Article | Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

When Dreaming Is Believing: The (Motivated) Interpretation of Dreams

by Carey K. Morewedge and Michael I. Norton


This research investigated laypeople's interpretation of their dreams. Participants from both Eastern and Western cultures believed that dreams contain hidden truths (Study 1) and considered dreams to provide more meaningful information about the world than similar waking thoughts (Studies 2 and 3). The meaningfulness attributed to specific dreams, however, was moderated by the extent to which the content of those dreams accorded with participants' preexisting beliefs—from the theories they endorsed to attitudes toward acquaintances, relationships with friends, and faith in God (Studies 3–6). Finally, dream content influenced judgment: Participants reported greater affection for a friend after considering a dream in which a friend protected rather than betrayed them (Study 5) and were equally reluctant to fly after dreaming or learning of a plane crash (Studies 2 and 3). Together, these results suggest that people engage in motivated interpretation of their dreams and that these interpretations impact their everyday lives.

Keywords: Communication Intention and Meaning; Judgments; Values and Beliefs; Information; Behavior; Cognition and Thinking; Motivation and Incentives;


Morewedge, Carey K., and Michael I. Norton. "When Dreaming Is Believing: The (Motivated) Interpretation of Dreams." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96, no. 2 (February 2009): 249–264. (

Winner of Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Theoretical Innovation Prize For an article or book chapter judged to provide the most innovative theoretical contribution to social/personality psychology within a given year presented by Society for Personality and Social Psychology​