Dreaming during the Covid-19 pandemic: Computational assessment of dream reports reveals mental suffering related to fear of contagion

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The current global threat brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has led to widespread social isolation, posing new challenges in dealing with metal suffering related to social distancing, and in quickly learning new social habits intended to prevent contagion. Neuroscience and psychology agree that dreaming helps people to cope with negative emotions and to learn from experience, but can dreaming effectively reveal mental suffering and changes in social behavior? To address this question, we applied natural language processing tools to study 239 dream reports by 67 individuals, made either before the Covid-19 outbreak or during the months of March and April, 2020, when lockdown was imposed in Brazil following the WHO’s declaration of the pandemic. Pandemic dreams showed a higher proportion of anger and sadness words, and higher average semantic similarities to the terms “contamination” and “cleanness”. These features seem to be associated with mental suffering linked to social isolation, as they explained 40% of the variance in the PANSS negative subscale related to socialization (p = 0.0088). These results corroborate the hypothesis that pandemic dreams reflect mental suffering, fear of contagion, and important changes in daily habits that directly impact socialization.