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How do the Blind Dream? / ¿Qué y Cómo Sueñan los Ciegos?

Images, ideas, emotions, and sensations: a dream.

Whether it’s short or long, whether you can or can’t remember it– everyone dreams.

But what do people that can’t see, see in their dreams?

…and how do they dream?

To start, here are some facts about dreams:

  • Dreams are usually phantasmagoric: people, places, events and objects tend to merge into one another in a confusing manner
  • The most common emotion experienced in dreams is anxiety and other negative emotions (much more prevalent than positive ones)
  • The vast majority of people dream in color (but if you watched monochrome television growing up, you are more likely to dream in black and white!)
  • Only around 10% of dreams are sexual in nature, although the percentage is higher among adolescents

But what about individuals that cannot see?

Individuals who have been blind since birth (congenital blindness) or very early in childhood usually have no images in their dreams– however, this varies from person to person.

Some studies conclude that if a person loses his/her sight before the age of 5, they will almost never have images in dreams.

Interestingly enough, the congenitally blind have cortical areas responsible for visual representations activated during dreaming;  these activations are manifested instead through the senses of hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

For those who go blind in middle childhood, it seems that the situation can go either way– dreams are reported as both visual and non-visual at times.  Initially after blindness, visuals may be present, but then slowly fade or disappear altogether after time.
(Those who become blind later in life continue to experience some images in their dreams.)

What do the blind dream about?

In a study published in February 2014 by a group of Danish researchers in Sleep Medicine:

  • 18% of the blind participants (both congenital and later-onset) reported tasting in at least one dream v. 7% of the control group
  • 30% of the blind reported smelling in at least one dream v. 15% of the control group
  • 70% of the blind reported a touch sensation v. 45% of the control group
  • 86% of the blind reported hearing v. 64% of the control group

When looking solely at the congenitally blind group:

  • 26% tasted,
  • 40% smelled,
  • 67% touched and
  • 93% heard in at least one dream.

Despite these sensory differences, the content of dreams is not much different in the blind and the sighted. Both groups reported about the same number of social interactions, successes, and failures in their dreams.

However, the blind group had a lot more nightmares (25% compared with only 7% of the later-onset blind group and 6% of the sighted control group). This difference held even after the researchers controlled for sleep quality, which is generally poorer among the blind.

This increased number of nightmares could be because of evolution, where nightmares can be seen as threat simulations as a mentally harmless way that the human mind can adapt to the threats of life.  Basically, the nightmares give someone an opportunity to rehearse the threat perception with the avoidance of actually coping with the threat.

 

Often times, a recurring theme in the dreams of many blind people, congenital or not, is transportation, possibly because that is something that often gives them trouble in real life.

“The key with that is it’s your brain that’s making the dream … It’s really what your brain has experienced and what your brain continues to experience.  People who are blind tend to have a lot more smells, hearing, tactile (sensations), which people who have vision tend to not have many of those. I can’t remember a dream that I’ve ever had, and I feel like a lot of sighted people feel the same way, where there were lots of textures, lots of smells.”

This makes sense because for the blind, most frequently reported nightmares included events such as getting lost, being hit by an unseen car, falling into manholes, and losing their guide dog– a greater number of reoccurring threats than the sighted in every day life, hence the increased number of nightmares.

Although the other senses take over in dreams for the blind (especially for the congenitally blind), a 2003 study conducted in the EEG/Sleep Laboratory (Centro de Estudos Egas Moniz, Faculdade de Medicina de Lisboa) in Portugal showed that when it came to visually recalling and recreating a dream, there was no statistical difference between the blind and the sighted.

When asked to create a graphical representation of a dream in the form of a drawing, blind subjects were able to create drawings of dream scenes that accurately represented the oneiric scenes they had verbally described earlier.

Between the calculated mean for complexity and the content of the drawings, no statistical differences were found between the groups.

  • In both groups, landscapes were present in 70% of the drawings
  • Objects in 90%
  • Human figures in 10%.

 

So what does this mean?

Although the blind can’t see with their eyes as the sighted can, they “see” in their dreams through their other, heightened senses (and sometimes can even see images, if not congenitally blind).

They dream about the same things as the sighted, although they have nightmares more frequently.

And the most surprising finding: the lack of the sense of sight in dreams does not hinder the blind from describing nor representing their dreams graphically, with accuracy and complexity being statistically the same as the sighted control group.


Imagináos que nunca habéis podido ver nada, ¿Sería la mente capaz de hacernos soñar con imágenes?

¿Quien puede soñar?

Todo el mundo sueña mientras duerme, pero no todos recuerdan el sueño al día siguiente.

¿Qué son los sueños?

Llamamos sueños a esa serie de imágenes o escenas asociadas a distintas sensaciones y sentimientos que recordamos al despertar.

Entonces, ¿qué y cómo sueñan las personas ciegas de nacimiento? y ¿pueden los ciegos ver estas imágenes en sueños?

(Es una pregunta que me parece bastante curiosa a mi…)

Normalmente, los ciegos de nacimiento o los que han perdido la vista a temprana edad, hasta los 3~4 años aproximadamente, no sueñan con imágenes visuales.

En estos sueños de los ciegos congénitos habría activación de ciertas áreas corticales responsables de las representaciones visuales.  En estos sueños, pueden escuchar, sentir, hablar, saborear, oír, oler,… etcétera.

En caso de que los ciegos hayan perdido la vista a una edad más tardía, por ejemplo 7~8 años, pueden soñar en principio con imágenes visuales.

 

Sin embargo, dichas imágenes pueden irse perdiendo conforme pase el tiempo llegando en algunos casos a desaparecer por completo.

(Un invidente que tuvo visión anteriormente forma los sueños con aquellas imágenes que tiene almacenadas en el cerebro y la percepción tan exacta que tiene de lo que sueñan es gracias a ello.)

Ciega desde los 2 años: “En mis sueños hay imágenes sonoras, es decir, voces u otros sonidos. En cierta forma sueño también con olores o sabores. Obviamente no sueño con imágenes visuales. Difícilmente sueño que estoy caminando con bastón, generalmente en mis sueños camino yo sola por lugares que conozco o en todo caso camino con personas que me guían.”

Generalmente, los ciegos que han perdido la vista a una edad adulta pueden soñar algunos días con imágenes visuales y otros días sin estas imágenes.

Una persona que nace siendo ciega y que no ha tenido ningún tipo de percepción visual, constituye y organiza su sistema sensoperceptivo sin tener noción alguna de lo que son las formas de los objetos y la luz (lo que los lleva a soñar con olores, sabores, sonidos y otros aspectos de este tipo).

Por lo tanto, un invidente congénito sueña formas que su mente ha ido formando en su cerebro a través de todas las percepciones que ha recibido por medio de sus otros sentidos.

(Investigadores Daneses concluyeron en febrero de 2014 que, cuanto más tiempo pasa, menos probable es que los ciegos sueñen con imágenes)

 

La misma investigación muestra que los ciegos de nacimiento tienen más pesadillas que las personas que pueden ver– la idea es que las pesadillas son ensayos mentales de eventos potencialmente inquietantes y que pueden ayudar a desarrollar mecanismos para lidiar con ellos en caso de que sucedan (sin riesgo alguno).

Por ejemplo, los ciegos que participaron en el citado estudio relataron a los investigadores sueños en los que se perdían, eran atropellados por un coche inadvertido o no encontraban a sus perros guía.

 

Aunque los ciegos no pueden ver con sus ojos así como los videntes; si pueden ver en sus sueños a través de sus otros sentidos (y frecuentemente ver imágenes, si no son los ciegos de nacimiento).

Ellos sueñan con las mismas cosas que los videntes, aunque tienen pesadillas más frecuentemente.

El hecho mas curioso: La falta del sentido de la vista en los sueños no complica o impide a la gente con ceguera el poder describir o representar sus sueños gráficamente, con la exactitud y complejidad siendo estadísticamente igual a la misma en el grupo de control con vista.

Espero que este artículo haya sido de provecho a los lectores en general y que sirva como base a los psicólogos/aficionados para que hagan más investigaciones sobre qué y cómo sueñan los ciegos.

– Jenny


Amadeo, J., & Gomez, E. (1966). Eye movements, attention, and dreaming in subjects with life-long blindness. Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, 11, 501-507.

Bértolo, H., Paiva, T., Pessoa, L., Mestre, T., Marques, R., & Santos, R. (2003). Visual dream content, graphical representation and EEG alpha activity in congenitally blind subjects. Cognitive Brain Research, 15, 277-284.

Kerr, N., & Domhoff, G. W. (2004). Do the blind literally “see” in their dreams? A critique of a recent claim that they do. Dreaming, 14, 230-233.

Kerr, N. H., Foulkes, D., & Schmidt, M. (1982). The structure of laboratory dream reports in blind and sighted subjects. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 170, 286-294.

Kirtley, D. (1975). The Psychology of Blindness. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2014/02/26/how-the-blind-dream/

http://www.spring.org.uk/2014/02/dreams-10-striking-insights-from-psychological-science.php

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-ouch-28853788

http://www.encuentros.uma.es/encuentros91/ciegos.htm

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