Your Dreams Are So Predictable: How One Indefatigable Sleep Researcher Disproved Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’

In Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, author David K. Randall (@DKRandall) introduces Calvin Hall, a professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Hall spent more than thirty years gathering dream reports from everyone who would share them. By the time he died in 1985, he had synopses of more than fifty thousand dreams from people of all age groups and nationalities. More than anyone had done prior, Hall introduced the world of dream interpretation to the world of data. From Dreamland:

Hall’s conclusion was the opposite of Freud’s: far from being full of hidden symbols, most dreams were remarkably straightforward and predictable. Dream plots were consistent enough that, just by knowing the cast of characters in a dream, Hall could forecast what would happen with surprising accuracy. A dream featuring a man whom the dreamer doesn’t know in real life, for instance, almost always features a plot in which the stranger is aggressive. Adults tend to dream of other people they know, while kids usually dream of animals. About three out of every four characters in a man’s dream will be other men, while women tend to encounter an equal number of males and females. Most dreams take place in the dreamers’ homes or offices and, if they have to go somewhere, they drive cars or walk there. And not surprisingly, college students dream about sex more often than middle-aged adults.

Hall’s research deflated the idea that dreams are surreal. The plot may not follow any logical order and characters may have strange requests, but the dream world isn’t that far from reality. More important, dreams tend to be unpleasant. Hall found that the average dream is filled with characters who were aggressive, mean, or violent.