Diagnosing Personality by the Analysis of Dreams

Calvin S. Hall

Western Reserve University

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:
Hall, C. S. (1947). Diagnosing personality by the analysis of dreams. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 42, 68-79.

"A dream is, therefore, among other things a projection: an externalization of an internal process." -- Freud.

Since the publication of Freud's monumental work, Die Traumdeutung, the interpretation of dreams as a diagnostic method for the analysis of personality has remained the exclusive property of psychoanalysis. The psychologist, except for an occasional investigator who experiments with dreams as perceptual phenomena, has not concerned himself with dreams as psychological data. This neglect was understandable as long as the psychologist concentrated his attention on laboratory dissections of sensation, perception, learning, memory, and thought. Now that he has widened his experimental horizons to include personality, character, and temperament, disregard of the dream can no longer be justified. For the dream possesses two characteristics which should make it highly eligible for serious and systematic investigation. It is a personal document and it is a projection. As a personal document it is more frank and intimate than a diary and as a projection it requires no ink-blots or pictures to bring it into existence. In our opinion the dream is more purely personal and more purely projected than any other material which the psychologist has available for the study of personality.

It may be asked, have not the psychoanalysts established dream interpretation as a dependable scientific tool? One familiar with the psychoanalytic literature on the dream will answer in the negative. Psychoanalysts have poured forth an opulent array of hypotheses and theories. Their speculations are shrewd, sophisticated and, to the uninitiated, often esoteric. At their best, the psychoanalytic theories appear impressively insightful; at their worse, they appear impressively fraudulent. Good or bad, they are rarely dull. Die Traumdeutung probably contains the richest fabric of theory to be found in any modem psychological treatise. Stekel's works on the interpretation of dreams leaves the reader with the feeling that the dream "tells all, " that it is the portal into the most secret recesses of the inner personality. It cannot be denied that the psychoanalysts, in addition to their penchant for theorizing, make brilliant use of dream interpretation in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders. For them, the dream is not only a datum about which to speculate; it is also a datum to be put to work. If practice verifies theory, what then is lacking?

The principal deficiency to be found in the psychoanalytic writings is that they fail to meet the standards of the scientific method. Like animal psychology prior to Lloyd Morgan, the psychology of dreams is still in the anecdotal stage. Psychoanalysis has not recognized the importance of controls, of statistical treatment of its data, of validation. It erects a top-heavy theoretical structure on the foundation of selected examples. It has not designed experiments for the purpose of checking its speculations. It has a flair for dogmatism and excathedral statements, and a distaste for quantification and control.

We propose, therefore, to make a scientific study of dreams for the purpose of establishing the interpretation of dreams as a valid method for diagnosing some facets of the personality which currently elude accurate description. We believe that through the analysis of dreams, important and significant information about the inner dynamics of the personality can be discovered. It is our hope that this belief may be corroborated by the application of those experimental procedures which have been used to validate other diagnostic tools.


The method which has been employed in the present research project consists of the following steps: First, the dream series [1] are collected. College students in psychology classes served as subjects since it was necessary to have them available over a fairly long period of time and in a situation where good cooperation could be expected. The first group of dream series was obtained from 71 students in a summer class in personality and adjustment which met daily. During the first ten minutes of the class period, they were asked to write down any dreams of the previous night which they could remember. Recording of dreams was done for 23 consecutive class days, not including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. The dreams were collected each day by the instructor. A change in procedure was tried out with a second class of 75 students. Each student was given a notebook in which the dreams he had during the semester were to be recorded. The recording was to be done as soon as convenient after awakening. These dream diaries were collected in the middle of the semester and again near the end. Although this method worked out fairly well in terms of the number of dreams obtained, it is felt that the procedure of recording dreams in the classroom is more satisfactory because it is done under better controlled conditions. Following these two initial surveys, a standardized form for recording dreams was devised and printed. Dreams are entered on these forms either in the classroom or under the supervision of an instructor or graduate student.

The second step is the coding of the dreams. This is done to conceal the identity of the dreamer. It is deemed necessary to preserve the anonymity of the dreamer for two reasons. Dreams often contain material of a highly personal and intimate nature, and since the series are read and discussed by a number of individuals, it is thought best not to run the risk of having confidential material become public knowledge. When subjects are informed that their identity will be kept secret they are more inclined to report dreams which might otherwise be suppressed. Even with this safeguard it is not likely that all recalled dreams will be recorded. Another reason for concealing the subject's identity is to prevent information about the dream which had been obtained from other sources from influencing the interpretation of his dream series. It is a principal objective of this investigation to determine the validity of dream series per se for the diagnosis of personality.[2] This is an important consideration. Suppose, for example, it is known to the dream interpreter from other sources that a student whose dreams he is analyzing has a conflict with regard to his religious beliefs. Will he not be tempted to find this conflict portrayed in the dream series? In such a case, the dreams will appear to yield a valid portrayal of a real conflict when in fact the evaluation is based upon other information. This error may be called the fallacy of pseudo-validity. It abounds in studies of personality and is especially prevalent in the writings of psychoanalysts. They are prone to project into dreams conflicts of whose existence they already possess knowledge. The fallacy of pseudo-validity can be avoided by analyzing the dreams of anonymous subjects.

The third step is the analysis and interpretation of the dream series. It is here that major difficulties are encountered. For a dream can be interpreted in diverse ways depending upon the particular theory of dreams which the interpreter adopts. A college girl dreams that she contracts infantile paralysis and has to quit school. The interpretation may be made that the girl wishes to be disabled in order to avoid going to school or that she fears contracting infantile paralysis, or that she feels guilty and the disease is her punishment, or that she regresses to "paralyzed infancy," or that she is attempting to interpret a somatic condition present during sleep, or, in the words of the great American public, "it was something she ate." Each interpretation rests upon a different hypothesis. In the face of such diversity, one might decide to toss overboard all theories and "let the dream speak for itself." But the raw dream tells us nothing about this girl's personality. Interpretation is necessary if dreams are to be used for the appraisal of personality.

Since an investigator cannot get along without a theory, it is necessary that the theory upon which his interpretations are based be made explicit. For us, the dreams of an individual represent attempts to resolve his current conflicts. The conflict may be between opposing motives, e.g., sex vs. the approval of society, or between opposing emotions, e.g., love vs. hate. The conflict may be between a motive and a barrier, e.g., a desire to become a famous surgeon which is blocked by insufficient ability, or between an emotion and a barrier, e.g., hate for a parent the expression of which is barred by economic dependence upon the parent. The conflict may involve such large segments of the emotional and motivational structure that it causes a split in the whole structure, i.e., dual personalities contending with each other as in the Faustian legend. Occasionally, a dream proffers no solution but portrays only the anxiety which is generated by the conflict. Anxiety dreams may tell little or nothing about the reason for the anxiety; they may merely indicate that the dreamer is in a state of conflict. Since conflicts occur between motives and emotions, an account of the individual's conflicts will yield a description of the active components of his inner dynamics, i.e., strivings, feelings, defenses, frustrations, values, needs. In its most succinct form, our theory states that dreams are projections of the person's inner dynamics. [3]

The interpretation of dreams is rendered difficult by virtue of the distorting mechanisms, to wit, condensation, displacement, symbolization, and secondary elaboration. Since the reported dream presents such a distorted picture it may be asked how any single dream can be properly analyzed unless the interpreter has an immense fund of knowledge concerning the dreamer. This was Freud's contention and one of the reasons cited by him for electing to interpret his own dreams as illustrative material for Die Traumdeutung. However, if it is necessary to know the inner dynamics of an individual before the meaning of his dreams can be unraveled, of what use is dream interpretation? Large-scale studies of personality require a method of appraisal which is more economical of time than is the individual case study employed by the clinician.

The method proposed here presumes to overcome this barrier by substituting the analysis of a dream cycle for the analysis of the single dream. The dreams of a cycle are perused in order to get the atmosphere of the dreams as a whole and to ascertain which of the dreams are especially revealing of inner conflict. Often the meaning of one dream is self-evident and illuminates a major conflict like a spotlight shooting its beam into the darkness. Armed with the hypothesis drawn from a spotlight dream, the other dreams of the series are scrutinized for projections of the same basic conflict. If a number of dreams of an individual fit in with the same interpretation, this interpretation is felt to be corroborated and is assigned to the dream series. The dream series may contain more than a single major conflict, although it has been our experience from examining scores of dream cycles that only one major conflict is usually found. [4]

If the interpretation of the spotlight dream is not supported by others, then another hypothesis as to the contending forces is formulated. This hypothesis is similarly tested by applying it to the analysis of other dreams. The interpreter proceeds in this fashion until he has found a framework which accommodates the dreams of the cycle. The operations are like those performed in working a jig-saw puzzle. The individual dreams are fitted together by testing one inference after another until an interlocking, coherent, organized, and meaningful appraisal is obtained.

The following case is presented to illustrate the method.



Subject: Female, 20 years, college junior. [5]

Basic conflict: Desire to establish an autonomous and independent life either through a career or marriage, preferably the latter, vs. fear of leaving the security provided by the family.

Spotlight dream A1:
I dreamed that I volunteered to go overseas as a teacher. I went to Italy to teach the children there. My dream consisted of leaving my family and being very graciously welcomed in Italy by an Army officer and his wife. I was married shortly after my arrival there. Most of my dream was the difficulty I had leaving home.
The basic conflict is clearly projected into this dream. She does leave home, even the country, yet despite the presence of parental substitutes in Italy and a speedy marriage, much of the dream is concerned with the difficulty she has in leaving her home. That the dreamer is aware of the conflict is indicated by the explanatory comment appended to the dream. "I guess this dream has to do with my fear of leaving home. I have never been away for more than a week and my folks keep insisting it would be wise for me to leave for a while."

Dream A2:
I dreamed last night I was in a train station with my sister. We were supposed to make a certain train, but for some reason neither of us could find the right track. It was most confusing and all I can remember is the two of us racing about trying to find that train in a large depot that had many tracks and entrances. Interpretation: She wants to get away from home but the threat of insecurity prevents her from finding the proper train, even though she has the companionship and support of her sister.

Dream A3:
I dreamed I was back in high school again.

Dream A4:
My dream last night was quite confusing. I was attending college classes but was in high school. I was in the high school building attending classes with my high school friends, but the classes themselves were those I now attend. It was rather a review of a typical day as I used to have them in high school. We were planning to attend a football game after school and things were quite exciting.

These are regressive dreams. If she were back in high school it would not be necessary for her to make the choice between family security and individual freedom. A4 shows that intellectually she prefers college to high school but it would be less threatening to her if the classes were held in the high-school building. Regression offers a neat solution to her main problem.

Dream A5:
I dreamed I got infantile paralysis and found I would have a permanent affliction. I had to quit school and life seemed pretty miserable.

Dream A6:
I dreamed I had an accident and broke my leg. The rest of the dream I was in the hospital getting just loads of attention and sympathy. Friends came to see me and one of my overseas friends was even given a furlough to come home for awhile. The pain I might have had from a broken leg never entered the dream. It was all very pleasant and I was the center of attention.

The solution found in these two dreams portrays the desperation she feels. She is willing to endure infantile paralysis in order to resolve the conflict. The leg fracture, while not as serious, is equivalent to infantile paralysis since it immobilizes her. In either case, she cannot leave the family. Moreover she becomes the recipient of attention and sympathy, and a boy-friend is even given a furlough to visit her. But these gratifications are merely the byproducts of the primary wishfulfilment, to remain with the family.

Dream A7:
I dreamed again last night that a friend of mine who is a German prisoner was returned home.

Dream A8:
I dreamed I went to church one Sunday and one of our members, who has been reported missing overseas, was there. Before he left we had been good friends-but for some reason he refused to even speak to me. I was quite put out and couldn't understand the reason for his actions.

The ambivalence toward her boy-friend, wanting him and being rejected by him (which very likely means she is rejecting him) is a variation of the basic conflict. If he would reject her she would not have to marry him and consequently she could remain with her parents.

Dream A9:
I dreamed that my family and I took a trip out west.
This is a simple way of handling her conflict. She gets away from home but she takes her family with her.

Dream A10:
I dreamed my mother was very ill and after much anguish, etc., died. It was pretty gruesome.
Considered by itself and independent of the other dreams, this dream is a projection of hostility against the mother. She is hostile because the mother is insistent that the dreamer should become more independent. There is another interpretation which is consistent with the unifying theme. By her mother's death, the family would be dissolved, forcing her to become independent. [6]
Dream A11:
Last night I dreamt about the first day of this summer session. I couldn't seem to get to classes on time and the textbooks weren't available. I was terrifically upset and felt as if the situation was too involved for me to cope with. I woke up this morning worn out from that experience in which I was at a loss and felt very defeated.
The anxiety pictured in this dream is evoked by the significance which the first day of classes has for her. The beginning of a new term brings her that much closer to graduation. Upon graduation she will be forced to break some of the ties with the family and assume some of the responsibilities of maturity. She greatly fears growing up.

Why is so much apprehension generated by the thought of growing up and leaving her family? Is it merely that the girl is timid and feels inadequate to undertake the tasks of adult life? Or does her present situation repeat some earlier experience with frustration and rejection? The final dream of the series affords a clue.

Dream A12:
Last night I dreamed my sister and I were in a play. All I had to do was sing a song, but they didn't give it to me until the last minute and I couldn't seem to learn the song. My sister had the lead and for some reason I was always appearing on the stage when I wasn't supposed to. I did sing my song finally and it turned out to be a success, much to my surprise.
This is a fine example of sibling rivalry. Her sister has the "lead" and the dreamer intrudes when she is not wanted. The dreamer feels rejected because the parents prefer the sister. Therefore the construction which she places upon their insistence that she become independent is that they want to get rid of her in favor of her rival. The dream ends on a reassuring note. She does sing her song successfully. The singing of the song probably symbolizes a satisfactory transition to maturity.

Her inferior status in the family would also create feelings of inadequacy with regard to the establishing of satisfying relationships with boys. She fears rejection from her boyfriend. Unsure of her ability to win the affection and protection of a male, she is reluctant to renounce the security afforded by the family. But she is faced by, the loss of this security because she is growing up. This then is the motivation for her dreams to discover some way of regaining security which with increasing age is rapidly disappearing.

Methods of Validation

By using the method proposed in this paper, diagnoses of the inner conflicts of people can be obtained without resorting to any other data than the dream series and the explanatory material offered by the dreamers. How valid are the inferences based upon the interpretation of dreams? Do they bear any relation to the dynamics as they actually exist within the person? May they not be imaginary creations, whose only existence is in the mind of the interpreter? After reading the over-contrived interpretations which is characteristic of so much of the psychoanalytic literature, it becomes obvious that the need for validation is an imperative one. Before taking up the validity of personality diagnoses obtained for dreams, let us consider briefly the several methods which may be employed for the validation of personal documents. [7] There are five methods in general use.

1. Agreement between individuals

If two or more individuals agree on an explanation for a phenomenon, such agreement constitutes a presumption of validity. In a scientific discipline, the explainer asks his peers to pass judgment on his explanation. If they accept it, it is deemed valid; if they reject it, it is deemed invalid. According to this method, the final arbiter of the correctness of an explanation is not truth; it is expert opinion. There are three procedures by which the extent of agreement between authorities can be determined. (a) One person formulates an explanation and presents it to his colleagues for acceptance or rejection. This procedure is followed whenever one publishes an article in a professional journal or reads a paper at a scientific meeting. (b) Two or more individuals reach a mutually satisfying explanation by conferring with one another. The case board exemplifies this procedure. (c) Two or more persons formulate explanations independently of one another and compare them. This procedure is the most meritorious of the three.

2. Internal consistency

The extent to which a series of observations can be made congruent by the application of a single hypothesis testifies to the validity of the hypothesis. The more facts that. can be explained by a theory, the stronger is the presumption that the theory is a correct one. For example, if the meanings assigned to the separate dreams of a cycle are consistent with one another, can be subsumed under a unifying hypothesis with one another, and do not logically contradict each other, then the interpretations are said to be valid. The test of internal consistency has found its widest application in the construction of personality inventories.

3. External consistency

This expression describes a method of validation which is familiar to all psychologists. An appraisal which is formulated on the basis of certain information, e.g., a test, is compared with some independent criterion. If the two agree the appraisal is said to be validated by the criterion. An example is the validation of intelligence test scores against school grades. Similarly, an appraisal based upon the interpretation of a dream cycle may be validated against diagnoses deduced from stories told about pictures (TAT), associations to inkblots (Rorschach), associations to words, personality inventories, observations of behavior in controlled or free situations, interviews, ratings, expressive behavior, and personal data. This method of validation is very convincing especially if the criterion is an objective one and if the appraisal and the criterion are formulated by independent observers.

4. Prediction

The prophesying of future events on the basis of a theory is a dramatic verification of the truth of the theory. The spectator is humbled by the astounding ability of the astronomer to predict to the minute when a solar or lunar eclipse will occur. Predictability is the principal criterion used for determining the validity of intelligence, aptitude, and interest tests because objective criteria of achievement are available. It is a different story when one tries to predict how the personality will develop, since objective criteria for personality development are difficult to find.

5. Postdiction

This is the method which Thomas Huxley called "retrospective prophecy" or the "method of Zadig," after the character in Voltaire's romance. Zadig was the original Sherlock Holmes. By small cues which escaped the senses of ordinary men, he could reconstruct the past. G. W. Allport calls this method postdiction. Postdicting has an advantage over predicting since the investigator may more conveniently verify whether a postdicted event has occurred than wait for the occurrence of a predicted event. These five methods of validation have a common denominator, agreement, and may therefore be designated as (1) social agreement, (2) internal agreement, (3) external agreement, (4) agreement with the future, and (5) agreement with the past.

Validation of Dream Interpretations

Although the validation of personality appraisals based upon dream series has not progressed beyond the initial stages, some positive evidence has been gathered and this will be presented under the headings set forth in the preceding section.

1. Social agreement

Over a period of several months, six people met weekly to analyze and interpret dream series. Although none of the participants was an authority on dream interpretation, all of them were familiar with the basic Freudian principles and possessed considerable knowledge of the dynamics of personality. During these sessions approximately thirty cycles were interpreted. Usually copies of several dream series were distributed at one session to be discussed at the next session so that the participants had a week to formulate their interpretations. This procedure combines both the case-board approach and the method of comparing independently derived interpretations. A large degree of agreement was found between the meanings assigned to the dream cycles by the members of the seminar. There were some minor differences but no major ones. Unfortunately, it is not possible to state the extent of the agreement in quantitative terms, something we hope to be able to do in the future by developing more precise methods. Although a judgment is not necessarily correct because six people concur, it is considered to be more valid than the judgment of a single person. And certainly if six people had made six different interpretations of the same cycle, any hope of validating dream analysis would have gone glimmering. It is important therefore to have demonstrated the existence of social agreement with respect to dream interpretations.

2. Internal consistency

The dreams of a cycle are consistent with one another. They express over and over some basic conflict, in which the dreamer tries now this solution, now that, in a trial-and-error fashion so typical of a person engrossed in problem-solving. If space permitted we would present scores of cycles like the example given in a preceding section in which the separate dreams hang together like variations on a theme. There is the poignant cycle recorded by a 21-year-old African-American girl. She feels rejected by white people whose acceptance she yearns for, and she in turn rejects the members of her own race because of their inferior status. In five different dreams she is cut off from a group of people who are usually portrayed as having a good time. Another dream depicts a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to identify with her own race. In this dream she tries to dye a skirt black but it will not take the dye and she finally gives up. Several of her dreams are quite moving. In one she listens to "Rhapsody in Blue" for hours because no matter what station she dials, that selection is being played, in another she is playing tennis and it begins to rain, and in a third she possesses $10,000 but is able to spend only $6.00 of it. There are sixteen dreams in this girl's cycle and they all have a bearing upon her tragedy, that of being separated from white people because they will not accept her, from blacks because she cannot accept them.

There is the dream cycle of an 18-year-old boy who is concerned about the responsibilities attendant upon reaching adult status. He dreams of his high school friends and the good times they used to have, and on other nights his dreams are filled with a feeling of inadequacy and anxiety. In the dreams of a returned veteran, age 22 and married there is found the recurrent theme of the loss of freedom in marriage and the desire to return to the masculine camaraderie which he had in the army. His dreams include such related items as planning a business venture with an army buddy, meeting a former pal on the street, drinking beer with six army friends, clerking in a men's store, renting a larger and roomier apartment, swimming in an indoor pool where the air was so humid he could not breathe easily, and visiting his wife at the hospital.

One series of dreams recorded by a 22-year-old boy are filled with the horror, hostility, sadism, and destruction characteristic of Poe's short stories. His friends areswamped by a tidal wave and he barely escapes, he is shown through hell, a giant crab plucks out the eyes of an alligator, a black cat tries to bite him, he is about to fall from a high bridge, a patient whom he is shaving grabs the razor and cuts himself from ear to ear so that the blood gushes out in great spurts like water from a fire-hydrant, he is chased by a large man, and he is injecting his present roommate for syphilis. This series is the most pathological of any we have examined. The reason for his sadistic-masochistic feelings is not clearly revealed in the dreams, although a sexual conflict is suggested. However, the consistency of the mood expressed in the dreams is marked.

The dreams of a 20-year-old college girl tell of the difficulties she has in her relationships with people, especially her parents and boy-friend. The spotlight dream of this cycle is a splendid example of a mother-father-daughter triangle.

I dreamed I was in the lake with my mother and father-it was getting dark. The water was covered with a film-like oil I would produce. At first we were all swimming out from shore in this filmed area. My father on my left, my mother on my right. Then the filmed area separated. My father remained in the large filmed area and my mother in the smaller filmed area while I was left in clear water. I wanted to swim toward my father but I was told or somehow received the feeling that he wasn't worth swimming to-he was not good-so I swam toward my mother (and here I'm not sure whether it was my own mother or my stepmother)-and just as I entered the filmed part she was in, I got the feeling that my father was really o.k. but we had misunderstood him-but that it was too late to try to go to him so I kept on swimming toward my mother or stepmother, whoever it may be.
Among her other dreams, all of which fit into a common pattern, the following scenes are acted out: an argument between a man and woman, an argument between three people, being beaten up while she is sleeping with her sister in a crib, running into a truck while driving with her boyfriend because the brakes would not hold, walking away from her boyfriend.

The impotence felt by a 22-year-old college boy is reiterated again and again in his dreams. He shoots at Indians who are attacking his house but the bullets are of wood and fall short of the mark, he tries to spear a rabbit but his arm will not move, he is unable to stop a car even though he puts on the brakes, he has difficulty stacking boxes evenly, he has to delay a trip to California because he cannot purchase a ticket, he takes a gun from a girl and shoots at inanimate objects, and he is driving along a narrow, slippery street to a funeral.

Numerous other dream cycles have been analyzed and almost without exception the dreams of each cycle form a homogeneous cluster. This is not surprising, since, in the modern theory of personality, the person is assumed to possess unity even though in his behavior he may express diversity.

Another complete dream series is presented to illustrate the coherence which is to be found in dreams.



Subject: Female, 19 years, college sophomore.

Basic conflict: A desire to remain faithful to her husband, who is in the army overseas, vs. a wish for sexual gratification.

Spotlight Dream B1:
Last night I dreamed that I was walking up the stairs in the administration building and someway or other my dress was flying up around my waist. I remember being terribly embarrassed as the stairs were crowded with students. As I remember, I was running for some sort of an office (that is, I was a candidate) and that was no way to win an office.

Spotlight Dream B2:
Last night I dreamed that I was waiting to be served in a restaurant. I waited an extremely long time and became very impatient.

These two dreams inform us that the dreamer is growing impatient and contemplates direct action to satisfy her sexual need. The embarrassment is a twinge of conscience for having libidinous thoughts.

Dream B3:
I dreamed my husband was home. We were driving to a picnic (on the beach) and we had a carload of people. I kept praying that I wasn't dreaming, that it was true that he was home. I kept telling myself it must be so because it was so real. I was disappointed when I awakened and found it was just a dream.
This dream represents the best solution for her conflict, namely, the return of her husband.

Dream B4:
I dreamed that I was in Fort Smith, Ark. I was at some sort of a party and it was in the woods. I suddenly saw my husband. Of course, he kissed me and then we sat down to talk. He said he was bringing some German prisoners over from Germany and he didn't have long to stay. I noticed that he wasn't wearing his wedding ring. I asked him if he had been going out with other girls and he said that he had. I asked him if we could go for a walk to get away from the people and to talk. Just as we started for the walk, I awakened.
This is a nice rationalization of an impulse to be unfaithful. If the husband were not true to the dreamer, it would excuse her infidelity.

Dream B5:
I dreamed that my husband was dead and was in a suitcase in my closet at the dormitory. My roommate and I were frightened when we found him. The undertaker took him (suitcase and all) to a theatre and placed him up where the projector ordinarily is placed. I was sitting there with him crying while at the same time there was a wedding taking place on the stage. The bride was a friend of mine (a redhead) and she had on a pink wedding gown. As I remember, my husband wasn't dead, but he was "kidding" me. I might mention that I quite often dream that my husband is dead.
Under the circumstances it would be better if her husband were dead, since this would leave her free to marry another man. The wedding represents her own remarriage. This interpretation is supported by the color of the wedding dress, which would not look well on a red-haired person but which would be becoming on the dreamer, who is blond. This solution, i.e. the death of her husband, is not acceptable to her, so she treats it as make-believe.

Dream B6:
I dreamed that I was talking to my brother-in-law and he suddenly turned into my husband.

Dream B7:
In my dream, my cousin and I were riding and then we suddenly stopped to wait until a helicopter came along to pick us up. I believe I dreamed that we were taken in the helicopter (horses and all) to another trail where we continued our ride.

Dream B8:
I dreamed that my brother and I went to a small restaurant to get something to eat. Dr. H. was the cook there and he was making waffles. Then he suddenly was sitting in a living room and a woman was there. I introduced my brother to him and asked if the woman was his wife. He said, "yes"; but then I remembered that I had met his wife and this woman was very definitely one I had never seen before.

Although desiring male companionship and love, she cannot be promiscuous. A brother, brother-in-law, cousin, or teacher are respectable substitutes for her husband. B8 has interesting possibilities. It may mean that she is trying to rationalize her own conduct by projecting infidelity onto a respected teacher or that she is attracted to the teacher and wishes him to be unfaithful to his wife in order to justify her own desire to promote an affair with him.

3. External consistency

No systematic investigation of the congruence of interpreted dream cycles with other methods of diagnosing personality and with personal data has been completed. A study of the relationship between dreams and the Rorschach and TAT is now in progress. Preliminary results with the Rorschach indicate that this method either does not describe the same aspects of the personality that dreams do or that the Rorschach and dreams yield different descriptions of the inner dynamics. In this study twenty-five "expert" judges were unable to match personality sketches based upon dreams with sketches based upon the Rorschach. Through personal interviews with a number of subjects whose dream series had been analyzed, many of the interpretations were verified. For example, the girl in Case B, cited above, admitted that she was having a strong conflict with regard to the satisfaction of her sex drive. She did not believe her husband was going with other girls, but she rather hoped he would so she could indulge her own libido. The African-American girl whose dreams showed she was foiled in her attempts to gain acceptance by white people and who could not accept her own race has a white grandmother and other white ancestors. Two of her brothers can pass as white. Her family lived in a white neighborhood for years and the dreamer has gone out with white and black boys. Although she denied any feeling of being discriminated against as an African-American, her comments during the interview belied this denial. Another girl whose dreams revealed a strong fixation upon her father readily admitted that she was very attached to him. This was borne out by observations made by other students who had visited in the dreamer's home. They noticed that the father and daughter were intimate companions and treated the mother as an outsider. Space does not permit us to multiply examples similar to the foregoing.

4. Prediction

The method of validating dream interpretations by prediction is especially tricky since it is often difficult if not impossible to calculate the probability of occurrence of any given life event. For example, a prediction was made on the basis of two dream cycles recorded by a college boy and girl who at the time were going steady that they would soon break up. The prophecy came true. Before we can properly evaluate the significance of this prediction it would be necessary to discover how many college romances are blighted. If it were found that in 95 per cent of the cases such affairs are broken off, then our prediction would have little merit since a "guess" unsupported by any evidence would be right 95 percent of the time.

In another case, it was predicted from his dreams that a college freshman boy would adjust himself to the college environment as soon as he had made friends and could participate in group activities. This came to pass. Again the significance of this prophecy is questionable since the situation must be a fairly typical one. Another prediction was made that a girl whose dream series revealed a strong attachment to her father would fall in love with a man who resembled him. Shortly after this prediction was made she met and married such a man. What are the odds that a girl will be attracted to a boy who is a father-image?

Foretelling of the future is dramatic but it may be spurious unless the odds are known. Until such a time as probabilities can be determined not much confidence can be placed in the method of validating dream interpretations by prediction. It is suggestive, however, that a number of correct predictions have been made.

5. Postdiction

The same difficulty is encountered in the method of validation by postdiction. In one instance the postdiction was made that the dreamer's mother had died several years before. As in prediction, we would need to know in what percentage of cases the mothers of our subjects are deceased. Then it would be necessary to make a number of postdictions from the dreams as to whether the mothers of different dreamers are alive or dead. But this second step assumes that a number of dream series can be obtained from which one is able to draw this inference. Actually few such dream series will probably be found, so that the sample will not be sufficiently large to make a trustworthy comparison between postdictions and probability of occurrence.


There is presented in this article (1) a viewpoint regarding dreams as psychological data, (2) a theory of dreams, (3) a method for analyzing dreams, and (4) some evidence for the validity of dream analysis.

The viewpoint is that dreams are personal documents and projections which can be employed for the appraisal of the inner dynamics of the personality.

The theory states that the dreams of an individual represent attempts to resolve his current conflicts.

The method involves the analysis of a series of dreams as a unified and coherent structure.

The validation of dream analysis by the methods of (a) social agreement, (b) internal agreement, (c) external agreement, (d) agreement with the future, and (e) agreement with the past is discussed, and evidence for the validity of dream analysis obtained from the application of several of these methods is presented.


The writer wishes to acknowledge the great help which he has received from the members of a seminar group which met weekly to discuss the material upon which this paper is based. The participants were Herman Arbitman, Alex Darbes, Grace Keller, Sam Saltzer, and Louise von Mengeringhausen. Although the writer is solely responsible for the preparation of this article, he has incorporated into it many valuable suggestions and original ideas contributed by these students.


  1. The terms "series" and "cycle" refer to the dreams reported by an individual. [return]

  2. The dream series contains not only the dreams but also the subject's attempts to explain the dreams. [return]

  3. The ways in which the dreamer tries to solve his conflicts may also indicate something about his personality traits. For example, if one person assumes a submissive role in his dreams, and another sees himself attacking his problems with confidence and boldness, it is possible that these dream traits are reflections of customary modes of behavior in waking life. Hostility, regressiveness, slyness, chicanery, duplicity, explosiveness, shyness, amiability, altruism, persistence are a few of the traits which might reveal themselves in dreams. This hypothesis will not be considered in the present paper but it warrants investigation. [return]

  4. This suggests the interesting hypothesis that the inner dynamics can accommodate only one conflict at a time. [return]

  5. At the time of the analysis, only the fact that the dreamer was a female was known. [return]

  6. There is also the classic Oedipus interpretation. Upon the death of her mother, she would succeed to her position. If this were the correct interpretation, it is love for her father rather than desire for security which binds her to the home. [return]

  7. We have derived much benefit from the discussion of validation in G. W. Allport's excellent monograph, The Use of Personal Documents in Psychological Science. Social Science. Research Council, Bulletin 49, 1942. [return]

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