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Clin Psychol Rev. 2017 Dec;58:86-96. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2017.10.002. Epub 2017 Oct 16.

A novel Differential Susceptibility framework for the study of nightmares: Evidence for trait sensory processing sensitivity.

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Swansea University Sleep Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Swansea University, Swansea, United Kingdom. Electronic address:
Dream & Nightmare Laboratory, Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine, Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal, Montréal, Canada; Deptartment of Psychiatry, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada.


Research on nightmares has largely focused on the nightmare itself and its associated negative consequences, framing nightmare sufferers as victims of a diathesis-stress induced form of psychopathology. However, there is evidence that frequent nightmare recallers are sensitive to a wide range of sensory and emotional experiences, and report vivid, bizarre and even intensely positive dream and daydream experiences. We propose sensory processing sensitivity as a novel trait marker that underlies the unique symptoms and imaginative richness found in nightmare-prone individuals. Sensory processing sensitivity describes an increased emotional reactivity, greater depth of processing, and subtle awareness of environmental stimuli-it is a 'for better and for worse' trait that is associated with positive outcomes in conditions of support, but also confers a tendency to be easily overwhelmed by stressors and adversity. This novel approach places nightmare-prone individuals within the broader framework of Differential Susceptibility and raises the possibility that they may benefit especially from supportive environments-a possibility that is particularly relevant for developing future treatment approaches.


Affect distress; Diathesis-stress; Differential Susceptibility; Dreams; Nightmares; Sensory processing sensitivity

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