Perception

Do people who've been blind since birth dream?
Answered by Diana Bocco
  • Diana Bocco

    Diana Bocco

  1. Everybody dreams, even people who can't remember their dreams. Dreams occur during REM sleep, a stage characterized by random and rapid movement of the eyes, low muscle tone and irregular breathing and heart rates. REM sleep occurs three to four times every night, in periods that last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.

    This means even blind people dream. Dreams are representations of memories, sequences and emotions from your waking life. When you're asleep, your brain processes the experiences you've had while awake and builds dreams out of them. If you can see, your dreams contain a number of images and visual memories; if you can't see, your dreams contain more sounds and tactile experiences. For example, a sighted person dreaming about the beach probably sees the sand and the ocean, and a blind person dreams about the breaking of the waves, the smell of the ocean and the feeling of sand between his or her toes.

    How dreams are presented is relative to the dreamer. In other words, dreams that aren't visual or that the dreamer recalls without visual details still are dreams. Dreams without images only are common in people who have been blind since birth or who lost their sight before they turned 5 years old. People who are blind from birth cannot create visual clues in their brains, so their dreams are all about their other senses. Researchers have found, however, that people who lose their sight after they're 7 years old can still see images in their dreams. Those who lose their sight between the ages of 5 and 7 years might or might not have visual dreams [source: University of Hartford Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology].

    Many people who are born blind claim to "see" images in their dreams, but what they're actually referring to is an experience, rather than a picture. In the Hartford study, a congenitally blind 46-year-old man reported a dream in which he went to the hospital to see his first grandchild. Upon questioning, it came to light that what he referred to as "seeing the baby for the first time" actually meant the experience of meeting him, hearing him cry and holding him. Similar experiences were reported by other study participants, who also referred to "seeing" when describing scenes from their dreams, even though the scenes were based completely on tactile and auditory memories. 

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