This article was last modified on November 24, 2010.


On Recent Dream Theory

The following essay was written for a student, and may or may not reflect my actual views.

I wasn’t sure what topic I wanted to write on, but I think dreams are very interesting. Everybody dreams, and some people believe that our dreams mean something. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. I wanted to pick out articles that looked at dreams and tried to show how they are connected to our life. What purpose do they serve? What do they mean? Do people dream the same or different?

I think the articles I found do not cover all of this, but they do look at dreams and made some points that I probably would not have expected. I have never really put a lot of thought into dreams before, but now I think they might be more important than I first expected. They are a reflection of our selves and our life and society.

Raymond Rainville and Lorenda Rush look at “A Contemporary View of College-Aged Students’ Dreams”. They collected a variety of dream journals from their students, identified different themes in the dreams (they call these “scripts”) and then compared them to a dream study from 1966 by Hall and Van de Castle. The study looked at the differences between men and women today, and also compared men and women today with the men and women of the 1960s. This had the effect of covering both gender differences and differences over time.

The study was fairly simple, with a total of 2400 dreams collected. All they had to do was tally the amount of different scripts and put them into the proper categories and separate them by genders. I don’t mean to make that sound like it was easy in a bad way, just that they kept the method as easy and uncomplicated as possible. Some of the results were predictable, others maybe not as much.

I think the most predictable result is that women have far more dreams about sexuality today than they did in the 1960s. As the study says, this is likely because of the acceptance of women as equals today, or more than they used to be. Also, the use of birth control is more widespread, which has the effect of making sex more common. Society in general seems to accept sex more.

Another predictable result was that women today have more dreams about marriage than men do, and they have many more dreams about pregnancy than men do. What might be surprising is that men have dreams about pregnancy at all. I was not sure exactly what that meant.

Dreams were categorized as familiar or unfamiliar settings and inside or outside. The majority of outside dreams were unfamiliar and the majority of inside dreams were familiar. This seemed like common sense to me. If you are dreaming of being in a house, you probably know whose house you are in. If you are dreaming that you’re in the woods, it would be very challenging to know exactly which woods you were in. So, if this was supposed to have a deeper meaning, I missed it.

I do think it’s interesting that women recognize more of the people in their dreams than men do. I don’t know what this says. Do men think of people in a less personal way? I don’t want to guess the reason, but it’s an interesting gender difference.

What is most interesting about this study is not what it says about dreams, but what the dreams say about society. The dreams of women are more aggressive than they used to be, and more sexual. If we assume that dreams are a reflection of our beliefs or experiences in life when we are awake, the dreams show us that individuals and society as a whole has shifted to a palce where women are more aggressive (or assertive) and sexual.

I don’t think it’s surprising that women are more assertive and sexual or that the genders are getting more similar in many ways. I think it’s interesting that this is reflected in dreams, though. That’s just one more indication that gender roles are largely societal and not biological. One would assume that biology differences would manifest in dreams, but there is no indication of that here. Some day we may find that gender is even less important than we think it is today.

The other article about dreams was “Making Sense of Dream Experiences” by Beaulieu-Prevost, Simard and Zadra. This article was far more complicated than the first one.

The researchers made a questionnaire and followed it up with a variety of other questionnaires. The goal was to connect dreams with how people perceive them due to personality, well-being and other factors. They also wanted to connect these beliefs to gender. In order to do this, “725 nonpaid French-speaking volunteers” (mostly women) took the original questionnaire and certain of these people took different follow-up questionnaires. I assume that the fact they speak French makes no difference, but it’s worth pointing out.

I want to say that this study and the journal article are complete rubbish, or are too complicated for the average person to understand. If they had used only the one survey (what they call the IDEA survey) and developed some sort of results from that, there might be some interesting findings. But they don’t. Instead, they go on to give out additional questionnaires. Not everyone takes one, and some people take different ones. There is no way to make a uniform conclusion from this when everyone is doing something different. What are the constants and what are the variables?

I read the conclusion, hoping that it would point me towards a piece of the study that I missed, but I find only what appears to be circular reasoning. The researchers conclude that the IDEA survey is a good way to test dreams… and they found this out by using the IDEA survey. What are they comparing it to? If you make the questions yourself and people answer them a certain way, that means you made good questions? I do not really understand. The outcome of the survey should have been something more concrete, not simply that the survey works.

The use of the various follow-up questionnaires confuses me. Their results are not really covered, and again, if people take different ones, what is this saying about the experiment? How do we test for those who should and shouldn’t take the follow-up? The process seems overly complicated for no good reason.

The two journal articles are worlds apart. Even though they were experiments done around the same time, appear in the same journal, and are both dream analysis, they have little in common. One is comparing two similar studies for time and gender variations, and the other has a wide range of variables with no clear indication of what they are looking for as a result. Without a hypothesis, how do you test it?

I like that they took into account gender differences, and where differences were noticed, there was reason to believe that dreams have a bigger importance to our lives and society than just during our sleeping hours. Beyond that, I don’t know. The one article was great and the other was a rambling mess.

I think what I learned from this is that comparing genders is important, but it is also important and interesting to compare different times. Comparing 1966 to 2009 says a lot about our culture and the evolution of gender norms. I wish there had been more studies between these two times, and I hope they have another study in ten years. Living in the present, we often do not see the changes from day to day, year to year. It is only through these critical, definitive studies that gender norms are concretely set in a particular time and place.

Also try another article under Miscellaneous
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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