Dream Reports During the COVID-19 Pandemic Reflect Mental Suffering and Fear of Contagion

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COVID-19 Pandemic Dream Reports

Artwork from the volunteers (inspired by their dreams during the pandemic). Credit: Natália Mota

Dreams during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown reflect mental suffering (anger, sadness) and fear of contagion, according to a new Brazilian study.

COVID-19 Dream Reports

Are dream reports from the Covid-19 pandemic period different from dream reports prior to the pandemic?. (A) Data collection timeline (audio recordings of dreams reported via smartphone application), and illustrative examples of two translated dream reports by the same participant, one before and one after the Covid-19 pandemic. Words in red type are linked to emotions and words in blue type are semantically associated with the terms “contamination” and “cleanness”. (B) Flowchart showing group composition. (C) Representative examples of computational analysis of dream reports by the same participants before and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Credit: Mota et al, 2020 (PLOS ONE, CC BY 4.0)

Dreaming during the Covid-19 pandemic: Computational assessment of dream reports reveals mental suffering related to fear of contagion.

The current global threat brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has led to widespread social isolation, posing new challenges in dealing with metal suffering related to social distancing, and in quickly learning new social habits intended to prevent contagion. Neuroscience and psychology agree that dreaming helps people to cope with negative emotions and to learn from experience, but can dreaming effectively reveal mental suffering and changes in social behavior?

To address this question, we applied natural language processing tools to study 239 dream reports by 67 individuals, made either before the Covid-19 outbreak or during the months of March and April, 2020, when lockdown was imposed in Brazil following the WHO’s declaration of the pandemic. Pandemic dreams showed a higher proportion of anger and sadness words, and higher average semantic similarities to the terms “contamination” and “cleanness.”

These features seem to be associated with mental suffering linked to social isolation, as they explained 40% of the variance in the PANSS negative subscale related to socialization (p = 0.0088). These results corroborate the hypothesis that pandemic dreams reflect mental suffering, fear of contagion, and important changes in daily habits that directly impact socialization.

Reference: 30 November 2020, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0242903

Funding:

  • NBM, MC and SR received financial support from Boehringer-Ingelheim (grants FADE/UFPE 270,906 and 270,561);
  • SR, MC and CR received financial support from Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq; CNPq.br) PVE grant 401518/2014-0, Universal grants 480053/2013-8, 408145/2016-1, 439434/2018-1, 425329/2018-6 and Research Productivity grants 308775/2015-5, 306659/2019-0, 301744/2018-1 and 310712/2014-9;
  • SR and MC received financial support from Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES; capes.gov.br) Projects OBEDUC-ACERTA 0898/2013, PROEX 534/2018 and STIC AmSud 062/2015;
  • MC received financial support from Fundação de Amparo à Ciência e Tecnologia do Estado de Pernambuco (FACEPE) grant APQ–0642–1.05/18;
  • SR and MC received financial support from Center for Neuromathematics of the São Paulo Research Foundation FAPESP (grant 2013/07699-0).

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.





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