Science magazine covers the pushback from researchers who fear a new battleground for spam and advertisers inside our sleeping minds:
This week, a group of 40 dream researchers has pushed back in an online letter, calling for the regulation of commercial dream manipulation.
“Dream incubation advertising is not some fun gimmick, but a slippery slope with real consequences,” they write on the op-ed website EOS. “Our dreams cannot become just another playground for corporate advertisers.”
Dream incubation, in which people use images, sounds, or other sensory cues to shape their nighttime visions, has a long history. People throughout the ancient world invented rituals and techniques to intentionally change the content of their dreams, through meditation, painting, praying, and even drug use. Greeks who fell ill in the fourth century B.C.E. would sleep on earthen beds in the temples of the god Asclepius, in the hopes of entering enkoimesis, an induced state of dreaming in which their cure would be revealed.
“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.
This year, [Harvard University dream researcher Deirdre] 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 (The result remains unpublished.)