An analysis of laypeople’s beliefs regarding the origins of their worst nightmare

  • Ariela Cohen (Author)
    Université de Montréal

    Doctoral student

    Department of Psychology

  • Antonio Zadra (Author)
    Université de Montréal


    Department of Psychology

Identifiers (Article)


While many studies have examined the aetiological underpinnings and psychological correlates of nightmares, very few have focused on laypeople’s conceptions of the underlying causes of their own nightmares. The present study investigated laypeople’s causal beliefs about their worst nightmare experience and examined whether these beliefs varied as a function of participants’ gender, age of nightmare occurrence, and recurrence of the nightmare itself. Five hundred and eighty-three adult participants completed a series of questionnaires and their beliefs categorized according to a coding protocol. The results showed that: 1) The three most frequently reported explanations for people’s worst nightmare were difficult interpersonal relationships, attributions of unknown or nonexistent causality, and mediums of entertainment; 2) Women were more likely than men to attribute their worst nightmare to factors related to interpersonal relationships; 3) Some attributions varied depending on whether the worst nightmare had occurred during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood; and 4) Worst nightmares that were recurrent in nature were more likely to be attributed to phobias and negative emotions than non-recurrent worst nightmares. Interestingly, many of the lay beliefs endorsed in the present study were in line with empirical and theoretical studies on the aetiology of nightmares.


Contributor or sponsoring agency
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
dreams, nightmares, lay beliefs, gender
How to Cite
Cohen, A., & Zadra, A. (2015). An analysis of laypeople’s beliefs regarding the origins of their worst nightmare. International Journal of Dream Research, 8(2), 120–128.