Methods and Measures for the Study of Dream Content

G. William Domhoff

University of California, Santa Cruz

NOTE: If you use this paper in research, please use the following citation, as this on-line version is simply a reprint of the original article:
Domhoff, G. W. (2000). Methods and measures for the study of dream content. In M. Kryger, T. Roth, & W. Dement (Eds.), Principles and Practies of Sleep Medicine: Vol. 3 (pp. 463-471). Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.


The systematic study of dream content has led to many interesting and useful findings concerning developmental changes, gender differences, cross-cultural similarities and differences, consistency in what individuals dream about over decades, and the continuity between dream content and waking thought. Such findings lay the groundwork for future studies of psychopathology in dream content.[1-5]

This chapter focuses on the methods, measures, and strategies of data analysis that have generated the many findings alluded to in the opening paragraph. It discusses the advantages and disadvantages of: (1) four methods for collecting dream reports; (2) four methods of content analysis; and, (3) several approaches to data analysis. It concludes with the presentation of several dream content indicators that might prove useful in the future in understanding psychopathology through dreams.

Methods for Collecting Dream Reports

There are four sources of dream reports, namely, the sleep laboratory, the psychotherapy relationship, personal dream journals, and reports written down on anonymous forms in group settings, of which the classroom is the most typical. These four sources provide both dream series (two or more dreams from an individual) and dream sets (a collection of single dream reports from the members of any given group).

Questionnaires asking people if they think they dream about one or another topic are not considered here because they are not a method of collecting dream reports. Such questionnaires ask for opinions that in fact relate to personality style and cultural beliefs concerning dreams. In four different samples, for example, subjects said they dreamt most frequently about friendliness, secondly about sexuality, and least often about aggression,6 but representative samples of dream content with similar college student populations show that aggression is the most frequent social interaction in dream reports, followed by friendliness, and -- at a very distant third -- sexuality.[5,7,8] Since there is little or no correlation between snap judgments on questionnaires and dream content, such questionnaires cannot be used as substitutes for dream reports.

There are several factors that may influence the content of the dream report regardless of which collection method is used. They include the instructions given to the dreamer for making the report, the nature of the interpersonal situation if the report is verbal, and the degree of anonymity available to the subject.[1] These and other problems can be mitigated, if not eliminated, by collecting dream reports with a standardized interview protocol or written form and using subjects whose participation is voluntary. Anonymity also is useful when possible, although it is not as crucial as might be thought because most people feel very little personal responsibility for their dreams and are therefore willing to report unusual themes and elements.[4,9] One of the most important safeguards against some of the problems having to do with report quality is a large sample size, which serves to minimize the effects of inadequate or confabulated reports .

Sleep Laboratories

Sleep laboratories provide the opportunity for collecting a large representative sample of a person's dream life under controlled conditions. Awakenings during REM periods, or from NREM periods late in the sleep period, maximize the probability of recall, making it possible to collect as many as four or five dream narratives in a single night.[10] The collection of dreams in the sleep laboratory from those who say they seldom or never dream is only one of the many ways that laboratory studies expanded the horizon for those who study dream content.[11-12]

Studies of dream reports collected in the laboratory suggest that dream content does not differ greatly from early to late in the sleep period.[13-17] Although one careful study of five subjects found there were more references to the past in later REM periods,[18] the finding was not replicated in a larger study.[16] Similarly, even though NREM and REM reports do not differ greatly if report length is held constant, it is also the case that many NREM reports are shorter or more "thoughtlike."[19-21]

Nor do dream reports collected in laboratory settings differ greatly, if at all, from those written down by the same subjects at home.[9,17,22-24] To the degree that there are differences, there may be less aggression and sexuality in laboratory-collected reports,[16,25] but as just noted, sexuality is relatively infrequent in non-laboratory reports, appearing in 12% of young men's dreams and 4% of young women's dreams in a normative sample based on 500 male and 500 female reports.[5] Furthermore, the magnitude of the statistically significant differences -- that is, the effect size -- is small except in the case of physical aggression, which is more frequent in dreams collected at home.[22]

A major problem with the laboratory collection of dream reports is that it is an expensive and time-consuming process. The sleep laboratory is especially difficult to use in an era when there is little if any outside funding for dream research.[26] If this state of affairs continues, then laboratory studies may have made their greatest contribution to content studies for the time being by: (1) documenting the frequency and regularity of dreaming; (2) demonstrating the relative imperviousness of dreams to either external or internal stimuli; and, (3) providing a normative context for judging the representativeness of dream samples collected outside the sleep laboratory.

The Psychotherapy Relationship

The psychotherapy relationship is a longstanding source of dream reports. Such reports have the virtue of rich accompanying biographical and fantasy material. They provide the occasion for the creation of dream journals that include dreams reported in therapy as well as those written down outside of therapy. However, not all psychotherapists make use of dreams, and only Jungian analysts regularly encourage their patients to keep a dream journal. Moreover, patients are a small and unrepresentative sample of the population. Consequently, very little use has been made of this method in systematic studies. It is mostly used in individual case studies involving extended analyses of one or two dreams.

Dream Journals

Dream journals are a third source of dream reports. The best-known dream journals are those discussed by Jungian analysts,[27] but journals kept for personal, artistic, or intellectual reasons have been studied with great profit as well.[28,29] Dream journals are a form of "personal document" long recognized in psychology as having the potential for providing insights into personality.[30,31] They are "nonreactive" archival sources that have not been influenced by the purposes of the investigators who analyze them. Conclusions drawn from nonreactive archival data are considered most impressive when they are based on a diversity of archives likely to have different types of potential biases.[32] Dream journals have been extremely valuable in establishing the considerable consistency in what people dream about whatever the purposes of the journal writer.[4]

For all their potential usefulness, dream journals are not without their drawbacks. Even after showing initial willingness, some people may not want to provide dreams for scientific scrutiny. Journals may have gaps or omissions. The journal writer may not be willing to reply to inferences about his or her personal life based on a blind analysis of the journal's contents. Dream journals therefore are best used selectively and in the context of other dream samples.

Classrooms and Other Group Settings

The most objective and structured context for the efficient and inexpensive collection of large samples of dream reports is the classroom, where reports can be written by anonymous subjects who reveal only their age and gender.[33] The main drawback of this method is that it is usually not possible to collect very much personality or cognitive information on the people providing the dream reports.

The classroom collection of dream reports has led to a focus on the Most Recent Dream a person can remember -- a report which can be obtained in any setting where people can spare 15 to 20 minutes of their time, such as convention halls, conferences, and waiting rooms, in addition to classrooms. In this approach, people are simply asked to provide their gender, age, and "the last dream you remember having, whether it was last night, last week, or last month."[4] It primes for recency by asking subjects to report the date the dream occurred. The date of recall not only primes for recency in an attempt to eliminate atypical recurrent dreams and nightmares, but also allows investigators to eliminate dreams said to have occurred months or years earlier if they so desire. The Most Recent Dream technique leads to samples that match the normative findings created by Hall and Van de Castle's coding system.[4,5] In addition, the results with 12-13 year-old preadolescents are similar in some respects to those from laboratory dream reports for this age group.[34] Finally, the legitimacy of the Most Recent Dream approach has been enhanced by the findings mentioned earlier on the similarities between dream reports collected in the sleep laboratory and at home from the same subjects.[9,17,22-24]

Methods for Analyzing Dream Content

The four general methods for analyzing dream content include: (1) collecting free associations; (2) finding metaphoric meaning; (3) searching for repeated themes; and, (4) quantitative analyses using either rating systems or nominal (discrete) categories. Whatever method is used, the content analyst should know nothing about the dreamer to guard against the well-known tendency to read expectations into the dream reports. Such "blind analyses," when combined with predictions about the waking thoughts and behavior of the individual or group under study, are the best scientific alternative in a situation where experiments have restricted usefulness. It is also essential to remove any prefatory remarks, side comments, or interpretations by the dreamer from transcripts or written reports before they are given to those who will analyze them.

Free Associations

The free association method, introduced into the study of dreams by Freud, consists of instructing dreamers to say whatever comes into their minds about each element of the dream without censoring their thoughts.[35] The method, which is theoretically neutral and can be used by non-Freudians, often reveals the day-to-day events incorporated into the dream -- the "day residue" -- and the emotional concerns of the dreamer. However, in the psychotherapy setting it is difficult to demonstrate that the free associations actually explain the dream because so much else is known about the dreamer that could be playing a role in constructing a "meaning" for the dream.

The most extensive attempt to use free associations in dream studies outside a clinical setting is presented, along with a complex system for coding both the dreams and the free associations, in Foulkes' The Grammar of Dreams.[36] However, Foulkes later noted that "extensive experience in association gathering" convinced him of its "inherent arbitrariness."26 Moreover, two studies 40 years apart found that free associations do not improve a blind personality assessment if the assessors are working with a dream series from an individual; that is, the assessors who had free associations along with the dream series did not do any better than those who had only the dream series.[37,38] Thus, the free association method seems tied to the clinical setting on the one hand and not necessary if a dream series is available on the other.

Metaphoric Analysis

"Symbolic" interpretations are used as a supplement to free associations in the analysis of dreams in psychotherapy settings, and also in some studies of lengthy dream journals. Such symbolic interpretations are perhaps now more appropriately thought of as "metaphoric analysis" because there is some evidence that dream symbolism may be based in the large system of conceptual metaphors that is universally understood and used in Western civilization.[39-42] For example, in a study of the sexual symbols said by Freud to be present in dreams, Hall found that all of them are used as sexual slang in the English language according to Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.[43,44]

Similarly, it can be shown that the "functional" symbols identified by Jungians, that is, symbols which are said to stand for parts of the mind or the mind as a whole, are all based in common metaphors. For example, the equation of "psyche" and "house" in Jungian theory is based on the conceptual metaphor "the mind is a container." The general use of myths in Jungian and neo-Freudian theory to understand aspects of dreams is also a form of metaphoric analysis. There are several problems with metaphoric analyses, starting with the fact that there is as yet no systematic evidence on how many dreams are metaphoric in nature. It also may be the case that more than one metaphor might plausibly be applied to some dreams. Moreover, it might be that dreams, if they are metaphoric, often rely on personal metaphors based on past experiences.[45] Some of these problems can be overcome in a study of a dream series because the repetition of elements can lead to a strong argument for applying one or another conceptual metaphor, but metaphoric analysis as a rigorous and systematic approach remains undeveloped.[43,46]

Thematic Analysis

A third method of dream analysis, the thematic method, shades off from metaphoric analysis. It involves repeatedly reading through a dream series to see if one or more themes emerge. Sometimes the search is made easier by the presence of one or more "spotlight" dreams that seem to contain the theme or themes in an obvious fashion.[47] One study concluded that six themes appeared with regularity over a period of 50 years in a dream series consisting of 649 dreams; these six themes accounted for at least part of the content in about 70% of the dreams.[48] Although it may be a little easier to reach common agreement on the presence of themes than it is in the case of metaphors, there is still considerable room for disagreement among investigators. The method also suffers from the fact that the findings tend to be unique to each dreamer, allowing little opportunity for generalizations across dreamers. Finally, thematic analyses tend to be very general. They do not go very far in terms of detailed statements about dream content that can be tested on new dream samples.

Quantitative Approaches

Dissatisfaction with the reliability and generalizability of free associative, metaphoric, and thematic methods of studying dream content led to quantitative approaches called "content analysis." The major task in content analysis is the creation of carefully defined categories that lead to the same results when used by different investigators and that yield findings that relate to other variables. There are no pat formulas for creating good categories. Usually it is a matter of trial and error after deep immersion in the material to be analyzed. There are two major issues in formulating categories for the analysis of dream content. Should they be hierarchical or nominal in their level of measurement? Should they be theoretical or empirical in nature? These two questions lead to the possibility of four different types of scales, and in fact all four types have been employed in dream research.[49,50]

Hierarchical scales assume that a characteristic or element can be ranked or weighed. For example, there can be degrees of emotionality, distortion, or vividness in a dream report. In measurement terms, a hierarchical scale is ordinal if it is only possible to rank elements from high to low, equal interval if all points on the scale are equally distant from each other, and ratio if it has an exact zero point (such as weight does). Although a few theoretical scales have assigned "weights" to different elements, making them equal interval scales, most hierarchical scales in dream research have been ordinal ones, resting on the more modest assumption that "more" or "less" is the most that can be judged in a dream report.

Nominal scales, on the other hand, are nonhierarchical. They simply record the presence or absence of a characteristic or element in the dream report. "Male" and "female," for example, are nominal categories, that is, they are "discrete" categories that allow simply for the comparison of frequencies.

Rating scales of an ordinal nature have been employed with great benefit in a wide variety of useful studies, the most important of which are the longitudinal and cross-sectional studies of children's dream reports by Foulkes and his co-workers.[2,51,52] Their scales made it possible to show dramatic changes in dream content from primarily single, static images without the dreamer present in children under age 6, to stories with temporal sequences of action and the dreamer an active participant in the dream by age 8. Generally speaking, rating scales are useful for characteristics of dream reports that have degrees of intensity in waking life, such as activity level or emotionality, or that are without specific content, such as clarity of visual imagery.

Nevertheless, there are drawbacks to the use of rating scales in the study of dream content. First, it is difficult to establish reliability for some scales, especially those that call for subtle judgments such as the degree of distortion or bizarreness present in the overall dream report. Second, a general rating does not make full use of the potential information present in the dream report. An overall "unusualness" or "bizarreness" rating, for example, does not record the fact that in one case the unusualness is due to a metamorphosis, in another to a distorted setting, and in still another to impossible actions and activities.[53,54]

Third, and most important, some rating scales rest on untenable psychological assumptions when they assign numbers to social interactions like aggression or friendliness. In the case of aggression, for example, one coding system assigns a score of "4" to a murder and a "1" to an angry remark, but the summation of such codings implies that four angry remarks are equal to one murder. Such examples could be multiplied, but the point is that there is no psychologically defensible way to rate many of the events that occur in dreams.[5,49,50,55]

Nominal scales do not suffer from the same weaknesses that many rating scales do. Higher reliabilities can be obtained because discrete scales usually can be more clearly defined and do not require the subtle judgments that rating scales often do. No information is lost because numerous categories are elaborated. They do not harbor the questionable psychological assumptions within ratings, such as those assigned to different kinds of aggressions. Instead, to continue with the example of aggression, each type of aggression can be put in a separate category, and then a general aggression category can be created that simply presents the sum total of all types of aggressions. The main problem with coding systems based on nominal categories is that they may or may not lead to findings of psychological relevance and theoretical interest. Moreover, they are more labor-intensive than rating systems. It takes longer to learn a full set of nominal categories and to apply them to a series or set of dreams than is the case with most rating systems.

Now, let's turn to the issue of theoretical vs. empirical scales and categories. Theoretical scales are those derived from one or another theory of personality. Empirical scales are defined as scales not derived from any particular theory; they are based on a common-sense or trial-and-error organization of the elements that appear in a dream. Theoretical scales are far more difficult to construct and validate than empirical ones. Their construction requires a deep understanding of both the theory being utilized and the nature of dream content to make them useful. The results with theoretical scales to date have not been encouraging enough for new investigators to make use of them in very many instances.[4]

By contrast, a variety of empirical scales, both hierarchical and nominal, have been useful in the study of dream content, and some have been employed by several different investigators. Most such scales contain categories for vividness, degree of distortion or bizarreness, characters, emotions, and the activities and interactions of the characters. A factor analysis of the codings of 100 REM dream reports on several different empirical scales found five important dimensions within these seemingly diverse scales.[56] All codings were done by the original authors of the scale or their close associates. The five factors are: (1) dreamlike quality (vivid fantasy, imagination, distortion); (2) hostility and anxiety; (3) motivation to self improvement (assertiveness, successful striving); (4) sex; and, (5) activity level.

The set of nominal categories developed by Hall and Van de Castle is the most comprehensive and widely used empirical system of content analysis.[5] Its original 10 general categories include characters, social interactions, activities, misfortunes and good fortunes, successes and failures, emotions, settings and objects, descriptive elements, elements from the past, and food and eating. A way of measuring dramatic intensity and an unusual elements scale were added later.[16] The reliability of coding for this system is very good. It includes norms for young men and women that have been replicated several times and that do not differ (except perhaps on aggression) from what has been found with older adults. The system has been used by investigators in Canada, Europe, India, and Japan, and on dream reports collected by anthropologists in small traditional societies.[4] It is this system that has provided the best evidence for consistency over months and years in the dreams in lengthy dream journals. However, to expect consistency in comparisons of two samples of five dream reports each that were collected several weeks apart, as Bernstein and Belicki do, is not reasonable.[4,6]

In addition, as Van de Castle has shown, it is possible to combine two or more nominal categories to create new indicators that are "quasi-theoretical" in nature.[55] For example, the separate codings for the initiation of friendly interactions and the instigation of aggressive encounters could be combined to create an indicator of "assertiveness." Similarly, personal misfortunes, failures, and victim status in aggressive interactions can be used to create an indicator of a negative self concept. In fact, one team of investigators found that Beck and Hurvich's Masochism Scale, which has never been validated for actual masochism, is encompassed by the three categories in the self-negativity index.[57,58] Then too, a high score on Krohn and Mayman's Object Relations Scale, which requires difficult ratings of the level of maturity in interpersonal interactions, has been shown to be a combination of friendly interactions, nonphysical activities, and an absence of physical aggressions.[59,60] In addition, the Hall and Van de Castle system encompasses the five main dimensions found in Hauri's factor analytic study of several empirical scales.[56]

The Hall and Van de Castle system is readily available anywhere in the world on a Web site that includes the complete coding rules, samples of coded dream reports, norms, and new findings.[61] Schneider and Domhoff have determined the sample sizes needed for good studies with this system by drawing subsamples from the dream reports used in creating Hall and Van de Castle's male norms and from lengthy dream journals. It takes 100-125 Most Recent Dreams to approximate the Hall-Van de Castle norms and 75-100 reports to approximate the results from a long dream series.[4]

Strategies of Data Analysis

Once metaphors or themes have been located, ratings made, or frequencies for nominal categories tabulated, then two main issues arise relating to data analysis. The first issue is how to determine degrees of intensity for any given content element. In other words, how can it be decided whether there is lesser or greater saliency for the dimensions or categories being analyzed? The resolution of this issue is built into rating scales: the higher the rating, the greater the intensity. For metaphoric, thematic, and nominal content categories, the best way to handle this issue is to assume that frequency is an indicator of intensity, i.e., the more appearances of a given metaphor or theme, or the higher the frequency in a nominal category, then the greater the intensity or saliency. This is the only assumption underlying the Hall and Van de Castle system, and it has been supported in numerous studies showing that high or low frequencies in specific content categories correlate with greater or lesser concern for the corresponding thought or behavior in waking life.[4,5]

The second main issue in analyzing dream content data is determining the "unit of analysis," that is, the standardized baseline against which comparisons with other groups or individuals are going to be made. For example, the unit of analysis in most studies is simply the dream report as a whole: the sum total of ratings (or frequencies in nominal categories) is divided by the total number of dream reports. There are, however, serious problems with using the dream report as the unit of analysis.

Most crucially, the length of dream reports can vary greatly from group to group or person to person. This is a problem because longer reports are likely to have more of most things in them, although one study showed that the relationship is not monotonic for all types of categories.[62] Hall and Van de Castle found that women's dream reports tend to be about 8% longer than men's, so a failure to correct for dream length can produce many spurious gender differences.[5] The failure to correct for dream length is a problem for both rating scales and nominal categories. For example, a frequently used theoretical scale for rating "primary process" in dream content, which is based on degrees of distortion and improbabilities, correlates .[60] with the length of the dream report.[63] Any positive relationship between measures of creativity and primary process in dream content often disappears when there is a control for length through partial correlations.[64,65] Similarly, correction for dream length eliminates gender differences in several of Hall and Van de Castle's nominal categories.

But length is not the only problem that makes the dream report a questionable unit of analysis. Dream reports also can vary in their number of characters even if they are of the same length, which means that there is more likelihood of social interactions in some dreams than others. Once again, there is a gender difference on this issue: there is a greater "density" of characters in women's dream reports, an interesting finding in and of itself, but one that should be taken into account in analyzing social interactions.[49,50]

There are a number of ways to correct for the length problem. They include the elimination of dream reports that are below or above specific word counts, or using the average number of lines per dream report as the unit of analysis. When rating scales are used, eliminating short and long reports is probably the best solution. However, the ideal solution with nominal categories is to use various kinds of percentages and ratios based on the nominal categories themselves.

Percentages and Ratios

For example, the percentage of characters in a dream report that are animals (all animals divided by total characters) is completely independent of report length or character density, effectively dealing with two problems at the same time. Such an approach makes it unnecessary to throw out dream reports or use a cumbersome unit of analysis like average lines -- or words -- per dream report. The findings are also readily communicated and understood: e.g., the "animal percent" declines from 30-40% in young children to 4-6% in adulthood, and is higher in small traditional societies than it is in modern nations.[4]

The likely dependence of social interactions on the number of characters can be handled in the same way by using ratios. Thus, dividing all aggressions by all characters produces an "aggressions per character (A/C) index." This ratio can be figured for each of the eight categories of aggression in the Hall and Van de Castle system, and for the dreamer's interactions with specific characters or types of characters in the dream reports (e.g., father, mother, men, women). In a similar fashion, dividing all friendly interactions by all characters creates an F/C ratio, and dividing all sexual interactions by all characters creates an S/C ratio.

The use of percentages and ratios has one further advantage: they lend themselves to a simple but powerful statistical treatment of the data when two groups are being compared, or an individual is being compared to normative findings. In these types of comparisons, a test of the significance of differences between proportions provides the same result as chi square, and the percentage differences are equivalent to both the Pearson r and two measures of effect size.[4]

Within the Hall and Van de Castle system there are numerous such indicators, most of which are provided instantaneously when codings are entered into an Excel 5 spreadsheet available on the content analysis Web site.[61] Tables and bar graphs displaying the results in comparison to Hall and Van de Castle's norms are also part of the spreadsheet, along with significance levels, confidence intervals, and effect sizes.

The "At Least One" Method

Since coding is labor intensive, it is time consuming to code samples with many hundreds or thousands of dream reports in them. Fortunately, with such large samples it can be almost as useful to determine the simple presence or absence of any given category. This allows investigators to calculate what percentage of the dream reports in a large set or series have "at least one" instance of the category. In the Hall and Van de Castle system, there are "at least one" norms for several content categories, including aggression, friendliness, sexuality, misfortune, success, failure, and food/eating. Most of these "at least one" categories are part of the aforementioned Excel 5 spreadsheet. To give one example of the power of this approach, an "at least one" analysis of aggression and sexuality in 3,256 dreams reports from a young male's dream journal for 1981-1989 and 1994-1995 showed consistency in the findings from year to year.[66]

The one drawback with this method is that it does not control for dream length, so reports of less than 50 or more than 300 words should not be used in making comparisons with the Hall and Van de Castle norms. However, no such screening for length is necessary if the comparison is with other dream reports in a long dream series.

Potential Psychopathology Measures

There have been numerous attempts to develop indicators of psychopathology in dream content for a wide variety of illnesses, but the results have been meager and often contradictory.[67,68] Not least among the problems has been the application of global rating scales calling for subtle judgments to dream reports of widely varying lengths. Dream reports from schizophrenic and depressed patients usually are especially brief and lacking in content.[69-71] (See the chapter in this volume by Kramer for a more extensive treatment of dream content and psychopathology.) Despite the methodological problems within this literature, it seems relatively clear that there are unlikely to be any forms of dream content that are specific to one or another kind of psychopathology. Average people seem to have every kind of dream content that patients do; once again, the difference is in how frequently different characters, social interactions, and activities appear.

Perhaps the most consistent finding with patient populations is the simple lack of friends in their dreams.[4,72,73] Instead, the characters in mental patients' dream reports tend to be family members or strangers in varying combinations. Nor are there as many friendly interactions in patients' dreams, which is a slightly different approach to the friendliness issue because there may or may not be friendly interactions with people described as friends, and there can be friendly interactions with family members and strangers. Table 1 presents a comparison of 104 dream reports from 20 male schizophrenics with the Hall and Van de Castle male norms, revealing a low friends percent, F/C ratio, and percentage of dream reports with at least one friendliness.

Table 1: A Comparison of Male Schizophrenics with the Male Norms

 SchizophrenicsMale Normshp
Male/Female Percent58%67%-.20*.021
Friends Percent20%31%-.25**.002
Family Percent27%12%+.39**.000
Animal Percent23%06%+.51**.000
Social Interaction Percents:
Befriender Percent53%50%+.06.487
Aggressor Percent56%40%+.33**.000
Physical Aggression Percent60%50%+.20.120
Social Interaction Ratios:
F/C Index.11.21-.30**.000
A/C Index.37.34+.06.458
Self-Concept Percents:
Self-Negativity Percent82%69%+.29*.035
Bodily Misfortunes Percent35%29%+.13.482
Dreams With At Least One:

*   significant at the .05 level
**   significant at the .01 level

Beyond a few specific indicators, different forms of psychopathology in dreams may turn out to be best identified by patterns of indicators. Moreover, these patterns may involve indicators that do not immediately spring to mind when thinking of psychopathology. For example, a comparison of dreams from teenagers who scored high and low on Krohn and Mayman's Object Relations Scale suggests that a low physical activities percent (physical activities divided by all activities) characterizes the mature group, which means they are talking and thinking more in their dreams than their less mature counterparts.[59,60] The percentage of dreams with at least one striving attempt by the dreamer and the self-negativity percent (based on personal failures, misfortunes, and victim status in aggressive interactions) may turn out to be useful, as suggested by the small study of schizophrenics presented in Table 1. Thus, psychopathology scales might be created in the same way the MMPI was, by simply seeing which indicators among the many that are tried actually distinguish patient groups from each other and control groups. However, it should be emphasized that large sample sizes (at least 75-100 dreams from each individual patient or 100-125 Most Recent Dreams from any given patient group) would be crucial to the success of such an effort.


Three general findings emerged from the systematic study of dream content in the 20th century. First, the dream reports of groups of people from around the world are more similar than they are different on such indicators as the percentage of male and female characters, the higher ratio of aggression to friendliness, the higher ratio of misfortune to good fortune, and the higher ratio of negative emotions to positive emotions. Second, there are impressive consistencies in long dream series from individuals. Third, there are intriguing individual differences in any group of dreamers.[1,4,28]

This chapter shows that new methods for collecting and analyzing dream reports make it possible to refine and extend these general findings. For example, patients coming to a wide range of clinics could be asked for a Most Recent Dream and/or screened for the presence or absence of a dream journal and then asked for another Most Recent Dream after varying periods of medication or psychotherapy. Moreover, nominal content categories and the "at least one" method make it possible to deal with data bases of any size in a rigorous way, and spreadsheets have made data analysis faster and more accurate. Large-scale studies of dream content can contribute to the study of dream meaning and add another dimension to sleep-disorder and mental-health clinics.


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