There are two basic problems in doing
systematic studies of dream content: (1) collecting an adequate sample
and (2) developing a method for analyzing what appears in the dream
reports. Dreambank.net and Dreamresearch.net
are two distinct but complementary web sites created by Adam Schneider
and me to help overcome these problems.
As many people have found to their great disappointment, it is very
difficult to obtain adequate samples of dream reports for a wide variety
of familiar reasons. Most people only remember one or two dreams per
week, many people say they are too busy to write down the ones they do
remember, and the people who agree to write down their dreams often
provide very brief and hasty reports. With children and young teenagers,
there is the added problem that they may be using a good dose of poetic
license in constructing their dream reports.
DreamBank.net is one answer to
this problem. It contains about 5000 dream reports and is growing all
the time, albeit at a slow pace. Most of these dreams are from lengthy
dream journals from adult women, including the longest-running series to
date, the Dorothea series, which covers over 50 years and contains over
900 dreams. There are also sets of dreams from children, teenagers,
college women in the 1950s and 1990s, and blind men and women.
The dreams in Dreambank.net
can be studied independently of any existing content analysis system
because of a powerful search program created by Schneider. "DreamSearch"
allows users to search for specific words, such as "cat" or
"dog," or strings of words, such as "dog|cat|puppy|kitten|horse|cow,"
or phrases, such as "on_stage," "made_love," or
"hit_him." It can be used with one or many sets of dreams at
once. There are clear and detailed instructions on how to do searches.
Once the word, string of words, or phrase is found, DreamSearch
reports the identification number for each dream that contains the
requested words, along with the percentage of dreams containing the
words. Then the relevant dreams can be viewed in full on the screen, or
in an abbreviated form that displays only the sentences with the
requested words in them. The words in the search request can be made to
appear underlined and in boldface when the dreams are brought up on the
screen for viewing. When scrolling through the dreams on the screen,
those that do not seem of interest can be eliminated before the dreams
It is also possible to draw random samples from DreamBank.net. The
minimum and maximum words per dream can be specified, along with the
desired number of dreams in the sample. The random sample appears in a
matter of seconds. There are clear instructions on how to draw just the
sample that is desired.
For those who have their dreams on a disk and want to use DreamSearch
to study their own dreams without putting them in the dreambank, it is
possible to arrange for a completely confidential private site for their
dreams. Per force, Schneider knows the code to the account because he
assigns it, but he is an honorable person, and no one else has access to
it. It is also possible to enter new dreams into this private site. One
person has now entered 158 dreams in a 15-month period. Such a private
site can be arranged by emailing Schneider at Schneider@pobox.com.
Although every effort has been made to insure that the dream reports
on dreambank.net are accurate and authentic ones, some of the dreams may
be the product of poetic license. This is especially the case with those
from young children. Their dream reports to adults during the day are
very different from those that are given when children are awakened
during the night in a sleep laboratory. Some of the dreams from
teenagers also have a made-up quality, which we are learning to
recognize by having students make up dreams that we can then compare to
actual dreams. We are especially suspicious of some of the sex dreams
Beyond the problem of adequate samples of dream reports, the study of
dream content also suffers from the lack of standardized methods of
analysis. There are almost as many rating systems as there are dream
researchers. Such systems exist for studying vividness, emotionality,
degree of distortion or bizarreness, and much else. Most of these rating
systems have not been adequately tested for "reliability,"
which simply means the degree to which two or more raters come up with
the same results when they apply the rating scale to the same dreams.
What is "very bizarre" to one rater may not seem "very
bizarre" to another. It is like having a yardstick that changes
length by a few inches each time it is used.
Nor is there much information on how the various rating scales
compare to each other. A hostility scale that includes misfortunes
unintended by any dream character, such as injuries in a car accident,
may give different results than one that is restricted to acts of
intended hurt, physical or nonphysical, by one dream character toward
another dream character. Nor is it clear that any of these rating scales
are very useful for what has to be the ultimate goal of dream content
research, namely, developing a sound and useful theory concerning the
meaning of dreams. The result is a long list of studies that do not seem
to lead to any firm conclusions.
One way to deal with this problem may be to take the time to learn
the comprehensive coding system developed through a long process of
trial and error by Calvin S. Hall and Robert Van de Castle (The Content
Analysis of Dreams, 1966). The system has been around in a finalized
form for 45 years and has been used by investigators in many different
countries. It has produced findings on characters, social interactions,
emotions, misfortunes, settings, and activities that vary systematically
by age, gender, personality, state of mental health, and culture (see
Domhoff, Finding Meaning in
Dreams, 1996, for details). In the past,
learning and using the system seemed like too much work to many people,
but all that has changed with the development of personal computers,
spreadsheets, and the Internet.
Alas, it is still necessary to spend two or three hours learning each of
the main categories, which are characters, aggression, friendliness,
misfortunes/good fortunes, emotions, and success/failure. But the second
of our web sites, DreamResearch.net,
provides everything that is needed to learn and use the Hall and Van de
Castle system. First, the entire coding system is on the web site.
Second, there are coded dreams that can be studied, where the dream
narrative and the coding card are side by side. Third, there is a short
series of dreams, where the coding was done by Hall and Van de Castle,
that can be used to check one's accuracy.
features a spreadsheet that makes data analysis much faster and far more
accurate. There are clear and detailed instructions on how to use it.
Codings are entered into a foolproof record file that is so good it
won't let you make a mistake in data entry even if you try. Once the
codings are entered, the spreadsheet can calculate 28 Hall/Van de Castle
content indicators, such as animal percent, friends percent, physical
aggression percent, self-negativity percent, and the aggressions per
character ratio (which we call the "A/C index"). The
spreadsheet determines significance levels, confidence intervals, and
effect sizes, if you ask it to, even if you don't know what they are. It
displays the findings in the form of either tables or bar graphs.
Dreamresearch.net also has a section with brief overviews of many
interesting findings. It contains a detailed statement on how to do
studies from start to finish.
The combination of dreambank.net
and dreamresearch.net make it
possible for people in many different parts of the world to join
together on common projects of many different kinds. For example, if
classroom instructors at the high school or university level around the
world were to collect dreams in a given week from their students, and
then put them on a disk, it would be possible for everyone involved to
study a worldwide sample of young people's dreams through the use of
dreambank.net. If the Hall/Van de Castle system were to be used as well
as the DreamSearch program, then the participants would be able to help
each other learn the coding system and also determine their percent of
agreement, which is the simple way that "reliability" is
determined with the Hall/Van de Castle system.
Or, to take another example, it would be possible for many different
people to study the same long dream series, with some of the
investigators using the Hall/Van de Castle system, some using metaphoric
analysis, and some using rating systems. Then it could be determined if
and how the various methods overlap or complement each other. The
"Emma" series on dreambank.net, with over 1100 dreams, lends
itself to such an approach, and has the added attraction that the
dreamer will answer questions via email. At some point we will have a
series of 3,500 dreams, stretching over 25 years, available on
dreambank.net as well--with the dreamer available to answer questions
G. William Domhoff
G. William Domhoff, Ph.D., is a Research professor of Psychology at
the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has been involved in dream
research since the 1960's. He has published numerous books and articles,
including the 1996 Finding Meaning in Dreams.