What’s In A Dream? Content Analysis In The Study Of Dreams

In 1953, Glenn Ramsey, a psychologist at the University of Texas, carried out an extensive review of dream studies up to that time. Based on his exhaustive work, Ramsey contended that dream researchers needed to follow basic scientifically accepted practices and procedures if the potential of dream work was to be realized, and that investigators should design their experiments in ways that would allow other researchers to repeat the study and check its results.

Prior to Ramsey’s call for dream researchers to develop content analysis and apply some sort of system for classifying dream content so that it could be evaluated in an objective and quantitative fashion, Calvin Hall had already begun to put a system into practice. Hall is credited to be the individual most responsible for making giant strides in the area of dream content analysis.

During his tenure at Western Reserve University, (1937 to 1957) Hall and his graduate students collected thousands of dream reports from attending students. Based on this collection, Hall prepared a seventeen page “Manual for Dream Analysis” in 1949. His “manual” was used by several of his graduate students in their theses and dissertations on a wide variety of dream topics.

In 1961 Hall began to systematize his efforts for a content analysis approach to dreams. During 1962 he prepared a set of six technical manuals for classifying various dream elements.

Robert Van De Castle joined Calvin Hall at the Institute for Dream Research in 1964. The Institute which Hall established. Van De Castle came from a background in clinical research. He brought his experience in scoring and validating personality tests to the content analysis project Hall had begun. The two dream researchers collaborated on the expansion of Halls technical manuals for classifying different dream elements and published a book, The Content Analysis of Dreams (1966), presenting the expanded set of scoring rules for various dream scales.

For the first time, a comprehensive system of classifying and scoring the content of dreams was outlined and made available to dream investigators. Their work was an important empirical contribution to the analytic study of dreams.

After receiving some harsh criticism and a very unjust and poor review of the book, (The Content Analysis of Dreams) Hall, in conjunction with Bill Domhoff of the University of Santa Cruz, came up with an intriguing use of content analysis to demonstrate the accuracy and repeatability of the system. They applied the method to an analysis of twenty-eight of Freud’s dreams and thirty-one of Jung’s.

They found many similarities between the two famous psychiatrist’s dreams and what they dreamed about, but there were also some clear differences. Hall and Domhoff related some of the differences between the two to information known about these prominent men.

Hall engaged in a fascinating study of an unusual (and abnormal) individual, whom he referred to only as “Norman.” Norman had been a patient of Alan Bell’s (a psychologist). While under Bell’s care, Norman reported 1,368 dreams. Bell contacted Hall and asked if he would be willing to create a profile on Norman’s personality based solely on the patient’s dreams. Hall accepted the proposal.