Dreaming LifeDreaming Life

Calvin Hall developed the cognitive theory of dreams, which says that we use our dreams to express our ideas about ourselves and the world around us.

Hall, an American psychologist who lived from 1909 to 1985, is famous for studying the content of dreams and for his work with the quantitative analysis of dream content.

Hall's early studies used anonymous dream reports that were provided to him by his students. Later on, he studied dream reports given to him by people of all ages, from all over the world.  By the time he died, he had studied more than 50,000 dream reports.

Hall, along with the psychologist Robert van de Castle, developed a quantitative coding system for dreams that dream researchers still use today.  This coding system, which was explained in their book, The Content Analysis of Dreams, divides dream elements into the categories of characters, social interactions, objects, activities, settings, emotions, misfortune and good fortune, failure and success, and descriptive elements, such as time. Social interactions are subdivided further into the categories of friendliness, aggression and sexuality.    There are clear rules about how to code each of the elements in a category in a dream report.

The quantitative coding system allows researchers to determine how important each category, and each element within the category, is in the dream.

When Hall examined dream reports, he used this dream coding system to look for obvious patterns and themes.

He discovered that there is a high degree of similarity among the dreams of people all over the world, even though cultural differences do have some effect on dream content.

Hall's researched showed that there are individual differences in the frequency of dream elements that reflect continuity with waking thoughts.  The more often the same dream element appeared in a dream, the more important it was to the individual.

These findings led to the development of Hall's cognitive theory of dreams.

According to Hall, the elements in our dreams are the embodiments of our thoughts.  In waking life, we communicate our thoughts to other people by using words, gestures and pictures. In our dreams, we use dream elements to communicate our thoughts to ourselves.

Hall believed that dream elements are representations of our conceptions - the ideas we have about the essential qualities of things. For example, a conception of winter can include cold, snow, ice, bare trees and early sunsets.

He thought that dreams reflect our conceptions of ourselves, of the people around us, of our urges and the societal rules surrounding them, and of the conflicts and problems that we have

In a dream, a conception becomes transformed into a concrete image.

Hall thought that to interpret a dream, you have to reverse the process. You have to take the dream image and try to find out what idea the image is supposed to represent.

As an example, Hall received a report of a dream in which the dreamer is trying, with difficulty, to do a mathematics problem when he is approached by a sexy girl who wants to dance with him.  The dreamer stops trying to do the math problem, dances with the girl and even gets in the shower with the girl, but they never takes their clothes off and they do not have sexual relations.

Later on in the dream, the dreamer imagines that he passes by a building where an orgy is going on, but something keeps him from going inside. At the same time, he hears church bells ringing.

Hall said that the dream reflects a conflict between dreamer's conception of himself as an intelligent, industrious, moral person and his conception of himself as a sensual, sexual being.

Hall's books, The Meaning of Dreams and The Individual and His Dreams stressed the importance of keeping a dream diary.