Diagnosing Personality by the Analysis of Dreams
Calvin S. Hall
Western Reserve University
NOTE: If you use this paper in research, please use the following citation, as this on-line version is simply a reprint of the original article:
Hall, C. S. (1947). Diagnosing personality by the analysis of dreams. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 42, 68-79.
"A dream is, therefore, among other things a projection: an
externalization of an internal process." -- Freud.
Since the publication of Freud's monumental work, Die
Traumdeutung, the interpretation of dreams as a diagnostic method for
the analysis of personality has remained the exclusive property of
psychoanalysis. The psychologist, except for an occasional
investigator who experiments with dreams as perceptual phenomena, has
not concerned himself with dreams as psychological data. This neglect
was understandable as long as the psychologist concentrated his
attention on laboratory dissections of sensation, perception,
learning, memory, and thought. Now that he has widened his
experimental horizons to include personality, character, and
temperament, disregard of the dream can no longer be justified. For
the dream possesses two characteristics which should make it highly
eligible for serious and systematic investigation. It is a personal
document and it is a projection. As a personal document it is more
frank and intimate than a diary and as a projection it requires no
ink-blots or pictures to bring it into existence. In our opinion the
dream is more purely personal and more purely projected than any
other material which the psychologist has available for the study of
It may be asked, have not the psychoanalysts established
dream interpretation as a dependable scientific tool? One familiar
with the psychoanalytic literature on the dream will answer in the
negative. Psychoanalysts have poured forth an opulent array of
hypotheses and theories. Their speculations are shrewd, sophisticated
and, to the uninitiated, often esoteric. At their best, the
psychoanalytic theories appear impressively insightful; at their
worse, they appear impressively fraudulent. Good or bad, they are
rarely dull. Die Traumdeutung probably contains the richest fabric of
theory to be found in any modem psychological treatise. Stekel's
works on the interpretation of dreams leaves the reader with the
feeling that the dream "tells all, " that it is the portal into the
most secret recesses of the inner personality. It cannot be denied
that the psychoanalysts, in addition to their penchant for
theorizing, make brilliant use of dream interpretation in the
diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders. For them, the
dream is not only a datum about which to speculate; it is also a
datum to be put to work. If practice verifies theory, what then is
The principal deficiency to be found in the psychoanalytic
writings is that they fail to meet the standards of the scientific
method. Like animal psychology prior to Lloyd Morgan, the psychology
of dreams is still in the anecdotal stage. Psychoanalysis has not
recognized the importance of controls, of statistical treatment of
its data, of validation. It erects a top-heavy theoretical structure
on the foundation of selected examples. It has not designed
experiments for the purpose of checking its speculations. It has a
flair for dogmatism and excathedral statements, and a distaste for
quantification and control.
We propose, therefore, to make a scientific study of dreams
for the purpose of establishing the interpretation of dreams as a
valid method for diagnosing some facets of the personality which
currently elude accurate description. We believe that through the
analysis of dreams, important and significant information about the
inner dynamics of the personality can be discovered. It is our hope
that this belief may be corroborated by the application of those
experimental procedures which have been used to validate other
The method which has been employed in the present research
project consists of the following steps: First, the dream series 
are collected. College students in psychology classes served as
subjects since it was necessary to have them available over a fairly
long period of time and in a situation where good cooperation could
be expected. The first group of dream series was obtained from 71
students in a summer class in personality and adjustment which met
daily. During the first ten minutes of the class period, they were
asked to write down any dreams of the previous night which they could
remember. Recording of dreams was done for 23 consecutive class days,
not including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. The dreams were
collected each day by the instructor. A change in procedure was tried
out with a second class of 75 students. Each student was given a
notebook in which the dreams he had during the semester were to be
recorded. The recording was to be done as soon as convenient after
awakening. These dream diaries were collected in the middle of the
semester and again near the end. Although this method worked out
fairly well in terms of the number of dreams obtained, it is felt
that the procedure of recording dreams in the classroom is more
satisfactory because it is done under better controlled conditions.
Following these two initial surveys, a standardized form for
recording dreams was devised and printed. Dreams are entered on these
forms either in the classroom or under the supervision of an
instructor or graduate student.
The second step is the coding of the dreams. This is done to
conceal the identity of the dreamer. It is deemed necessary to
preserve the anonymity of the dreamer for two reasons. Dreams often
contain material of a highly personal and intimate nature, and since
the series are read and discussed by a number of individuals, it is
thought best not to run the risk of having confidential material
become public knowledge. When subjects are informed that their
identity will be kept secret they are more inclined to report dreams
which might otherwise be suppressed. Even with this safeguard it is
not likely that all recalled dreams will be recorded. Another reason
for concealing the subject's identity is to prevent information about
the dream which had been obtained from other sources from influencing
the interpretation of his dream series. It is a principal objective
of this investigation to determine the validity of dream series per se
for the diagnosis of personality. This is an important
consideration. Suppose, for example, it is known to the dream
interpreter from other sources that a student whose dreams he is
analyzing has a conflict with regard to his religious beliefs. Will
he not be tempted to find this conflict portrayed in the dream
series? In such a case, the dreams will appear to yield a valid
portrayal of a real conflict when in fact the evaluation is based
upon other information. This error may be called the fallacy of
pseudo-validity. It abounds in studies of personality and is
especially prevalent in the writings of psychoanalysts. They are
prone to project into dreams conflicts of whose existence they
already possess knowledge. The fallacy of pseudo-validity can be
avoided by analyzing the dreams of anonymous subjects.
The third step is the analysis and interpretation of the
dream series. It is here that major difficulties are encountered. For
a dream can be interpreted in diverse ways depending upon the
particular theory of dreams which the interpreter adopts. A college
girl dreams that she contracts infantile paralysis and has to quit
school. The interpretation may be made that the girl wishes to be
disabled in order to avoid going to school or that she fears
contracting infantile paralysis, or that she feels guilty and the
disease is her punishment, or that she regresses to "paralyzed
infancy," or that she is attempting to interpret a somatic condition
present during sleep, or, in the words of the great American public,
"it was something she ate." Each interpretation rests upon a
different hypothesis. In the face of such diversity, one might decide
to toss overboard all theories and "let the dream speak for itself."
But the raw dream tells us nothing about this girl's personality.
Interpretation is necessary if dreams are to be used for the
appraisal of personality.
Since an investigator cannot get along without a theory, it
is necessary that the theory upon which his interpretations are based
be made explicit. For us, the dreams of an individual represent
attempts to resolve his current conflicts. The conflict may be
between opposing motives, e.g., sex vs. the approval of society, or
between opposing emotions, e.g., love vs. hate. The conflict may be
between a motive and a barrier, e.g., a desire to become a famous
surgeon which is blocked by insufficient ability, or between an
emotion and a barrier, e.g., hate for a parent the expression of
which is barred by economic dependence upon the parent. The conflict
may involve such large segments of the emotional and motivational
structure that it causes a split in the whole structure, i.e., dual
personalities contending with each other as in the Faustian legend.
Occasionally, a dream proffers no solution but portrays only the
anxiety which is generated by the conflict. Anxiety dreams may tell
little or nothing about the reason for the anxiety; they may merely
indicate that the dreamer is in a state of conflict. Since conflicts
occur between motives and emotions, an account of the individual's
conflicts will yield a description of the active components of his
inner dynamics, i.e., strivings, feelings, defenses, frustrations,
values, needs. In its most succinct form, our theory states that
dreams are projections of the person's inner dynamics. 
The interpretation of dreams is rendered difficult by virtue
of the distorting mechanisms, to wit, condensation, displacement,
symbolization, and secondary elaboration. Since the reported dream
presents such a distorted picture it may be asked how any single
dream can be properly analyzed unless the interpreter has an immense
fund of knowledge concerning the dreamer. This was Freud's contention
and one of the reasons cited by him for electing to interpret his own
dreams as illustrative material for Die Traumdeutung. However, if it
is necessary to know the inner dynamics of an individual before the
meaning of his dreams can be unraveled, of what use is dream
interpretation? Large-scale studies of personality require a method
of appraisal which is more economical of time than is the individual
case study employed by the clinician.
The method proposed here presumes to overcome this barrier by
substituting the analysis of a dream cycle for the analysis of the
single dream. The dreams of a cycle are perused in order to get the
atmosphere of the dreams as a whole and to ascertain which of the
dreams are especially revealing of inner conflict. Often the meaning
of one dream is self-evident and illuminates a major conflict like a
spotlight shooting its beam into the darkness. Armed with the
hypothesis drawn from a spotlight dream, the other dreams of the
series are scrutinized for projections of the same basic conflict. If
a number of dreams of an individual fit in with the same
interpretation, this interpretation is felt to be corroborated and is
assigned to the dream series. The dream series may contain more than
a single major conflict, although it has been our experience from
examining scores of dream cycles that only one major conflict is
usually found. 
If the interpretation of the spotlight dream is not supported by
others, then another hypothesis as to the contending forces is
formulated. This hypothesis is similarly tested by applying it to the
analysis of other dreams. The interpreter proceeds in this fashion
until he has found a framework which accommodates the dreams of the
cycle. The operations are like those performed in working a jig-saw
puzzle. The individual dreams are fitted together by testing one
inference after another until an interlocking, coherent, organized,
and meaningful appraisal is obtained.
The following case is presented to illustrate the method.
Subject: Female, 20 years, college junior. 
Basic conflict: Desire to establish an autonomous and
independent life either through a career or marriage, preferably the
latter, vs. fear of leaving the security provided by the family.
Spotlight dream A1:
I dreamed that I volunteered to go
overseas as a teacher. I went to Italy to teach the children there.
My dream consisted of leaving my family and being very graciously
welcomed in Italy by an Army officer and his wife. I was married
shortly after my arrival there. Most of my dream was the difficulty I
had leaving home.
The basic conflict is clearly projected into
this dream. She does leave home, even the country, yet despite the
presence of parental substitutes in Italy and a speedy marriage, much
of the dream is concerned with the difficulty she has in leaving her
home. That the dreamer is aware of the conflict is indicated by the
explanatory comment appended to the dream. "I guess this dream has to
do with my fear of leaving home. I have never been away for more than
a week and my folks keep insisting it would be wise for me to leave
for a while."
I dreamed last night I was in a train station with my
sister. We were supposed to make a certain train, but for some reason
neither of us could find the right track. It was most confusing and
all I can remember is the two of us racing about trying to find that
train in a large depot that had many tracks and entrances.
Interpretation: She wants to get away from home but the threat of
insecurity prevents her from finding the proper train, even though
she has the companionship and support of her sister.
I dreamed I was back in high school again.
My dream last night was quite confusing. I was attending
college classes but was in high school. I was in the high school
building attending classes with my high school friends, but the
classes themselves were those I now attend. It was rather a review of
a typical day as I used to have them in high school. We were planning
to attend a football game after school and things were quite exciting.
These are regressive dreams. If she were back
in high school it would not be necessary for her to make the choice
between family security and individual freedom. A4 shows that
intellectually she prefers college to high school but it would be
less threatening to her if the classes were held in the high-school
building. Regression offers a neat solution to her main problem.
I dreamed I got infantile paralysis and found I would have a
permanent affliction. I had to quit school and life seemed pretty
I dreamed I had an accident and broke my leg. The rest of
the dream I was in the hospital getting just loads of attention and
sympathy. Friends came to see me and one of my overseas friends was
even given a furlough to come home for awhile. The pain I might have
had from a broken leg never entered the dream. It was all very
pleasant and I was the center of attention.
The solution found in these two dreams
portrays the desperation she feels. She is willing to endure
infantile paralysis in order to resolve the conflict. The leg
fracture, while not as serious, is equivalent to infantile paralysis
since it immobilizes her. In either case, she cannot leave the
family. Moreover she becomes the recipient of attention and sympathy,
and a boy-friend is even given a furlough to visit her. But these
gratifications are merely the byproducts of the primary
wishfulfilment, to remain with the family.
I dreamed again last night that a friend of mine who is a
German prisoner was returned home.
I dreamed I went to church one Sunday and one of our
members, who has been reported missing overseas, was there. Before he
left we had been good friends-but for some reason he refused to even
speak to me. I was quite put out and couldn't understand the reason
for his actions.
The ambivalence toward her boy-friend,
wanting him and being rejected by him (which very likely means she is
rejecting him) is a variation of the basic conflict. If he would
reject her she would not have to marry him and consequently she could
remain with her parents.
I dreamed that my family and I took a trip out west.
This is a simple way of handling her
conflict. She gets away from home but she takes her family with her.
I dreamed my mother was very ill and after much anguish,
etc., died. It was pretty gruesome.
Considered by itself and independent of the
other dreams, this dream is a projection of hostility against the
mother. She is hostile because the mother is insistent that the
dreamer should become more independent. There is another
interpretation which is consistent with the unifying theme. By her
mother's death, the family would be dissolved, forcing her to become
Last night I dreamt about the first day of this summer
session. I couldn't seem to get to classes on time and the textbooks
weren't available. I was terrifically upset and felt as if the
situation was too involved for me to cope with. I woke up this
morning worn out from that experience in which I was at a loss and
felt very defeated.
The anxiety pictured in this dream is evoked by the
significance which the first day of classes has for her. The
beginning of a new term brings her that much closer to graduation.
Upon graduation she will be forced to break some of the ties with the
family and assume some of the responsibilities of maturity. She
greatly fears growing up.
Why is so much apprehension generated by the thought of
growing up and leaving her family? Is it merely that the girl is
timid and feels inadequate to undertake the tasks of adult life? Or
does her present situation repeat some earlier experience with
frustration and rejection? The final dream of the series affords a
Last night I dreamed my sister and I were in a play. All I
had to do was sing a song, but they didn't give it to me until the
last minute and I couldn't seem to learn the song. My sister had the
lead and for some reason I was always appearing on the stage when I
wasn't supposed to. I did sing my song finally and it turned out to
be a success, much to my surprise.
This is a fine example of sibling rivalry.
Her sister has the "lead" and the dreamer intrudes when she is not
wanted. The dreamer feels rejected because the parents prefer the
sister. Therefore the construction which she places upon their
insistence that she become independent is that they want to get rid
of her in favor of her rival. The dream ends on a reassuring note.
She does sing her song successfully. The singing of the song probably
symbolizes a satisfactory transition to maturity.
Her inferior status in the family would also create feelings
of inadequacy with regard to the establishing of satisfying
relationships with boys. She fears rejection from her boyfriend.
Unsure of her ability to win the affection and protection of a male,
she is reluctant to renounce the security afforded by the family. But
she is faced by, the loss of this security because she is growing up.
This then is the motivation for her dreams to discover some way of
regaining security which with increasing age is rapidly disappearing.
Methods of Validation
By using the method proposed in this paper, diagnoses of the
inner conflicts of people can be obtained without resorting to any
other data than the dream series and the explanatory material offered
by the dreamers. How valid are the inferences based upon the
interpretation of dreams? Do they bear any relation to the dynamics
as they actually exist within the person? May they not be imaginary
creations, whose only existence is in the mind of the interpreter?
After reading the over-contrived interpretations which is
characteristic of so much of the psychoanalytic literature, it
becomes obvious that the need for validation is an imperative one.
Before taking up the validity of personality diagnoses obtained for
dreams, let us consider briefly the several methods which may be
employed for the validation of personal documents. 
There are five methods in general use.
1. Agreement between individuals
If two or more individuals agree
on an explanation for a phenomenon, such agreement constitutes a
presumption of validity. In a scientific discipline, the explainer
asks his peers to pass judgment on his explanation. If they accept
it, it is deemed valid; if they reject it, it is deemed invalid.
According to this method, the final arbiter of the correctness of an
explanation is not truth; it is expert opinion.
There are three procedures by which the extent of agreement between
authorities can be determined. (a) One person formulates an
explanation and presents it to his colleagues for acceptance or
rejection. This procedure is followed whenever one publishes an
article in a professional journal or reads a paper at a scientific
meeting. (b) Two or more individuals reach a mutually satisfying
explanation by conferring with one another. The case board
exemplifies this procedure. (c) Two or more persons formulate
explanations independently of one another and compare them. This
procedure is the most meritorious of the three.
2. Internal consistency
The extent to which a series of
observations can be made congruent by the application of a single
hypothesis testifies to the validity of the hypothesis. The more
facts that. can be explained by a theory, the stronger is the
presumption that the theory is a correct one. For example, if the
meanings assigned to the separate dreams of a cycle are consistent
with one another, can be subsumed under a unifying hypothesis with
one another, and do not logically contradict each other, then the
interpretations are said to be valid. The test of internal
consistency has found its widest application in the construction of
3. External consistency
This expression describes a method
of validation which is familiar to all psychologists. An appraisal
which is formulated on the basis of certain information, e.g., a
test, is compared with some independent criterion. If the two agree
the appraisal is said to be validated by the criterion. An example is
the validation of intelligence test scores against school grades.
Similarly, an appraisal based upon the interpretation of a dream
cycle may be validated against diagnoses deduced from stories told
about pictures (TAT), associations to inkblots (Rorschach),
associations to words, personality inventories, observations of
behavior in controlled or free situations, interviews, ratings,
expressive behavior, and personal data. This method of validation is
very convincing especially if the criterion is an objective one and
if the appraisal and the criterion are formulated by independent
The prophesying of future events on the basis
of a theory is a dramatic verification of the truth of the theory.
The spectator is humbled by the astounding ability of the astronomer
to predict to the minute when a solar or lunar eclipse will occur.
Predictability is the principal criterion used for determining the
validity of intelligence, aptitude, and interest tests because
objective criteria of achievement are available. It is a different
story when one tries to predict how the personality will develop,
since objective criteria for personality development are difficult to
This is the method which Thomas Huxley called
"retrospective prophecy" or the "method of Zadig," after the
character in Voltaire's romance. Zadig was the original Sherlock
Holmes. By small cues which escaped the senses of ordinary men, he
could reconstruct the past. G. W. Allport calls this method
postdiction. Postdicting has an advantage over predicting since the
investigator may more conveniently verify whether a postdicted event
has occurred than wait for the occurrence of a predicted event.
These five methods of validation have a common denominator,
agreement, and may therefore be designated as (1) social agreement,
(2) internal agreement, (3) external agreement, (4) agreement with
the future, and (5) agreement with the past.
Validation of Dream Interpretations
Although the validation of personality appraisals based upon
dream series has not progressed beyond the initial stages, some
positive evidence has been gathered and this will be presented under
the headings set forth in the preceding section.
1. Social agreement
Over a period of several months, six
people met weekly to analyze and interpret dream series. Although
none of the participants was an authority on dream interpretation,
all of them were familiar with the basic Freudian principles and
possessed considerable knowledge of the dynamics of personality.
During these sessions approximately thirty cycles were interpreted.
Usually copies of several dream series were distributed at one
session to be discussed at the next session so that the participants
had a week to formulate their interpretations. This procedure
combines both the case-board approach and the method of comparing
independently derived interpretations. A large degree of agreement
was found between the meanings assigned to the dream cycles by the
members of the seminar. There were some minor differences but no
major ones. Unfortunately, it is not possible to state the extent of
the agreement in quantitative terms, something we hope to be able to
do in the future by developing more precise methods. Although a
judgment is not necessarily correct because six people concur, it is
considered to be more valid than the judgment of a single person. And
certainly if six people had made six different interpretations of the
same cycle, any hope of validating dream analysis would have gone
glimmering. It is important therefore to have demonstrated the
existence of social agreement with respect to dream interpretations.
2. Internal consistency
The dreams of a cycle are consistent with
one another. They express over and over some basic conflict, in which
the dreamer tries now this solution, now that, in a trial-and-error
fashion so typical of a person engrossed in problem-solving. If space
permitted we would present scores of cycles like the example given in
a preceding section in which the separate dreams hang together like
variations on a theme. There is the poignant cycle recorded by a
21-year-old African-American girl. She feels rejected by white people whose
acceptance she yearns for, and she in turn rejects the members of her
own race because of their inferior status. In five different dreams
she is cut off from a group of people who are usually portrayed as
having a good time. Another dream depicts a valiant but unsuccessful
attempt to identify with her own race. In this dream she tries to dye
a skirt black but it will not take the dye and she finally gives up.
Several of her dreams are quite moving. In one she listens to
"Rhapsody in Blue" for hours because no matter what station she
dials, that selection is being played, in another she is playing
tennis and it begins to rain, and in a third she possesses $10,000
but is able to spend only $6.00 of it. There are sixteen dreams in
this girl's cycle and they all have a bearing upon her tragedy, that
of being separated from white people because they will not accept
her, from blacks because she cannot accept them.
There is the dream cycle of an 18-year-old boy who is concerned about
the responsibilities attendant upon reaching adult status. He dreams
of his high school friends and the good times they used to have, and
on other nights his dreams are filled with a feeling of inadequacy
and anxiety. In the dreams of a returned veteran, age 22 and married
there is found the recurrent theme of the loss of freedom in marriage
and the desire to return to the masculine camaraderie which he had in
the army. His dreams include such related items as planning a
business venture with an army buddy, meeting a former pal on the
street, drinking beer with six army friends, clerking in a men's
store, renting a larger and roomier apartment, swimming in an indoor
pool where the air was so humid he could not breathe easily, and
visiting his wife at the hospital.
One series of dreams recorded by a 22-year-old boy are filled with
the horror, hostility, sadism, and destruction characteristic of
Poe's short stories. His friends areswamped by a tidal wave and he
barely escapes, he is shown through hell, a giant crab plucks out the
eyes of an alligator, a black cat tries to bite him, he is about to
fall from a high bridge, a patient whom he is shaving grabs the razor
and cuts himself from ear to ear so that the blood gushes out in
great spurts like water from a fire-hydrant, he is chased by a large
man, and he is injecting his present roommate for syphilis. This
series is the most pathological of any we have examined. The reason
for his sadistic-masochistic feelings is not clearly revealed in the
dreams, although a sexual conflict is suggested. However, the
consistency of the mood expressed in the dreams is marked.
The dreams of a 20-year-old college girl tell of the difficulties she
has in her relationships with people, especially her parents and
boy-friend. The spotlight dream of this cycle is a splendid example
of a mother-father-daughter triangle.
I dreamed I was in the lake with my mother and father-it was getting
dark. The water was covered with a film-like oil I would produce. At
first we were all swimming out from shore in this filmed area. My
father on my left, my mother on my right. Then the filmed area
separated. My father remained in the large filmed area and my mother
in the smaller filmed area while I was left in clear water. I wanted
to swim toward my father but I was told or somehow received the
feeling that he wasn't worth swimming to-he was not good-so I swam
toward my mother (and here I'm not sure whether it was my own mother
or my stepmother)-and just as I entered the filmed part she was in, I
got the feeling that my father was really o.k. but we had
misunderstood him-but that it was too late to try to go to him so I
kept on swimming toward my mother or stepmother, whoever it may be.
Among her other dreams, all of which fit into a common pattern, the
following scenes are acted out: an argument between a man and woman,
an argument between three people, being beaten up while she is
sleeping with her sister in a crib, running into a truck while
driving with her boyfriend because the brakes would not hold, walking
away from her boyfriend.
The impotence felt by a 22-year-old college boy is reiterated again
and again in his dreams. He shoots at Indians who are attacking his
house but the bullets are of wood and fall short of the mark, he
tries to spear a rabbit but his arm will not move, he is unable to
stop a car even though he puts on the brakes, he has difficulty
stacking boxes evenly, he has to delay a trip to California because
he cannot purchase a ticket, he takes a gun from a girl and shoots at
inanimate objects, and he is driving along a narrow, slippery street
to a funeral.
Numerous other dream cycles have been analyzed and almost without
exception the dreams of each cycle form a homogeneous cluster. This
is not surprising, since, in the modern theory of personality, the
person is assumed to possess unity even though in his behavior he may
Another complete dream series is presented to illustrate the
coherence which is to be found in dreams.
Subject: Female, 19 years, college sophomore.
Basic conflict: A desire to remain faithful to her husband, who is in
the army overseas, vs. a wish for sexual gratification.
Spotlight Dream B1:
Last night I dreamed that I was walking up the
stairs in the administration building and someway or other my dress
was flying up around my waist. I remember being terribly embarrassed
as the stairs were crowded with students. As I remember, I was
running for some sort of an office (that is, I was a candidate) and
that was no way to win an office.
Spotlight Dream B2:
Last night I dreamed that I was waiting to be
served in a restaurant. I waited an extremely long time and became
These two dreams inform us that the dreamer is
growing impatient and contemplates direct action to satisfy her
sexual need. The embarrassment is a twinge of conscience for having
I dreamed my husband was home. We were driving to a picnic
(on the beach) and we had a carload of people. I kept praying that I
wasn't dreaming, that it was true that he was home. I kept telling
myself it must be so because it was so real. I was disappointed when
I awakened and found it was just a dream.
This dream represents the best solution for
her conflict, namely, the return of her husband.
I dreamed that I was in Fort Smith, Ark. I was at some sort
of a party and it was in the woods. I suddenly saw my husband. Of
course, he kissed me and then we sat down to talk. He said he was
bringing some German prisoners over from Germany and he didn't have
long to stay. I noticed that he wasn't wearing his wedding ring. I
asked him if he had been going out with other girls and he said that
he had. I asked him if we could go for a walk to get away from the
people and to talk. Just as we started for the walk, I awakened.
This is a nice rationalization of an impulse
to be unfaithful. If the husband were not true to the dreamer, it
would excuse her infidelity.
I dreamed that my husband was dead and was in a suitcase in
my closet at the dormitory. My roommate and I were frightened when we
found him. The undertaker took him (suitcase and all) to a theatre
and placed him up where the projector ordinarily is placed. I was
sitting there with him crying while at the same time there was a
wedding taking place on the stage. The bride was a friend of mine (a
redhead) and she had on a pink wedding gown. As I remember, my
husband wasn't dead, but he was "kidding" me. I might mention that I
quite often dream that my husband is dead.
Under the circumstances it would be better if
her husband were dead, since this would leave her free to marry
another man. The wedding represents her own remarriage. This
interpretation is supported by the color of the wedding dress,
which would not look well on a red-haired person but which would be
becoming on the dreamer, who is blond. This solution, i.e. the death
of her husband, is not acceptable to her, so she treats it as
I dreamed that I was talking to my brother-in-law and he
suddenly turned into my husband.
In my dream, my cousin and I were riding and then we
suddenly stopped to wait until a helicopter came along to pick us up.
I believe I dreamed that we were taken in the helicopter (horses and
all) to another trail where we continued our ride.
I dreamed that my brother and I went to a small restaurant
to get something to eat. Dr. H. was the cook there and he was making
waffles. Then he suddenly was sitting in a living room and a woman
was there. I introduced my brother to him and asked if the woman was
his wife. He said, "yes"; but then I remembered that I had met his
wife and this woman was very definitely one I had never seen before.
Although desiring male companionship and
love, she cannot be promiscuous. A brother, brother-in-law, cousin,
or teacher are respectable substitutes for her husband. B8 has
interesting possibilities. It may mean that she is trying to
rationalize her own conduct by projecting infidelity onto a respected
teacher or that she is attracted to the teacher and wishes him to be
unfaithful to his wife in order to justify her own desire to promote
an affair with him.
3. External consistency
No systematic investigation of the
congruence of interpreted dream cycles with other methods of
diagnosing personality and with personal data has been completed. A
study of the relationship between dreams and the Rorschach and TAT is
now in progress. Preliminary results with the Rorschach indicate that
this method either does not describe the same aspects of the
personality that dreams do or that the Rorschach and dreams yield
different descriptions of the inner dynamics. In this study
twenty-five "expert" judges were unable to match personality sketches
based upon dreams with sketches based upon the Rorschach.
Through personal interviews with a number of subjects whose dream
series had been analyzed, many of the interpretations were verified.
For example, the girl in Case B, cited above, admitted that she was
having a strong conflict with regard to the satisfaction of her sex
drive. She did not believe her husband was going with other girls,
but she rather hoped he would so she could indulge her own libido.
The African-American girl whose dreams showed she was foiled in her attempts
to gain acceptance by white people and who could not accept her own
race has a white grandmother and other white ancestors. Two of her
brothers can pass as white. Her family lived in a white neighborhood
for years and the dreamer has gone out with white and black boys.
Although she denied any feeling of being discriminated against as an
African-American, her comments during the interview belied this denial.
Another girl whose dreams revealed a strong fixation upon her father
readily admitted that she was very attached to him. This was borne
out by observations made by other students who had visited in the
dreamer's home. They noticed that the father and daughter were
intimate companions and treated the mother as an outsider. Space does
not permit us to multiply examples similar to the foregoing.
The method of validating dream interpretations by
prediction is especially tricky since it is often difficult if not
impossible to calculate the probability of occurrence of any given
life event. For example, a prediction was made on the basis of two
dream cycles recorded by a college boy and girl who at the time were
going steady that they would soon break up. The prophecy came true.
Before we can properly evaluate the significance of this prediction
it would be necessary to discover how many college romances are
blighted. If it were found that in 95 per cent of the cases such
affairs are broken off, then our prediction would have little merit
since a "guess" unsupported by any evidence would be right 95 percent
of the time.
In another case, it was predicted from his dreams that a college
freshman boy would adjust himself to the college environment as soon
as he had made friends and could participate in group activities.
This came to pass. Again the significance of this prophecy is
questionable since the situation must be a fairly typical one.
Another prediction was made that a girl whose dream series revealed a
strong attachment to her father would fall in love with a man who
resembled him. Shortly after this prediction was made she met and
married such a man. What are the odds that a girl will be attracted
to a boy who is a father-image?
Foretelling of the future is dramatic but it may be spurious unless
the odds are known. Until such a time as probabilities can be
determined not much confidence can be placed in the method of
validating dream interpretations by prediction. It is suggestive,
however, that a number of correct predictions have been made.
The same difficulty is encountered in the method of
validation by postdiction. In one instance the postdiction was made
that the dreamer's mother had died several years before. As in
prediction, we would need to know in what percentage of cases the
mothers of our subjects are deceased. Then it would be necessary to
make a number of postdictions from the dreams as to whether the
mothers of different dreamers are alive or dead. But this second step
assumes that a number of dream series can be obtained from which one
is able to draw this inference. Actually few such dream series will
probably be found, so that the sample will not be sufficiently large
to make a trustworthy comparison between postdictions and probability
There is presented in this article (1) a viewpoint
regarding dreams as psychological data, (2) a theory of dreams, (3) a
method for analyzing dreams, and (4) some evidence for the validity
of dream analysis.
The viewpoint is that dreams are personal documents
and projections which can be employed for the appraisal of the inner
dynamics of the personality.
The theory states that the dreams of an individual
represent attempts to resolve his current conflicts.
The method involves the analysis of a series of
dreams as a unified and coherent structure.
The validation of dream analysis by the methods of
(a) social agreement, (b) internal agreement, (c) external agreement,
(d) agreement with the future, and (e) agreement with the past is
discussed, and evidence for the validity of dream analysis obtained
from the application of several of these methods is presented.
The writer wishes to acknowledge the great help which he has
received from the members of a seminar group which met weekly to
discuss the material upon which this paper is based. The participants
were Herman Arbitman, Alex Darbes, Grace Keller, Sam Saltzer, and
Louise von Mengeringhausen. Although the writer is solely responsible
for the preparation of this article, he has incorporated into it many
valuable suggestions and original ideas contributed by these students.
- The terms "series" and "cycle" refer to the dreams reported by an individual.
- The dream series contains not only the dreams but also the
subject's attempts to explain the dreams.
- The ways in which the dreamer tries to solve his conflicts may also
indicate something about his personality traits. For example, if one
person assumes a submissive role in his dreams, and another sees
himself attacking his problems with confidence and boldness, it is
possible that these dream traits are reflections of customary modes
of behavior in waking life. Hostility, regressiveness, slyness,
chicanery, duplicity, explosiveness, shyness, amiability, altruism,
persistence are a few of the traits which might reveal themselves in
dreams. This hypothesis will not be considered in the present paper
but it warrants investigation.
- This suggests the interesting hypothesis that the inner dynamics
can accommodate only one conflict at a time.
- At the time of the analysis, only the fact that the dreamer was a
female was known.
- There is also the classic Oedipus interpretation. Upon the death of
her mother, she would succeed to her position. If this were the
correct interpretation, it is love for her father rather than desire
for security which binds her to the home.
- We have derived much benefit from the discussion of validation in
G. W. Allport's excellent monograph, The Use of Personal Documents in
Psychological Science. Social Science. Research Council, Bulletin 49, 1942.
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