International Association for the Study of Dreams

 Science Projects on Dreams


The scientific study of dreams is a challenge, as dreams are experienced subjectively. Perhaps dreams can never be studied directly, just people's reports of dreams. Individuals differ in how well they can do this. Some people have difficulty remembering their dreams. How big a problem is this?

Personal Study of Dreams
Scientific Study of Dreams
Studying the Content of Dreams
Studying Dream Differences in Recall Ability
Influencing the Content of Dreams

Try an experiment

Have several of your friends watch a television program, then write down the story they have just seen. Compare the different reports in terms of length and details that are included or omitted.

Go a step further and ask your friends to write down the next dream they remember. Do the people who give long, detailed stories about television also give long, detailed dream reports? Even though it is difficult to study dreams, there are many reasons why researchers do so. Dreaming is a creative experience that we spend a third of our lives doing. Most people dream all night long. Some dreams are more dramatic than others and represent different stages of sleep.

If you are interested in studying dreams, several projects are described below. These suggestions are just ideas to get you started. The world of dreams, both personal and experimental, is rich with possibilities.

Personal Study of Dreams

One way of studying dreams is to keep a dream diary. Keep paper and pen beside your bed. Just before going to sleep,think to yourself that you want to remember a dream.

When you awaken, remain still and think about what was going through your mind just before waking. Record what you remember, even if it's only a fragment. With practice, your memory will become better. If you awaken during the night, write down what you remember immediately because even vivid dreams will often be forgotten by morning.

Keep trying. It may take awhile to forge the connection between waking consciousness and dream consciousness. Just writing down your dreams over time can be fascinating without even trying to interpret them. Your family or friends may want to compare experiences.

If you want to do more with your dreams, many good books can help you. Avoid books which provide you with a "dream dictionary." Dreams are unique and private creations; same dream would have different meanings for different dreamers.

Scientific Study of Dreams

While keeping a dream diary can be personally rewarding, scientists often prefer to study dreams in ways that are more accurate than self-selective reporting and that represent a larger number of dreamers. It is very difficult to study ourselves accurately. Personal study will always be important, but it is not enough. For school science projects you will probably need to do something else.

Studying the Content of Dreams Analyses of Dreams

Collect dream reports from people by giving them the instructions under "Personal Study." Look at the content of these dreams as they relate to some particular question you have in mind.

For example

  • Do girls have different dreams than boys?

  • Are dreams influenced by what we eat or the type of television or movie we see before sleep?

  • Are dreams during school days different from dreams during other days?

  • When something important or exciting happens to us, do we dream about it?

  • If so, do we dream about it right away or some time later?

  •  Have a checklist of things you are interested in and then check off whether or not the item is in the dream.

    For example:

  • If you wanted to study whether students dream more about an examination before the test or after it, you would make up a checklist of things that might suggest the dream involved thought about the test, such as a test of any kind, school, classroom, teacher, studying, etc.

  • You might rate the dream more generally--for example, how emotional the dream is on a scale from 1(no emotion) to 5 (very emotional).

  • When scientists do content analyses, they usually have at least two people separately rate the dreams. The ratingscan then be compared to see how well they agree. The degree to which judges'ratings are the same is called "interjudge reliability." One way of calculating interjudge reliability is to examine the percentage of dreams on which the raters agree. This is done separately for each item on your checklist.

    In the study described above on dreams and classroom tests, you might find that your judges agree 7O% of the time on whether a test is mentioned, 90% of the time on whether school is mentioned, 95% on whether a classroom appears, etc.

    When people tend to see what they believe they should see, it is called "observer bias." If you believe that people will dream about a test before the test but not after, you will be inclined to miss references to tests and schools in dream reports after a test even if you are a very honest person. To correct for this, scientists use judges who do not know what the study is about or what the researcher expects to find.

    To sum up, plan specifically what you want to look for and have someone in addition to yourself score the dreams. These people should not know what you expect to find. If you are studying two groups of dreams (such as dreams before a test versus after), your judges should not even know which group each dream belongs to.

    Studying Differences in Dream Recall

    Throughout our sleep we are thinking or dreaming and yet upon awakening we tend to forget most of it. Something about the way the brain/mind functions during sleep makes recall difficult. Why are we sometimes able to remember dreams while most of the time we cannot? Why do we remember dreams some night and not others? Why do some people recall more dreams than others?

    Most remembered dreaming occurs during a phase of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which occurs about every hour-and-a-half. During it our eyes move rapidly under their lids. observe this for yourself if someone is willing to let you watch them sleep. We are also better able to recall dreams if we awaken during REM sleep. You could test this by awakening someone who is willing to be awakened or by setting (and resetting) your own alarm to awaken you every hour or two during the night. It is important to pay attention to a dream immediately upon awakening if it is to be recalled.

    Tell some people to lie in bed for five minutes after awakening and think about any dream they can recall. Tell another group to do something else for five minutes when they wake up. Then have both groups write down whatever they can remember. You can also do this just with yourself by alternating mornings.

    Wanting to remember dreams is also important. Try telling one group of friends that dreams are very important and people can learn a lot from them. These people are your experimental group. Tell another group something not related to dreams to make sure that it is not the fact of merely being talked to that changes the level of recall. This is a control group. Then have both groups see whether they recall a dream the next morning.

    As to why some people remember more dreams than others, high recallers may be more motivated to recall dreams, or they may have a better memory for things they see (visual memory) rather than memory for words and numbers.

    You can make up a series of simple pictures, show them to people, and have them draw the pictures from memory. Then give them a list of words, which they would write down from memory. other research suggests that high recallers may be more imaginative or may even have more exciting dreams. Think of ways to test these theories.

    Influencing Dream Content

    Some people are able to influence their dreams in various ways. Some know they are dreaming while they are dreaming, which is called lucid dreaming. others may decide before sleep what they want to dream about (see below). Still others change their dreams while the dream is going on, even without actually knowing that they are dreaming. Some people can awaken from a dream when they want to--for example, from nightmares.

    Do a survey to find out how many people can do each of these things and how frequently they are aware of doing it.

    Look at people's dreams after they have been given an instruction to dream about a specific topic. Tell them to spend several minutes thinking about the instruction just before sleep. It is always important to compare the dreams following instruction (the target dreams) with control dreams from before the instruction or even dreams from another person. People told to dream about a farm might have dreamed about that anyway; you must compare the dream to a control dream. You could have one group dream about a farm, another about a city, and a third group given no instruction.

    If you are only studying yourself or a small group of people, compare dreams written prior to instruction with dreams written after instruction. Either way, examine the dream content using content analysis. Look at whether some instructions affect dreams more than others. Compare a neutral or uninteresting instruction to a personally important instruction such as, "Dream about being very successful on the next test at school."

    International Association for the Study of Dreams