Monochrome dreaming

Watching black and white television as a child may explain why older people are less likely to dream in colour than younger people, according to new study reported in New Scientist.

The study is from psychologist Ewa Murzyn, who was interested in how early experience could affect our dream life.

She first asked 60 subjects – half of whom were under 25 and half of whom were over 55 – to answer a questionnaire on the colour of their dreams and their childhood exposure to film and TV. The subjects then recorded different aspects of their dreams in a diary every morning.

Murzyn found there was no significant difference between results drawn from the questionnaires and the dream diaries – suggesting that the previous studies were comparable.

She then analysed her own data to find out whether an early exposure to black-and-white TV could still have a lasting effect on her subjects dreams, 40 years later.

Only 4.4% of the under-25s’ dreams were black and white. The over-55s who’d had access to colour TV and film during their childhood also reported a very low proportion of just 7.3%.

But the over-55s who had only had access to black-and-white media reported dreaming in black and white roughly a quarter of the time.

It’s an interesting study because, as we recently discussed, philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel argued that exposure to TV was an unlikely explanation for the effect where we’ve tended to report more coloured dreams in modern times and suggested this actually showed we’re not very good at introspecting into our own minds.

This study provides some evidences that the effect may be more reliable than we think.

However, I’m still puzzled by why television would seem to have such a big influence so many years later when most of the visual experience the person would have received as a child, even if a heavy TV watcher, would be from the ‘real’ coloured world.


Link to NewSci on black and white dreams study (thanks Laurie!).
Link to scientific paper.
Link to PubMed entry for same.

6 thoughts on “Monochrome dreaming”

  1. I was born in Britain in 1961, and because of this *I believe* that when I dream in context of a dream that is situated in the 60s I dream in black and white. When I dream in context of the here and now I dream in full colour…
    B/W seems to be a visual motif that reders credibility to my brains attempt to make a dream seem ‘real’.
    Whether or not I really do dream in black and white is another thing….It’s perhaps splitting hairs, but I believe I always dream in full colour, but my brain processes the dream in it’s 60s context as seeming to be in black and white as that is how I remember the 60s.
    It’s like the brain applies a filter to that particular part of the dream to turn it from colour to B/W, much as Photoshop would…
    But I’m guessing, and besides whether my dreams really are B/W, or colour rendered in monochrome is neither here nor there – the effect is just the same either way.

  2. New research carried out by a psychology student shows that if you dream in monochrome, you are likely to be over 55 and to have grown up with a black and white television.
    Almost all under 25s dream in colour, but thousands of over 55s brought up with the original sets still dream in black and white even now.
    Link Building

  3. i’m over 55, and I’don’t believe dreams are neither in colors nor in b/w. Dreams are a process of imagination, and I am imagining colors if the dreams requires it, like i’m wearing a blue coat,or seing a beautiful sunset in technicolor, if it’s significant in the dream. On the opposite, the way some people remind dreams maybe has some connection with TV or movie viewing habits.

  4. Very Interesting!
    I can definatly agree with you on still being puzzled about the influence so many years later. Great Post!

  5. Rather than positing a mysterious influence of television on dreams, might this not suggest that televisual experience has an effect on how we construct narratives, and more particularly, how we spin a narrative around “dreams” which do not have an inherent narrative continuity?

  6. re:how we spin a narrative around “dreams” which do not have an inherent narrative continuity.
    Anecdotal story. I had cable TV and used the remote alot. Inherit in TV video is a continuity that lasts four to five seconds, then the scene changes.
    I lost cable TV, time duration of about a year.
    My dreams now have much more narrative continuity, in the past (when cable available) my dreams were like watching a TV, channel surfing with a remote.
    Researchers should look for amount of TV watched on a daily/weekly basis along with remote control/chanel flipping.
    The amount of time a person spends with TV images undoubtedly affects their mind-dreams correlatively.

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