Schneider & Domhoff take a statistical and objective approach to the study of dreams. Individual dream reports are collected in sleep laboratories, college classrooms or from individuals who are keeping a dream journal for personal reasons. The dreams are not interpreted but are analysed using a content analysis system that was originally developed by Calvin Hall in order to find consistencies. Domhoff advises that 100-120 dream reports in each sample are necessary for findings to be reliable.

There are four steps to dream content analysis:

1. Formulate categories for all the elements that appear frequently in dreams. For example:

    Characters (animals, men and women, friends, strangers)
    Activities (thinking, talking, running)
    Emotions (happy, sad, embarrassed)
    Social interactions (aggression, friendliness, sexuality)

2. Count the number of times the various elements in 1 appear (how many male characters, how many female, etc).

3. Turn the frequencies of categories into %’s and ratios. For example:

    a) Animal %: total number of animals appearing in the dreams divided by the total number of all characters in the dreams.
    b) Male/Female % – The total number of human males divided by the total number of human male + human female characters.
    c) What % of dreams have at least one of something, for example, one instance of aggression (aggression can mean everything from an angry thought through insults, chasing someone, fighting and murder.
    d) F/C index – number of friendly interactions divided by the total number of characters

4. Finally, compare the findings in 3 with the ‘norms’.

Domhoff’s studies have revealed continuity between the dream findings and the dreamers waking concerns suggesting that dreams have ‘meaning’. These studies have also shown that there is a consistency in what an adult dreams about over several months, years and decades as well as revealing many cross cultural similarities. For example, the % of animal characters in dreams always declines from age 5. Animals appear more frequently in children’s dreams with a lower % appearing in the dreams of adults. The % of animals is also higher in hunter gatherer societies than it is in industrialised societies, which goes some way in showing that dreams are relating to the waking world.

In terms of human characters, men appear to dream more frequently about other men (roughly 67% male characters / 33% female characters). These male characters encountered are more likely to be strangers or unknown characters. Women, on the other hand, appear to dream equally about other men and women. Women however tend to have more people they know in their dreams. 44% of all women’s dreams and 47% of all men’s dreams in norms have at least one form of aggression. Women, however, tend to have less physical aggression. The F/C index (the number of friendly interactions divided by the total number of characters) is usually about the same in both men’s and women’s dreams (0.22).

Domhoff also discovered that negative elements (aggression, misfortune, etc) are far more common in dreams than positive elements (friendly interactions, good fortunes, happiness or joy). Almost 80% of the ‘norm’ dreams for men and women have at least one negative element only 53% have one of the more positive elements.

Schneider, A., & Domhoff, G. W. (2009). The Quantitative Study of Dreams. Retrieved from

Lecture by Bill Domhoff entitled “The Awesome Lawfulness of Your Nightly Dreams” 9th April 2008 at UC Santa Cruz’s Music Recital Hall.