Black and white dreams (also called monochromatic or grayscale dreams) can occur for a variety of reasons. Some people only dream in black and white. Others only rarely, once in a lifetime, or never. There may in some cases be a purely neurological reason relating to the eye-brain connections as to why some people only dream in black and white. However in many cases there is likely a psychological reason.
One possibility, especially for people who only suddenly start dreaming in black and white, is that they are experiencing a sense of loss, loneliness, and/or emotional repression.
Monochromatic dreams separate the dreamer’s ego from colors and therefore the emotional significance inherent in them–this is a defensive way of cutting the ego off from the emotional content of dreams while still being able to process it and therefore help the dreamer move on. It is a ‘have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too’ dream mechanism.
Additionally, in modern culture, monochromatic dreams represent the past, and therefore may be a symbolic way that the psyche communicates feelings of what is behind oneself or trying to move beyond in the dreams.
There also appears to be a media related cause of monochromatic dreams: “Accounts of dreams by people living before the 20th century often contained descriptions of color. People like Aristotle, Descartes, and Freud, to name a few, often described the presence of color in their dreams. Then, around 1900 something happened. Dreams, all of a sudden, became black and white, or rather they began to be remembered as black and white.”
In other words, dreams are heavily influenced or biased towards abstract media (that is, what you experience that is not directly the reality in front of you, like newspapers, television, film, etc.), and therefore the advent of film as a popular form of entertainment (which remained monochromatic for the first several decades) caused many or even most westerners to dream in monochrome. Apparently, there are no explicit accounts of monochromatic dreams prior to this era.
Around the turn of the 60’s, when popular media became colored, dreams mostly returned to being in color as well, although some people still dreamt in monochrome. This media theory is debated, however, as dream research also changed dramatically around the same time and could therefore account for more colored dreams being reported.
Research also suggests that people dream either with or without color, but forget or misremember when reporting dreams later on, given the discrepancy of colored dreams between reports of the same people upon waking and later on in the day after dreaming (generally, people report more colored dreams upon waking). This misremembering itself may still point to a psychological defense mechanism of blocking repressed emotional content, however.
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