In an effort to learn more about psychotic thoughts, Armando D’Agostino of the University of Milan in Italy studied the ways in which our brains try to understand dreams. He asked 12 people to keep dream diaries in which they wrote detailed accounts of seven dreams, as well as a record of the events that happened during the previous day. They were also asked to write an unrelated fantasy story inspired by an image the researchers gave them. 

Researchers noted that the dreams were significantly more bizarre than the fantasy stories.

A month later, the researchers read the reports back to the participants while an fMRI scanner monitored their brain activity. An area of the right hemisphere of the brain associated with complex language processing (like understanding multiple meanings of a word) lit up when listening to both the dreams and fantasies recounted. But as the dream narratives became increasingly bizarre, the activity in this area of the brain began to decrease.

This may suggest that the brain is, in a sense, “giving up” on trying to make sense of the narrative.

Patrick McNamara at Boston University says that bizarre dreams may be the result of the brain trying to symbolize complex emotions that the brain doesn’t know how to adequately symbolize through narrative.