confident in their abilities and willing to think beyond the boundaries of the present to envision new possibilities for the future.
Such an interpretation would be consistent with the findings of this study. However, an alternative reading with just as much plausibility would be this: The dreams of people on the political right reveal them to be highly attuned to the actual dangers and threats of the waking world. These people are realistic, grounded, honest about the frailties of human nature in the face of danger, and appreciative of the good things in present-day life. By contrast, the dreams of people on the political left show them to be irrational, naïve, utopian, and deluded by their own fantasies. These people are out of touch with the real world, and they wish for powers they do not have in actuality.
Although they may seem mutually exclusive, both of these interpretations have merit. Indeed, I would suggest the best way of understanding this study’s main findings is to appreciate how the dreams reveal both the greatest personality strengths and the greatest personality weaknesses of people on each end of the political spectrum.
And, it seems, liberals are more restless. Liberals had a higher precentage of nightmares than did conservatives. One such instance included in the Ottowa Citizen article involved a Liberal meeting George Bush.
"I was at a presidential rally where George W. Bush was speaking. There was so much red, white and blue. Bush speaks: 'There are those who say that we are giving up our civil liberties. But I say, we should be proud to sacrifice our freedoms for America!' The crowd went wild, clapping, cheering and waving flags. I awoke in a cold sweat."
Dr Bulkeley says
"With the change from the Clinton to the Bush administrations, there are waking world reasons for liberals to be more concerned and stressed, and conservatives to be less concerned," Mr. Bulkeley said.
"Dreams are like political cartoons of the mind -- mental op-ed columns. Sometimes dreams reflect internal commentaries on the state of things."
Indeed back in 2005, Dr Bulkeley wrote that just prior to the Presidential election, Liberals were literally frightened.
As the US Presidential election enters its final tense weeks, liberals are becoming increasingly agitated in their dreams, with a rising number of nightmares featuring aggressive attacks by President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and hordes of zombie Republicans.
...From a 22-year old college student, a liberal woman at a predominantly conservative school in a Midwest swing state: “I've got to catch a flight, so I enter the airport and walk down a long, downhill hallway. I enter into a cave/tunnel that is very dark. I see bloody people everywhere (lots of bright red zombie-like people) and lots of people in blue who are clean and pure-looking. I don't want to be rude, so I don't comment or ask why this is. I come out of the tunnel into light, and am in some kind of theme-park. Tons more people in bloody red or blue are all around. A blue person grabs me and says she is trying to protect me from the red. I see that she has the Kerry/Edwards logo on, and this is what all the blue people support. All the reds are Bush supporters. They all look like zombies, and I see them attacking people. I hop onto the Kerry Campaign trail-literally. It is a long line of connected wooden boats. I climb from the back car towards the front. I find Edwards on one boat, and Kerry is in the front boat. I feel safe, but there is a huge disruption of some kind and I find myself alone again with all of the zombie Bush supporters pulling me in every direction and trying to feed me some kind of processed meats from their barbecue (sausage/hot dog looking things). I don't trust this meat and find that it is human flesh from the Kerry supporters. I try to get away and am suddenly falling down a huge waterfall or waterslide with zombies grabbing me. I wash into the dark tunnel again, and that’s when I woke up.” (As pointed out by the dreamer, the red and blue colors match the “red state, blue state” division of the electoral map.)
Interesting to me, in the latest study Dr Bulkeley was surprised to find that Conservatives were more likely than Liberals to be Lucid dreamers
Mr. Bulkeley said that the most surprising result in his study is that conservatives showed a higher tendency for lucid dreaming -- being aware they were asleep. Conservatives largely reported using their "dream awareness" to wake themselves up from uncomfortable situations and nightmares, he said.
I have written about this fascinating subject here.
Overall, conservative males appear to sleep the most soundly and remember the fewest dreams, while liberal women are the most restless sleepers and fantastical dreamers.
"While some of my colleagues think my research reinforces the stereotype of repressed, uptight conservatives, it also shows that many liberals may he hanging on the edge of mental well-being," Mr. Bulkeley said. "There may be a lot of hidden distress and unpleasantness in the liberal mind."