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Deirdre Barrett

deirdre barrett, deirdre barrett harvard
Deirdre Barrett, PhD is an author and psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School1 She is known for her research on dreams, hypnosis and imagery and has written on evolutionary psychology Barrett is a Past President of The International Association for the Study of Dreams and of the American Psychological Association’s Div 30, The Society for Psychological Hypnosis She has written four books for the general public: The Pregnant Man and Other Cases From a Hypnotherapist's Couch 1998, The Committee of Sleep 2001, Waistland 2007, and Supernormal Stimuli 2010 She is the editor of four academic books: Trauma and Dreams 1996, The New Science of Dreaming 2007, "Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy" 2010, and "The Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreams" 2012 She is Editor in Chief of the journal Dreaming: The Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams and a Consulting Editor for Imagination, Cognition, and Personality and The International Journal for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis


  • 1 Research
  • 2 Selected publications
    • 21 Books
  • 3 References
  • 4 External links


Barrett is best known for her work on dreams and their contributions to creativity and objective problem solving2 She interviewed modern artists and scientists about their use of their dreams, documenting dramatic anecdotes including Nobel Prizes and MacArthur 'genius grants' whose ideas originated in dreams3 She also conducted research asking college students to incubate answers to real-life homework and other objective problems on which they were working, finding that in one week’s time, half had dreamed about their topic and half of those had a dream which provided an answer4 Barrett describes dreaming as simply “thinking in different biochemical state”5 and believes we continue to work on all the same problems—personal and objective—in that state Her research concludes that while anything—math, musical composition, business dilemmas—may get solved during dreaming, the two areas dreams are especially likely to help are 1 anything where vivid visualization contributes to the solution, whether in artistic design or invention of 3-D technological devices and 2 any problem where the solution lies in thinking outside the box—ie where the person is stuck because the conventional wisdom on how to approach the problem is wrong67

Barrett has also conducted research on lucid dreams8910 and on helping people suffering from PTSD to incubate mastery dreams to change their nightmares,1112131415 and published studies tracking the progression of dreams during bereavement161718 She has studied characteristics of dreams in various disorders including depression19 and dissociative disorders2021 During the summer 2010 publicity about the dream-themed film Inception, Barrett was interviewed by media including ABC,22 NBC Today,23 CNN,24 The Wall Street Journal,25 the New York Times,26 and USA Today,27 pointing out that some aspects of the film, like lucid dreaming, control of one’s own dreams, and dreams-within-dreams were highly realistic while the control of others’ dreams, time slowing in dreams, and absolute impossibility of dreaming that you die were all fictional premises in the service of the thriller plot

Barrett’s studies of hypnosis have focused on different types of high hypnotizables, finding two subgroups which she terms fantasizers and dissociaters Fantasizers are people who have vivid imaginations, find it easy to block out real-world stimuli, spend much time daydreaming, report imaginary companions as a child and grew up with parents who encouraged imaginary play Dissociaters usually had a history of childhood abuse or other significant trauma, had learned to escape into numbness, and to forget unpleasant events Their association to “daydreaming” was often going blank rather than vividly recalled fantasies Both score equally high on formal scales of hypnotic susceptibility282930

Other research by Barrett focused on the similarities and differences of daydreams and nocturnal dreaming31 and on the significance of earliest memories as reflecting a microcosm of an individual’s worldview3233 Barrett is interested in film and has written on techniques which films use to represent dreams34 and on the negative stereotypes of hypnosis in film35

Most recently Barrett has written on evolutionary psychology, especially the concept of supernormal stimuli—the idea that technology can create an artificial object which pulls an instinct more strongly than that for which it evolved The phrase "supernormal stimuli" was coined by the Dutch scientist Niko Tinbergen in the 1930s Barrett's book Waistland 2007 36 explores the weight and fitness crisis in terms of supernormal stimuli for food and rest37 Her latest book, "Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose" 2010 38 examines the impact of supernormal stimuli on the diversion of impulses for nurturing, sexuality, romance, territoriality, war, and the entertainment industry’s hijacking of our social instincts39

Selected publicationsedit


  • The Pregnant Man: and Other Cases from a Hypnotherapist's Couch Times Books, 1998
  • Trauma and Dreams Harvard University Press, 2001
  • Waistland: The REvolutionary Science Behind Our Weight and Fitness Crisis Norton, 2007
  • The New Science of Dreaming 3 volumes Praeger, 2007
  • Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy 2 volumes Praeger, 2009
  • The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Their Dreams for Creative Problem Solving - and How You Can Too Random House 2001; Oneiroi Press, 2010
  • Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose Norton, 2010
  • Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreams: The Evolution, Function, Nature, and Mysteries of Slumber 2 volumes Greenwood, 2012


  1. ^ "Harvard Web Directory" Harvard College Retrieved 2012-04-14 
  2. ^ THE WASHINGTON POST; Four Experts Try to Get Inside Readers' Heads Oct 29, 2006; M4
  3. ^ Barrett, Deirdre The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use their Dreams for Creative Problem Solving—and How You Can Too NY: Crown Books/Random House, 2001
  4. ^ Barrett, Deirdre The 'Committee of Sleep': A Study of Dream Incubation for Problem Solving Dreaming: Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams, 1993, 3, pp 115-123
  5. ^ Barrett, Deirdre An Evolutionary Theory of Dreams and Problem-Solving in Barrett, D L & McNamara, P Eds The New Science of Dreaming, Volume III: Cultural and Theoretical Perspectives on Dreaming NY, NY: Praeger/Greenwood, 2007
  6. ^ Oldenburg, Don You: Dream a Little Dream--and Pay Attention, THE WASHINGTON POST; Sep 28, 2000; C04
  7. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Answers in Your Dreams, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN; Nov 2012 p 26-32
  8. ^ Deirdre Barrett, Deirdre Just how lucid are lucid dreams: an empirical study of their cognitive characteristics Dreaming: The Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams, 1992, Vol 2, No 4, pp 221-228
  9. ^ Barrett, Deirdre An Empirical Study of The Relationship of Lucidity and Flying Dreams Dreaming: the Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams, 1991, Vol 1, No 2, p 129, 133
  10. ^ Turner, Graham Take control and turn sleep into a playground; The Meaning of Dreams: The final day of our series investigates the strange world of 'lucid dreaming'Daily Mail EnglandMarch 24, 1994
  11. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Ed Trauma and Dreams Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996
  12. ^ Beck, Melinda 'Health Matters' column in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL Feb 20, 2010
  13. ^ Cox, Emma The Sun England February 10, 2009 Tuesday Edition 1 Why Nightmares Are Good For You; The Primeval Truth Behind Dreams News; Pg 42
  14. ^ Conklin, Mike A Plague of nightmares descends on Elm Street, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, October 2, 2001
  15. ^ http://wwwnytimescom/2010/07/27/health/27nighthtmlhp THE NEW YORK TIMES Following a Script to Escape a Nightmare
  16. ^ Barrett, Deirdre L Dreams of Death OMEGA: the Journal of Death and Dying, 1988, Vol 19, p 95, 102
  17. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Through a glass darkly: the dead appear in dreams OMEGA: The Journal of Death and Dying, 1991, Vol 24, pp 97-108
  18. ^ Cathcart, Rebecca Winding Through ‘Big Dreams’ Are the Threads of Our Lives, THE NEW YORK TIMES, July 3, 2007
  19. ^ Barrett, Deirdre and Loeffler, Michael The effect of depression on the manifest content of the dreams of college students Psychological Reports, 1992, 70, pp 403-406
  20. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Dreams in Dissociative Disorders Dreaming: J of the Assoc for the Study of Dreams, 1994, Vol 4, No 3, pp 165-177
  21. ^ Barrett, Deirdre The Dream Character as a Prototype for the Multiple Personality "Alter" Dissociation, Vol 8, March 1995, p 61, 68
  22. ^ ABC Interview with Barrett about Inception
  23. ^ Weekend Today 7/24 interview with Lester Holt
  24. ^ CNN interview with Barrett about Inception
  25. ^ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL Therapies Teach Sleepers to Alter the Ending of Their Dreams--or Even Take Flight
  26. ^ THE NEW YORK TIMES Guiding Your Sleep While You’re Awake
  27. ^ USA Today 7/16 2010 With 'Inception,' Chris Nolan's head games continue
  28. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Deep Trance Subjects: A Schema of Two Distinct Subgroups Chpt in R Kunzendorf Ed Imagery: Recent Developments, NY: Plenum Press, 1991, p 101, 112
  29. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Fantasizers and Dissociaters: An Empirically based schema of two types of deep trance subjects Psychological Reports, 1992, 71, pp 1011-1014
  30. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Fantasizers and Dissociaters: Two types of High Hypnotizables, Two Imagery Styles in R Kuzendorf, N Spanos, & B Wallace Eds Hypnosis and Imagination, NY: Baywood, 1996
  31. ^ Barrett, Deirdre The Hypnotic Dream: Its Content in Comparison to Nocturnal Dreams and Waking Fantasy Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1979, Vol 88, p 584, 591
  32. ^ Barrett, Deirdre The First Memory as a Predictor of Personality Traits Journal of Individual Psychology, 1980, Vol 36, pp 136-149
  33. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Early Recollections as Predictors of Self Disclosure and Interpersonal Style Journal of Individual Psychology, 1983, Vol 39, pp 92-98
  34. ^ Barrett, Deirdre 'The Dream Videophile' Regular column in Dream Time magazine and posted online at ASD
  35. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Hypnosis in Film and Television American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Vol 49, No 1, July 2006, pp 13-30
  36. ^ Barrett, Deirdre 2007 Waistland: The REvolutionary Science Behind Our Weight and Fitness Crisis New York, New York: W W Norton ISBN 978-0-393-06216-8 
  37. ^ Rimas, Andrew ‘Meet the Minds’ feature about Deirdre Barrett, PhD, Science Section, ‘’The Boston Globe’’, October 22, 2007
  38. ^ Barrett, Deirdre Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose NY NY: WW Norton, 2010
  39. ^ Wall Street Journal review of Deirdre Barrett's Supernormal Stimuli, Feb 25, 2010

External linksedit

  • Deirdre Barrett's website
  • NPR Talk of the Nation interview with Deirdre Barrett June 25, 2007
  • ‘’US News and World Report’’, Health: Interview with Deirdre Barrett, PhD 6/29/07
  • "The Power of Hypnosis" by Deirdre Barrett in ‘’Psychology Today’’, Jan/Feb 2001
  • The Committee of Sleep, 2010

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