Dream Content Analysis Explained
by Nori Muster
Dream content analysis is completely different from dream symbol analysis. Dream content researchers do not concern themselves with symbols and metaphors in dreams. They prefer to dissect dreams for statistics. To get data, they count the occurrence of characters (male, female, child, family member, friend, known, unknown), settings (indoor, outdoor, familiar, unfamiliar), plots (fortune, misfortune, success, failure), social interactions (friendly, aggressive), activities (walking, talking, seeing, thinking), objects (clothing, money, nature, food, household, architectural, etc.), emotions (anger, apprehension, happiness, sadness, confusion), and other categories.
These categories are from the Hall/Van de Castle System of Quantitative Dream Content Analysis, and were established by dream researchers Dr. Calvin S. Hall and Dr. Robert Van de Castle in the 1960s. Their system assigns each dream element a code. For example Father (F) Mother (M) Parents (X) Brother (B) Sister (T) Husband (H) Wife (W) Son (A) Daughter (D) Child (C) infant or Baby (I) Family member (Y), and so on. Here's a page that lists all the codes and explains HvDC in detail: hvdc.html.
In the computer age, researchers have modified the Hall/Van de Castle System to include many of the same criteria, but they count using computer keyword and word-string search functions. Although it is not pure Hall/Van de Castle, it's still based on the original work of Drs. Hall and Van de Castle.
Content analysis research has established norms for various populations - adults, teenagers, women, men, all people, and so on. Statistics require a sample of one hundred or more dreams. After coding a dream sample and establishing statistics, researchers compare the data to the statistical norms for other other populations.
Dream content analysis attempts to prove whether continuity exists between dreams and waking life. Researchers have found dreams do not necessarily track our activities in waking life, but rather they track our concerns. Dr. G. William Domhoff, a leading researcher in this field, said dreams are dramatizations of our waking lives. He likens them to a play or soap opera version of daily life. Dreams emphasize how we feel about ourselves, the nature of our interactions, and our relationships. Calvin S. Hall said the images of a dream are the embodiment of thoughts.
Content researchers have found the frequency of people and situations in dreams reveals the intensity of the dreamer's concerns. Whatever interests or causes anxiety will most likely play a part in a person's dreams. For example, analysis of large dream samples often show consistent dreams about two or three key people in the dreamer's life.
Content analysis also shows there is a consistency in one person's dreams over time. The same characters may appear in one person's dreams over decades, including after a character dies.
Dream content analysis shows dreams are not bizarre, but usually concern everyday situations that could happen in waking life. Even if something bizarre happens, the dreamer usually realizes it as unusual. For example, a dreamer might report, “I saw my grandfather, but he died years ago, so it seemed strange I would see him.” Even if someone flies in a dream, the dreamer notes it as an unusual experience. Studies show, only two percent of dreams contain bizarre elements. Some theorize that people with psychological pathologies would have a higher percentage of bizarre dreams.
Some psychology and neuroscience researchers say dreams are just random thoughts best forgotten and unworthy of study. Others give dreams credit for playing some role in processing memories. In dream content analysis, the goal is to gather statistics to prove whether there is consistency in three areas:
Commonalities in all people's dreams
Continuity in one individual's dreams over time
Continuity between dreams and waking concerns
Establishing these theories may lead to further breakthroughs into why we dream and the role of dreaming in human psychology.
Learn More About Dream Content Analysis
DreamResearch.net - Index for the study of content analysis, by Prof. William Domhoff, University of California, Santa Cruz. The following links are available through this page.
Introduction to Content Analysis - discover an objective and quantitative system to analyze dreams.
The The Hall/Van De Castle system explained - learn how the Hall/Van de Castle System of Quantitative Dream Content Analysis is set up (posted at this site with permission).
Examples of Coded Dreams - link here to see how coding is notated.
Papers by Nori Muster
Presentation summary of Nori's presentation at the 34th Annual Dream Conference, International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD).
Dream Sets for Content Analysis - Update on Nori's dream content studies.
Looking for jewelry in the waves, 2006.