It’s said that when one of your senses starts to diminish, the others grow more attuned. For instance, a person with significant hearing loss may become more visually sensitive as a result as they begin to rely more on their sight to aid comprehension and communication. A recent study set out to investigate whether these sorts of compensatory sensations could also occur in dreams.
Do people who have experienced hearing loss dream with greatly enhanced visuals? What is the connection, if any, between hearing loss and vivid dreaming?
History of hearing loss and vivid dreams
In the early sixties, researchers Mendelson, Singer, and Solomon conducted interviews with dream participants who had profound hearing loss as a result of birth, hearing loss acquired before age five and hearing loss acquired later on. They discovered that several facets of the dream experience were amplified in the group who had been without hearing since birth. These included more frequent dream recall, more intense colours, greater intensity of vividness and spatial depth.
However, a study by Stoyva a few years later found that there was no difference in dream recall between the groups. So, it was back to square one.
Growing up with hearing loss can affect a person’s emotional, social and cognitive development which can in turn have an impact upon the individual’s dreams with an increased likelihood that the social and emotional atmosphere of living with hearing loss can find its way into the dream state.
With this in mind, the latest study by Okada, Hitoshi, and Wakasaya, aimed to assess any alterations in dream recall and the content of dreams among individuals living with hearing loss.
86 students aged between 15 and 20 participated in the study. All participants had at least a 60 dB loss of hearing in both ears finding it very difficult to understand normal volume of speech, even with the use of hearing aids. A comparison study was done with 344 other students between the ages of 15 to 18, all of whom had full hearing.
Each participant was asked to respond to a 25-item questionnaire that measured their frequency of recalling dreams, nightmares and lucid dreams, the vividness, their sensory experience and frequency of emotions. The sensory items assessed were visual experience, colour, hearing, skin, kinaesthetic, gustatory, olfactory, visceral pain and temperature sensations in dreams from the previous month. And the emotional items were joy, hope, happiness, anger, sadness, fear, feeling tense, anxiety, surprise and shame.
Individuals with hearing loss scored higher on many of these items, like higher recall frequency for the intense and vivid experiences of nightmares and lucid dreams. Hearing impaired dreamers also experienced more sensory vividness, scoring higher for taste, smell, pain, temperature, and several emotions, including hope, anger, fear, feeling tense, surprise and shame.
On the whole, the results appear to support the theory of sensory compensation in the dreams of those with hearing loss indicating that their dreams are intensified from both a sensory and emotional perspective.