Theme : Dreams
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. 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
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. 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, the finding was not replicated in
a larger study. 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. 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.
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. 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 are a third source of dream reports. The best-known dream
journals are those discussed by Jungian analysts, 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. Dream
journals have been extremely valuable in establishing the considerable
consistency in what people dream about whatever the purposes of the journal
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.
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." 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
"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.
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]
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. 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. 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
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
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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 . with the length of the dream report.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Schizophrenics Male Norms h p
Male/Female Percent 58% 67% -.20 *.021
Friends Percent 20% 31% -.25 **.002
Family Percent 27% 12% +.39 **.000
Animal Percent 23% 06% +.51 **.000
Social Interaction Percents:
Befriender Percent 53% 50% +.06 .487
Aggressor Percent 56% 40% +.33 **.000
Physical Aggression Percent 60% 50% +.20 .120
Social Interaction Ratios:
F/C Index .11 .21 -.30 **.000
A/C Index .37 .34 +.06 .458
Self-Negativity Percent 82% 69% +.29 *.035
Bodily Misfortunes Percent 35% 29% +.13 .482
Dreams With At Least One:
Aggression 47% 47% -.01 .941
Friendliness 17% 38% -.47 **.000
Sexuality 18% 12% +.19 .075
Misfortune 29% 36% -.15 .163
Striving 08% 26% -.50 **.000
* 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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