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

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 mental 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: “Dreaming during the Covid-19 pandemic: Computational assessment of dream reports reveals mental suffering related to fear of contagion” by Natália Bezerra Mota, Janaina Weissheimer, Marina Ribeiro, Mizziara de Paiva, Juliana Avilla-Souza, Gabriela Simabucuru, Monica Frias Chaves, Lucas Cecchi, Jaime Cirne, Guillermo Cecchi, Cilene Rodrigues, Mauro Copelli and Sidarta Ribeiro, 30 November 2020, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0242903


  • 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.

2 Comments on "Dream Reports During the COVID-19 Pandemic Reflect Mental Suffering and Fear of Contagion"

  1. Sekar Vedaraman | November 30, 2020 at 4:07 pm | Reply


    However the Study has a limited number of Dreams and needs to be expanded to a large enough database sample to make the same really meanigful, especially if Statistics and data are being used to draw conclusions. Stattistics and use of data is extremely important when drawing conclusions , especially when the same is being drwan in the field of Social Sciences.


    The Brain Chemistry is extremely Complex and may or may not be dependent on the assumptions we make. Like the “Neurons Chemistry and electrical signals” are Solely responsible for the dream. It may be also dependent of other factors like Culture and upgringing and past life experiences ( both in the current life experiences and past birth — which has been proved from time to time by scantily done studies , without sufficient data) AND may lead to wrong conclusions. Research whether based in the field of Social Sciences or Scientific Research must be based on Science and also data , which is sufficiently large — which may still lead to wrong conclusions especially if it is purely based on ‘Science” or “Data” alone. Unless we understand the mechanism by which a dream is created when we are either awake and /or asleep , drawing conclusions may lead to false conclusions. The existence of Outliers and its importance is barely understood.

    Dreams may also be dependent on other Genetic factors we have not understood yet. Only about 7.4 % of the HUMAN Genome has been understood as far as functionality is concerned

    Yet we keep classifying what we barely understood as unwssential in the case of humans!

    The Dreams need not occur only in Humans. What makes us so concieted that we beleive that only we dream. Dogs and other Creatures also Dream. Not only in the onlyin the waking state, but also when we/they are asleep. Even in a two dimensional analysis in the waking state and also in the other three Quadrants of Sleep – Deep Sleep , waking and Unknown – unconscious quadrant , we have barely scratched the surface. We alos must realise that humans appear to be in a dreamless state and get very restfull sleep which reapirs the physical and also the mental trauma we may have experience …. and also what happens in the Unknown – Unconscious Quadrant is not understood at all. This is is probably the Quadrant about which we know practically nothing and are unlikely toknow anything. If we expand the anaysis to a cube or otherdimensions what we may see may be interesting. If we expandt it to a sphere with infoinite dimensions in space we may draw different conclusions. If we further expand the analysis of Dreams to infinite dimensions of time , we may draw comletely different conclusions.

    Coming back to a two dimensional anaysis, it may be the quadrant through which the “Gods” and “Superior Intelligwnces” communicate to us mortals with messages to communiccate and mend our ways.

    Even the structure of Benzene was revealed to Kekule in a dream, with a snake chasing its own tail! Most of the Mathematics of Ramanujam was revealed to him by the Goddess as per his own admission. The fact that Hardy found his contribution to Mathematics interesting enough to take him to the UK is another example of the role of dreams in our lives.

    Further limiting the analysis to a 2 X 2 Qadrant for the understanding of Scientists and the Common man may be simplifying a highly Complex process and dumbing it down, and drawing conclusions being drawn and spouting the same from the rooftops may not be very wise. They can probably serve the role of band-aid ( which is very useful by the way), but probably will not address the root cause of the dream, eiher caused by current events or past life experience and upbringing in the current life. Also, if rebirth is actually a reality as is described in ancient texts , the impact of such pandemics on future births may not be understood.

    Data rarely lies. However, drawing conclusions about the same from limited data and statistical analysis without considering all the implications may lead us up a Garden Path.

    Opinions expressed are Personal, but the same kind of rigour we need to to find and draw reliable and trustworthy conclusions about a Vaccine to fix the proble we are facing as humanity, is most certainly required before jumping to conclusions about Dreams.

  2. Sekar Vedaraman | November 30, 2020 at 4:27 pm | Reply

    In addition to my earlier post on this subject , I suspect that the ability ability and predct what we consider a catostrophic needs to improve dramatically. We need to invent newer technologies to detect approaching dangers and take preventivw actions to protect themselves. OTHER Creatures of approaching danger appears to be far superiorto Humans ,as their “Fight or Flight Response” is far better in times of catostrophic Black Swan Events, whether a Earthqauke or approachin Tsunami. We dont know whether the same is due to their superior ability to detect the processes occuring deep within the bowels of the earth or a far better sixth sense —is also an unknown. Maybe, we need to redevelop our “Flight orFight Response” better to fend off disaters or invent such tools.

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