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Psychology of Dreams

Psychology of Dreams

(Photo Credit: Diego da Silva)

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."

(Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling's, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)

You only have to consider the countless books, movies, poems, paintings and songs on the topic to appreciate that dreams have always been a source of human curiosity and intrigue.

Psychology's contribution to our understanding of the meaning and purpose of dreams is a long and enduring one and according to renowned dream researcher, Professor G William Domhoff, it's also a very important one. For instance, Professor Domhoff notes that although their ideas on the subject do not stand up to scientific scrutiny both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung deserve credit for being "the people who told us that dreams have psychological meaning as opposed to religious of prophetic meaning, which is what most people believed before they came along. "

Spanning over fifty years, Professor Domhoff’s own interest and research into dreams is as prolific as it is informative. His dream bank consists of over 20,000 dream reports drawn from a variety of reliable sources e.g., dream reports obtained from sleep laboratories, dream reports collected by anthropologists in small traditional societies and individual dream reports recorded in dream journals.

Armed with a remarkable amount of dream data and a method by which to make sense of it, namely, Content Analysis - a technique allowing dream researchers to generate objective categories within which all the elements appearing frequently in dreams can be systematically assigned, counted and compared - Professor Domhoff has been able to identify a series of consistent findings regarding the content of nightly dreams, for instance he found that:

  • Men dream more often of other men whereas women dream equally of men and women.

  • Dreams are much more likely to include negative elements, aggression, misfortunes, failures, negative emotions etc than positive emotions such as friendly interactions, good fortune, successes, happiness or joy.

  • Women dream more often of people they know, whereas in men's dreams there are more strangers.

  • Most dreams are about familiar topics which reflect our waking thoughts and concerns (this is known as the continuity hypothesis.)

  • The content of most dreams is not bizarre as people tend to think.

The 'Purpose' of Dreams

As a result of his own dream research and having reviewed the evidence from scientific findings elsewhere, Professor Domhoff has come to embrace the cognitive perspective on dreams which suggests that dreams serve no adaptive function and are most likely: "The accidental byproduct of our ability to think complex thoughts and also our ability to create mental imagery in our waking life." For a more detailed account of Professor Domhoff’s research findings, I highly recommend watching the following video.

The Awesome Lawfulness of Your Nightly Dreams

Note To Psychology Students

Collecting dream reports and comparing them with waking thought reports from the same people would be an excellent topic to choose as part of a research project or final year thesis/dissertation. In the lecture mentioned above, Professor Domhoff highlights this as a potentially enlightening but as yet uncharted area of investigation Not only would research of this kind be able to test the hypothesis that dream content may not be as bizarre as we think, but it would also allow researchers to explore the converse possibility that waking thought is more bizarre than we care to admit.

If you are considering doing any research in relation the quantitative study of dreams is quite simply a must visit website. An outstanding resource, the site contains everything needed to conduct scientific studies of dream meaning via content analysis, complete with access to a companion site showcasing a collection of over 20,000 dream reports drawn from a variety of different sources and research studies, from people of all ages.

Free Full-Text Dream Psychology Classics


CLICK HERE for a free full-text PDF of Sigmund Freud's Dream Psychology: Psychoanalysis for Beginners. Among the chapters in this famous book are:

  • Dreams Have A Meaning
  • The Dream Mechanism
  • Why The Dream Disguises The Desires
  • Dream Analysis
  • Sex in Dreams
  • The Wish in Dreams

Facts about dreams

How often do we dream? Why do we forget many of our dreams? Can you tell when and what someone else is dreaming? What kind of dreams do people have? Classic article from 1961 in which Lawrence Galton which tackles these and other questions about dreams. You can read this article in full for free via the following link.

Facts About Dreams 

Seize Control of Your Dreams: Four Myths And One Surprising Fact About Sleep

Excellent article by psychologist, award-winning writer and best selling author Dr Christian Jarrett, which you can read via the following link.

Seize Control of Your Dreams: Four Myths And One Surprising Fact About Sleep

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