Dream Study Discussion Section -
Most Recent and Earliest Recalled Dream reports. In the current study only one of the 101 participants entered no dream reports with at least some threat descriptions, and of all the three dream types, 73.9% contained at least one threat. Although the original three studies examining university students with the DTS content analyzed one or two-weeks’ worth of dreams from each participant and only one recent dream was requested from each student in the current study, similar results were obtained in all four sample populations (Revonsuo & Valli, 2009). Averaging reports from University of Turku students, Swedish, and Finnish university students results in 72.1% of reports with at least one threatening event (SD = 5.3), compared to exactly 75% of the MRD reports with at least one threat in the current study. Although the number of dreams with at least some threat description is equivalent across these studies, the percentage of word count describing threats is higher in the current study.
Type-of-threat frequency cannot be directly compared to earlier research because in the current study only one instance of each threat and non-threat sub-type in each major category was coded for. Although Aggressions (including Pursuits) accounted for, on average, ~42% of threats in the previous university populations, this category only accounted for 31.7% of threats in the current sample. This may be a result of a more comprehensive category scheme, smaller participant sample size, the conservative nature of only coding for one sub-type in each category, or due to a real content difference between the SFSU and the foreign university students.
As in earlier findings using a DTS to analyze children’s dreams, it was found in the current study that participants’ Earliest Recalled Dreams (ERD’s) had more threat as Aggressions than did their recent, adult dreams. Dreams with at least one type of Aggression were 30% more common in ERD’s than in MRD’s. Early dreams had more pursuits and three times as many physical Attacks, Threat of Aggressions, and Pursuit from Animals as the recent dreams had. As might be expected, earliest dream reports were the shortest of the three types, likely due to the memories fading from time-lapse and the immature dream constructing and descriptive abilities of a younger mind.
The current study’s ERD’s had a higher threat word percentage to total word counts than even the severely traumatized child populations from previous research, but not a higher percentage of dreams with at least one threat. Analyzed through a DTS, children’s dreams have had threat description percentages from 20.1% (Finnish children) to 61.1% (traumatized Kurdish children), and in the current sample the recall of earliest dreams averaged 62.6% (SD = 42.2) threatening content, a higher percentage than in MID’s or MRD’s. This heightened threat description as percentage of total words in dream reports for the current study may be related to how memory for dreams works, with an emphasis placed on retaining dream experiences of worst case scenarios and disturbing events.
Even with many more female than male participants, most DTS results were similar between the sexes. Threat ratio to total word descriptions, in all dreams combined, were virtually the same between men and women. Of course, with only 13 participants, males had less variation in coded-for subcategories, but there was generally agreement in highest scoring DTS items for males and females. Notable exceptions were that female reports had less physical Attacks but more Verbal Hostility than the males’ did, and women predominated in Inability to Talk (Failures category), as well as describing Threat of Attack in 14.8% of all female dreams, while this aggression was not seen in male dreams. Interpreted cautiously, these differences could infer the types of differences we may expect between the sexes: women having more relational/verbal aggression and experiencing more threat pressure sans overt aggression than men do, and inversely, men being more apt to imagine physical attacks. Falling was the most common Misfortune for both sexes, representing an event of grave import irrespective of sex, and Sex/Dating was the most frequent Non-Threat category, another survival-of-the-species concern.
There is sagacity in not attempting to construe meaning behind why various dream types contain the typical content which they do. Without applying the experimental method, theory is mere conjecture. With that said, one cannot help but entertain reason when examining patterns like those found in this study’s DTS theme results across the three dream types. If dreams serve an adaptive function, we may expect that the theme(s) of dreams to change as humans age and survival needs change. This developmental approach to dream studies can incorporate a hierarchy of dream purposes. Overall, dreams may serve multiple survival mechanisms, but how these goals are pursued could change across the life-span.
Failures were led by “freezing” scenarios (inability to move, scream, or breathe) in participants’ earliest dream reports, eight times as frequent as in recent dreams. ERD’s also had five instances of being Lost, while the other two dream types had none. Failures reigned as being Late/out of time in the MRD dreams, with none of this sub-category manifesting in the ERD’s. For a child, a major threat might be that she become immobilized, the world-at-large one giant threat to her immature volitional powers. And if a youngster cannot scream, adults cannot save them. To be lost, without the resources of older experience may also prove terminal for a child. These concerns do not dominate the young adult, but not reaching deadlines is a sin with social and personal consequences.
As stated previously, falling does not discriminate between the sexes in its potentially life-threatening consequence, nor does it care for age. Misfortunes were dominated by falling in both ERD’s and in MRD’s, even accounting for nearly half of the earliest dreams’ Misfortunes. As for Aggressions, ERD’s and MRD’s both had many instances of being Pursued, but the early dreams included many more Attacks. A child should be more vigilant in her identification of potential attacks, in that the small size of youth makes this event, in waking, particularly dangerous. Adults, on the other hand, would perhaps be best suited at fleeing when presented with a serious nemesis, being that they may have a good chance of escape.
Most Important Dream reports. All but four of the 101 participants could identify and report a Most Important Dream, making them the most memorable dream type. MID’s were included in this study based on the assumption that, if the personally most meaningful dreams in a sample populations’ lives were filled with threatening content, this would be a boost to the Threat Simulation Theory of dreaming. If dreams, and dream recall, were unbiased to theme selections when portraying virtual realities, we might expect as many positive MID themes as negative, perhaps much more so. But like the ERD’s and MRD’s, Most Important Dreams were, more often than not, simulations of threatening situations.
Although Flying and Fantastic themes were fairly common in MID’s, Sex and Dating, followed by Interacting with the Deceased were the first and second most typical Non-threat theme categories coded for, respectively. The sex and dating themed dreams often involved feelings of guilt for cheating on a partner or the uncomfortable clumsiness one would hope not to occur during intimate relations. In dreams of the deceased, the dreamer sometimes realized within the dream that the person they saw or interacted with – be it a grandparent, parent, sibling, etc. – was no longer (supposed to be) alive. Sometimes in these meetings with passed-on loved ones important questions would be answered, such as what it is like on the other side. Reading these dream reports of interactions with the departed makes one wonder whether it was in dreams that early religious conceptions of an after-life were first born.
The encounters with deceased friends and relatives and the fantastic dreams reported give the impression of providing awe to the dreamer. And what is awe? The archaic definition of awe is the power to inspire dread (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/awe). Generally, by awe we mean the emotion of reverence one has when face to face with something seemingly far more powerful than us, sans the combined expectation that we will be immediately harmed. Those entities and situations which demand our utmost respect and attention, and would otherwise inspire fear if it were not for some buffer between us, illicit awe. Staring at the Grand Canyon from behind a railing may provide awe. Likewise, the magical process of birth can inspire awe, not only for its beauty, but because it, like death, reminds us of our ignorance as to how something so fragile and complex as life emerges and will again recede into mystery.
On the flip side of those reunions with the dead were the many reports which described the loss of a loved one. The death of a friend, family member, or partner was the predominant Misfortune in MID’s, and along with Falling accounted for 60.6% of MID Misfortunes. It is interesting to note that there were an equal number of “deaths of” as there were “reunions with” loved ones. There are few things one could imagine which would be more threatening than to witness the death, especially the violent death, of a person you are close to. Likewise, to have the gift of interacting with such a person again would be the paramount of good fortune.
Of all threatening events in MID’s only being Attacked was more common than the death of a loved one. Attacks were 37.5% more common in MID’s than in ERD’s and over 80% more frequent than in ERD’s. Pursuit without being attacked occurred in 8 MID’s (half as frequent as Attacks), and the perpetrator was always a monster or unknown (except in the one instance of Pursued as Outlaw). The remaining Threat-other subcategories, not including those coded as indefinable, were recalled dreams of affectively torturous embarrassment, being cheated on by a partner, ridiculed, or otherwise violated. Aside from the occasional ecstatic flying dream and the cherished chance to see a passed-on loved one, even Most Important Dreams are typically menacing simulations.
Removing dreams with no threat. Words describing threats in dreams were counted by identifying full sentences or, as sometimes delineated by commas, sentence portions directly related to threatening content. In initial attempts to codify threats in the dream reports, there was very little disagreement between three coders as to what sentences described threat, “threat” being defined as any content which, if occurring to a normal and reasonable individual, would be perceived as threatening. Being virtual reality simulations, so realistic that they are rarely misinterpreted for anything but real life, dreams must portray an environment in which the dream can occur. Although the environment and its inclusion of material extraneous to the central threats, yet necessary to instill a feel of realism, may be recalled and transmitted through dream report, this does not mean that all such description is worthy of humbling the Threat Simulation Theory for the function of dreaming. Just as in waking life a person may tell of how it was sunny on a particular day and there were birds chirping in the background, while a lunatic was in pursuit with a bloody knife, we would not suppose that there was anything less than terror experienced the entire time. And yet, if these sentences were separate and they were describing a dream, we would count the former as non-threat and the latter as threatening words. This is a way of saying that the word counts are most likely under-representative of how much threat occurred in the recalled dream reports.
And still, 37.5% of all dream reports (44% of ERD’s) contained only threat description – 100% of words. Then again, 26.1% of all reports contained zero words which were of an obviously threatening description. If we remove the slightly greater than one-quarter of all reports which were threat-less and refigure what percentage of the remaining dreams were devoted to threat description, we are left with some impressive numbers. What remains from the initial 283 dream reports are 210 stories with a mean threat-description = 76.9% of total words (82.8% for ERD’s). This suggests that remembered dreams, and especially earliest recalled and most important dreams, are roughly three-quarters full of threat description, for the three-quarters of dreams which depict threats. This is true for the current sample population and possibly only for the taken approach of requesting one example of three dream types from each participant. If previous research designed to test the Threat Simulation Theory is considered, we may expect that dream journals spanning several weeks and used to record dreams immediately upon awakening would result in as many dreams with at least one threat, but a lower percentage of total words describing threat.