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 genetics.

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 come.


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, 185.

Go back to the "About us" page.

dreamresearch.net home page dreamresearch.net contact info