For the majority of people, dreaming is a very visual experience – in fact, according to Schredl (2010), dreams of sighted individuals are 100% visual. They can, of course, also include other senses, but they are rarer: about 50-75% auditory, and the other senses much lower.
But what if a person cannot see in waking life? Do blind individuals dream in visual images, even though they cannot see visual images in waking life?
The answer is that it depends on the age at which blindness is acquired. For those born blind, or who were blinded before the age 4-7, dreaming in visual images does not occur. However, if a person becomes blind after the age of 4-7, they will be able to dream in images for the rest of their life (Amadeo & Gomez, 1966; Berger, Olley, & Oswald, 1962; Hurovitz, Dunn, Domhoff and Fiss, 1999; Kirtley, 1975; Kerr & Domhoff, 2004; Kerr, Foulkes and Schmidt, 1982). Those who do not dream in visual images instead dream with the other senses. Dreams can still be embodied, lived experiences, but those experiences involve navigating the dream world without seeing it, just as the waking world is navigated. This illustrates why experiences had before the age of 4 are so important: if a child has been able to see before this age, they will always be able to “see” in their dreams, because they acquired the skill to do so in infancy.
Amadeo, J., & Gomez, E. (1966). Eye movements, attention, and dreaming in subjects with life-long blindness. Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, 11, 501 –507.
Berger, R., Olley, P., & Oswald, I. (1962). The EEG, eye movements, and dreams of the blind. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 14, 183 –186.
Kerr, N. H., & Domhoff, G. William. (2004). Do the blind literally “see” in their dreams? A critique of a recent claim that they do. Dreaming, 14(4), 230-233.
Kerr, N. H., Foulkes, D., & Schmidt, M. (1982). The structure of laboratory dream reports in blind and sighted subjects. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 170(5), 286-294.
Kirtley, D. (1975). The Psychology of Blindness. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Schredl, M. (2010). Characteristics and content of dreams. International Review of Neurobiology, 92, 135-154.