A Brief Biography of Calvin S. Hall
The guy who started this whole thing
Calvin S. Hall, Jr. (1909-1985), psychologist, was born in Seattle,
Washington; he was the son of Calvin S. Hall, a justice on the state supreme
court, and Dovre Johnson. From 1935 to 1975, Hall was one of the most
creative and visible psychologists in the United States. He made major
contributions to the study of temperament and behavior genetics early in his
career with his work on the inheritance of emotionality in rats and his
discovery that a single dominant gene led to acoustical traumas in one inbred
strain of mice; his chapter in the Handbook of Experimental Psychology
(1951) is considered one of the founding statements of modern behavior
In the 1940's, Hall began three decades of systematic work on dreams that led
to many theoretical, methodological, and empirical contributions. In the
1950's, his clearly written and best-selling expository works, A Primer of
Freudian Psychology (1954) and Theories of Personality (1957), the
latter co-authored with Gardner Lindzey, helped create an emphasis on
personality within psychology for the next two decades. Later he wrote A
Primer of Jungian Psychology (1973) to complement his primer on Freud.
Hall first studied psychology as an undergraduate at the University of
Washington, where he had the good fortune to work with the well-known
behaviorist, Edwin Guthrie. He transferred to the University of California,
Berkeley, for his senior year because he opposed the ROTC course required at
Washington. At Berkeley he studied with the great purposive behaviorist,
Edward Tolman, receiving his B.A. in 1930, and then continued there as a
graduate student with Tolman and Robert Tryon, earning his Ph.D. in 1933.
Hall's most important and lasting work at Berkeley demonstrated the
inheritance of emotionality in rats by inbreeding the ones who displayed
either unusual fearfulness or bravery when placed at the center of a large
circular table. (Called the "open field" test, it is still used today,
as seen most recently in an article in the scientific journal Cell
in November, 2005, announcing the discovery that the removal of a single gene
can turn timid mice into fearless ones.) Within a few generations he had two
very different strains in terms of their reactions to this situation.
This work extended his mentor Tryon's earlier demonstration that rats could
be bred to do well or poorly in learning a maze.
Upon receiving his Ph.D., Hall taught for three years as an assistant
professor at the University of Oregon. In 1937, based on his growing research
reputation, he was appointed professor and departmental chair in psychology at
Western Reserve University, positions he held for the next 20 years. During
this time he gradually switched his research emphasis to the area for which
he is best known, the study of dream content.
Hall's early work on dreams was based on reports written anonymously by
college students, who turned out to be ideal subjects because of their
interest in subjective experience and willingness to answer questions.
However, Hall soon was collecting reports from children, older adults, people
in other parts of the world, and those who kept dream diaries. He had over
50,000 dream reports when he died. He began his work with thematic analyses
of 15 to 25 dreams from each student, looking for obvious patterns, but soon
developed a quantitative coding system
that divided dream content into settings, objects, characters, interactions,
emotions, misfortunes, and several other categories. The normative findings
with a more complete and refined version of the coding system were published
in The Content Analysis of Dreams (1966), co-authored with Robert
Van de Castle.
On the basis of his empirical work, Hall developed a cognitive theory of
dreams which states that dreams express "conceptions" of self, family
members, friends, and social environment. They reveal such conceptions as
"weak," "assertive," "unloved," "domineering," and "hostile." Hall also
developed a metaphoric theory of dream symbolism, which he demonstrated
through the similar metaphoric expressions appearing in slang and poetry. His
work anticipated the cognitive turn in psychology and the emphasis on metaphor
by George Lakoff and other cognitive linguists.
Hall's empirical work shows the dreams of groups of people from all over the
world are more similar than they are different, although there are variations
that make sense in terms of cultural differences. At the same time, he found
large individual differences in the frequency of dream elements; these
differences correspond with waking concerns, emotional preoccupations, and
interests, suggesting what Hall called a "continuity" between dream content
and waking thought. His work with dream diaries recorded over several years,
or even decades by a few people, showed an astonishing consistency in dream
content, although there were some changes consistent with changes in the
dreamers' waking lives. In addition to his many scientific publications on
dreams, Hall wrote two popular books, The Meaning of Dreams (1953) and
The Individual and His Dreams (1972). Both sold widely and interested
many people in keeping a record of their dreams.
Although Hall spent most of his teaching career at Western Reserve, he also
taught at Syracuse University (1957-59), the University of Miami (1959-60),
and Catholic University in Nigmegen, Netherlands (as a Fulbright scholar in
1960-61). From 1961 to 1965, he studied dreams collected in the sleep
laboratory at his Institute of Dream Research in Miami, establishing the
similarity in dream content throughout the night. It was during this time
that he and Robert Van de Castle revolutionized the objective study of dream
content with their comprehensive coding system.
In 1966 Hall went into semi-retirement in Santa Cruz, California, continuing
his research on dreams and giving an occasional lecture at the local
university campus. He co-authored books on the dreams of Franz Kafka and of a
child molester. He indulged his love of great literature, classical music, and
opera, took daily walks and bike rides along the ocean, and tended his flower
garden. He was preceded in death by his wife, Irene Hannah Sanborn, whom he
married in 1932 and lived separately from after 1959. He is survived by his
only child, Dovre Hall Busch.
Hall's work on temperament and behavior genetics is now only a historical
footnote, but his work on dreams will not be "history" for many decades to
Hall's early work on animal temperament is best summarized in his "The
Inheritance of Emotionality," Sigma Xi Quarterly (1938), 26,
17-27. His work on the genetic basis of audiogenetic seizures in mice can be
found in two of his articles, "Genetic Differences in Fatal Audiogenetic
Seizures between Two Inbred Strains of House Mice," Journal of
Heredity (1947), 38, 2-6, and "The Genetics of Audiogenetic
Seizures in the House Mouse," Journal of Comparative and Physiological
Psychology (1949), 42, 58-63. The later article is co-authored
with one of his students, Governor Witt. All of Hall's work on temperament
and genetics is summarized in his "The Genetics of Behavior," The Handbook
of Experimental Psychology (1951), edited by S. S. Stevens.
Hall's first important article on dreams is "Diagnosing Personality by the
Analysis of Dreams," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (1947)
42, 68-79. His first report of quantitative findings, "What People
Dream About," Scientific American (1951), 184, 60-63,
anticipates many later results. His highly original theoretical article on
dreams is "A Cognitive Theory of Dreams," Journal of General
Psychology (1953), 49, 273-282. His metaphoric theory of dream
symbols can be found in "A Cognitive Theory of Dream Symbols," Journal of
General Psychology (1953), 48, 169-186. Hall's book on Kafka,
co-authored with Richard Lind, is Dreams, Life, and Literature (1970).
His book on the child molester, co-authored with Alan Bell, is Personality
of a Child Molester (1971).
An excellent overview of Hall's work can be found in a wide-ranging book on
dreams by Hall's collaborator in developing the comprehensive scoring system:
Our Dreaming Mind, by Robert Van de Castle (1994). For a comprehensive
presentation of all reliable findings with the Hall/Van de Castle coding
system, as well as new developments and theories based on it, see G. William
Domhoff, Finding Meaning in Dreams: A Quantitative Approach (1996).
Finally, a fine one-page appreciation of Hall and his work can be found in an
obituary by his long-time friend and co-author, Gardner Lindzey, "Calvin
Springer Hall (1909-1985)," American Psychologist, 1987, 42,
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