People who have more nightmares might also be more creative

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Nightmare is kind of a weird word, etymologically speaking. The night part is obvious enough, but mare has more of an unexpected history: In old English, it was the word for demons who were thought to possess people as they slept. The compound word, nightmare, was originally a term for the spirits themselves, only later coming to refer to the dreams they caused.

The term has stuck, but nowadays, psychologists have a few other ideas about what causes nightmares. Writing in New Scientist earlier this week, psychology PhD candidate Michelle Carr, who studies dreams at the University of Montreal's Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine, explained the two dominant theories: One is that they're a reaction to negative experiences that happen during waking hours. The other is "threat simulation theory," or the idea that we evolved to have nightmares as a sort of rehearsal for adversity, so that when the real thing rolls around we're better equipped to handle it.

For some nightmare fuel, check out these abandoned ghost towns:

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People who have more nightmares might also be more creative
A pile of abandoned gas masks left in Pripyat, Ukraine, after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
​Toys left behind in Pripyat, Ukraine, after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
Abandoned Pripyat, Ukraine, after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
Cars left in Pripyat, Ukraine, after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
Abandoned plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
Ferris Wheel in Pripyat, Ukraine, after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
Pripyat, Ukraine after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
Pripyat, Ukraine after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
Pripyat, Ukraine after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
Pripyat, Ukraine after one of reactors in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a meltdown in 1986, forcing the citizens to evacuate. ​
City buildings stand beyond the giant excavated hole left by the Mir mine, a former open pit diamond mine, in Mirny, Russia, on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. 
The giant excavated hole left by the Mir mine, a former open pit diamond mine, sits in the ground beside city buildings in Mirny, Russia, on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. 
A roller coaster sits idle at the Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009. Six Flags Inc., the New York-based theme park owner, lost a bid to finance its exit from bankruptcy with loans and a stock sale when a judge said breakup fees in the proposed contract were too high. 
Six Flags New Orleans, an amusement park , was underwater in New Orleans, Louisiana, September 13, 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
Abandoned Six Flags Hurricane Harbor after Hurricane Katrina.
The 'Building 65,' largest dormitory building for workers on island in the restricted area of Hashima Island or commonly called Gunkan-jima, Battleship Island, on December 12, 2013 in Nagasaki, Japan. Gunkan-jima, now obsolete, was bought by Mitsubishi in 1890 to be developed as a coal mining island. As petroleum replaced coal in the late 1960s, Mitsubishi closed the mine in 1974. 
Hashima Island, as known as 'Battleship island (Gunkan-jima)' is seen on September 23, 2013 in Nagasaki, Japan. The island was a coal mining facility until its closure in 197. More than 5,000 residents used to live this Japan's first concrete building apartments at its peak.
Aerial view of Warship Island in Nagasaki, Japan.
A staircase stands on the ground level of the main building at the former Domino Sugar refinery in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. Two Trees Management Co. plans to turn the idle Domino Sugar refinery building on Williamsburgs waterfront into about 630,000 square feet of offices.  
The former Domino Sugar refinery stands next to the Williamsburg Bridge as seen from New York, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. Two Trees Management Co. plans to turn the idle Domino Sugar refinery building on Williamsburgs waterfront into about 630,000 square feet of offices. 
World War 2 sea forts - Shivering Sands off the North Kent coast near Herne Bay/Whitstable UK, abandoned, decay.
World War 2 sea forts - Shivering Sands off the North Kent coast near Herne Bay/Whitstable UK, abandoned, decay.
Miru Kim poses in Michigan Central Station in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit was once one of the wealthiest cities in the world with the rise of the American auto industry in the early 1900s. Now, the population of the city is reduced to about half of what it was in 1950. The desolation and poverty are plainly visible. The Michigan Central Station has become a symbol of Detroit's former radiance and present decay. When it opened in 1913, it was the tallest rail station in the world, designed by the same architects that designed New York City's Grand Central Terminal. 
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Whether or not they function as a training ground for real-life situations, though, nightmares do have some real benefits for the people who thrash and sweat their way through them, as Carr noted. One 2013 study, for example, found that frequent nightmare sufferers rated themselves as more empathetic. They also displayed more of a tendency to unconsciously mirror other people through things like contagious yawning, a phenomenon that's been studied as an indicator of empathy.

Carr, meanwhile, has found that people who have constant nightmares also tend to think further outside the box on word-association tasks. Other research, she explained, has found support for the idea that nightmares might be linked to creativity:

And, in a satisfyingly tidy stroke of cosmic balance, Carr's research has found that people who often have nightmares also tend to have more positive dreams than the average person.

"The evidence points towards the idea that, rather than interfering with normal activity, people who are unfortunate in having a lot of nightmares also have a dreaming life that is at least as creative, positive and vivid as it can be distressing and terrifying," she wrote. "What's more, this imaginative richness is unlikely to be confined to sleep, but also permeates waking thought and daydreams." Even after people wake up and shake off the nighttime demon, in other words, a trace of it stays behind, possessing them throughout the day.

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