Advertisers are Coming for Your Dreams

A group of 40 dream researchers have released an online letter, calling for the regulation of commercial dream manipulation.

“People are particularly vulnerable [to suggestion] when asleep,” says Adam Haar, a cognitive scientist and Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who co-authored the letter. Haar invented a glove that tracks sleep patterns and guides its wearers to dream about specific subjects by playing audio cues when the sleeper reaches a susceptible sleep stage. He says he has been contacted by three companies in the past 2 years, including Microsoft and two airlines, asking for his help on dream incubation projects. He helped with one game-related project, but says he wasn’t comfortable participating in any advertising campaigns.

Work by Harvard University dream researcher Deirdre Barrett has also attracted corporate attention. In a 1993 study, she asked 66 college students taking a class on dreams to select a problem of personal or academic relevance, write it down, and think about it each night for at least a week before going to bed. At the end of the study, nearly half reported having dreams related to the problem. Similar work published in 2000 in Science, in which Harvard neuroscientists asked people to play several hours of the computer game Tetris for 3 days, found that slightly more than 60% of the players reported having dreams about the game.

This year, Barrett consulted with the Molson Coors Beverage Company on an online advertising campaign that ran during the Super Bowl. Following her instructions, Coors, which features mountains and waterfalls on its logo, had 18 people (12 of them paid actors) watch a 90-second video featuring flowing waterfalls, cool mountain air, and Coors beer right before falling asleep. According to a YouTube video documenting the effort, when the participants awoke from REM sleep, five reported dreaming about Coors beer or seltzer. (The result remains unpublished.)

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