Final Draft: Factors That Influence Dreams

This topic submitted by Lauren Hollinger, Lauren Schone, Carrie Myers, Bong Sok ( at 4:19 pm on 12/7/01. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Cummins


by: Lauren Schone, Bong Sok, Carrie Myers, Lauren Hollinger

The topic of dreams is on that intrigues many people because of its illusiveness and mystical quality. Because it is a topic that interests our group as well, we have pondered over the question, “Are there certain factors that cause specific types of dreams?” We are attempting to answer this question by doing a study which requires us to pass out dream logs that inquire about factors such as stress, sex, amount of sleep, major, and dorm, while also documenting the types of dreams that first-year students living on Western Campus of Miami University have. We are then going to analyze the results on our own and through Statview to see if we can recognize patterns in dreaming. We also plan to examine the validity of researched claims related to factors that affect dreams.

We are interested in finding out if there are certain factors that influence the kind of dreams that college students have, particularly those on the Western Campus of Miami University. Our group was influenced by one of the lectures that Chris Myers did in which he showed a chart of different types of dreams and their frequencies. It was a lecture about statistics, but it prompted questions in us about what causes certain dreams, so we decided to test it out on our own. From research that we have analyzed, we have come to several hypotheses. We believe that stress will induce more troubled dreams, that the nights after students have been sleep deprived they will dream more, the types of dreams that men and women have will be different, and students with the same majors and stress level will have similar dream patterns. In general, we believe that we will be able to recognize significant dream patterns in freshman students living on Western Campus from the data that we collect. At the conclusion of this lab, we hope that we will see some patterns in the types of dreams that students have and that we will be able to see what factors will promote or inhibit dream remembrance and the types of dreams that students have.

We are interested in proving some of the common theories that we have come across while researching on our own. It would be rather exciting to find significant patterns in students’ dreams and be able to recognize what types of dreams will occur when. This research is interesting because it is a part of everyone's lives and it is a topic that seems to interest everyone. We think that we will be able to help students to understand the patterns in their dreams because we will be gathering a lot of information, analyzing it, and comparing it to the dreams of other students. Most people do not sit and analyze their dreams during the day (not busy college students at least), and even they did, they most likely would not compare them to others' dreams in order to see patterns. Hopefully we will come up with some data that will be of interest to professionals and students alike.

Definition of a dream: a sequence of images, etc. passing through a sleeping person's mind.

Sleeping is an essential part of the life of every human being. Humans spend a quarter of the time that they are asleep dreaming (McPhee 1). This is approximately seven and a half years of a human's life! Therefore, dreams too, are an important part of life (McPhee 1).Dreaming itself is a process. Humans have four stages of sleep (Dreaming 1). Stage I is a very light sleep, Stage II is a deeper sleep and is also the stage in which dreams begin to “brew.”. Stage III is deeper than Stage II and it is also the stage when muscles relax, blood pressure falls, and heart rate slows down (Dreaming 1). Finally, in Stage IV, the deepest sleep and dreams occur, as blood pressure and heart rate fluctuate and the brain begins to heat up when rapid eye movement (REM) begins. Rapid eye movement is the part of sleep where dreams are most vivid. The first rapid eye movement period only lasts ten minutes and the sleeper will cycle from REM to Stage IV until he or she awakes, plunging into deep sleep more than once a night (Dreaming 1).

It was previously believed that sleep was a passive process, but it has been found that sleep is actively induced by the discovery centers of the brain. This inducement is what prompts dreaming. The earliest of evidence of an interest in dreams is in ancient Egyptian dream books that were recorded around 2000 B.C. Peoples of the past used dreams as a method of foretelling the future and it has been realized that dreams emanate from past experiences, as well as unconscious experiences. It has also been proven that dreams are induced by physical factors as well, even by things like indigestion, smells in your sleeping environment, cats sleeping on your stomach, or alarm clocks!

The First Main Dream Theorists
Two men, Freud and Jung, studied the unconscious in depth, and even focused their research on dreams. Many of the theories that we have about dreams today stem from their ideas.

Sigmund Freud
Freud (1856-1939) grew up in Vienna and entered the University of Vienna medical school (one of the few that admitted Jewish men) in 1873. He lacked the funds to venture into the field of neurophysiological research, so he instead decided to study neurology and make money by opening up his own private practice (Sigmund 1). In 1900 Freud published his Interpretation of Dreams and a year later he published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Freud’s ideas, which included “Freudian slips,” the “Oedipus complex,” and ideas about the human sex drive as a shaper of a person’s psychology, proved to be very controversial and his publication of these ideas shocked society in 1905 (Sigmund 2). Society’s disapproval did not deter Freud from his studies and so in 1809 he and seventeen disciples formed the Psychoanalytical Society and Freud
began traveling and lecturing on his innovative theories. In 1923 Freud was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw. He survived through thirty operations over a sixteen year period, but eventually died in 1939 in England, where he had been allowed to seek refuge during Hitler’s reign due to his fame and popularity (Sigmund 2).

Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams gave insight into the function dreams. His main theory was that dreams served as tool for wish-fulfillment, like the desire to do well on an exam or the desire to meet someone of the opposite sex. Freud concurred that two things occurred during sleep: unconscious impulses/wishes, as well as the wish to sleep (Sigmund 2). Freud saw dreams as the “guardians” of sleep, preserving sleep by blocking out intrusive events that would otherwise disturb the slumber. He believed dreams served this purpose by connecting disturbing external and somatic events with past memories and “robbing” them of their sleep-disturbing qualities (Sigmund 2). He also thought dreams alter the form of unacceptable memories and present them in a rather benign fashion in order to stop these memories from penetrating sleep. In general, Freud saw dreams as an aid in dealing with stressful events and emotions, presenting them in positive terms that allow us to get a thorough night’s sleep (Sigmund 2).

Carl Jung
Jung was also a major contributor to the study of dreams. Jung grew up in Zurich and forged ahead in theories about the autonomous (unconscious) complex and the method of free association (C.G. Jung 1). He worked closely with Freud until they disputed over the ideas of Freud’s psychosexual view of the unconscious. Jung agreed with the biological drives that Freud supported, but he also believed that there was a spiritual aspect to the unconscious that needed to be explored (C.G. Jung 1). Jung was innovative in developing ideas about the self that explored the ideas of archetypes, shadow, animas, and animuses. His theories can be applied to dreams and are even more often used to discuss fairy tales. In Marie-Louise Von Franz’s The Interpretation of Fairy Tales, Jungian theories are applied to fairy tales in much the same way as they are in dreams. Jung’s theories of repression and projection and his insights into the human unconscious have been invaluable in even today’s dream studies.

Why Dream?
Dreams serve a purpose in the brain's functioning. Not only do they help the brain to grow when humans are young, but they also strengthen connections between certain areas of our brains (McPhee 2). When we are deprived of sleep and dreams the nights that follow will be full of many periods of REM sleep (Breger 30). This is why we think that when, for example, Architecture majors pull all-nighters they will have a higher number of dreams following that.

The Differences Between Men and Women’s Dreams
We have also researched the difference between the dreams that men and women have. According to our research, women's dreams usually include indoor settings, family, and home. Women's dreams also often have enclosed bodies of water like lakes and pools, while men's dreams are often outdoors and include unfamiliar settings (Wilkerson 1). Men's dreams also have a lot of weapons, tool, cars, roads, sex with unknown and attractive partners, competition, and conflict (Wilkerson 2). Ironically, even though men have aggression in their dreams, while women have more passivity, men’s dreams have more friendly acts than those of women. There seems to be an obvious difference between the dreams of men and women and we hope we will be able to observe this in our study.
Sex Differences in Dreams (Winget 297)
Men: Mutilation, separation, kidnappers, robbers, and being powerless.
Women: Anxiety and loss of relatives.

Men: Vivid/emotional dreams with elements of fear.
Women: Feelings of worry and love.

Men: Nudity
Women: Examinations

Men: Accidents, injury, punishment, and falling.
Women: Being chased or threatened, strange places.

Men: Aggressive use of the penis and female fear of the penis.
Women: Wish for the penis and symbolic rejection of the penis.

Stress has been found to play an important part in the dreams of people. We have dreams because when we fall asleep at night the mind is still processing the issues and concerns of the day. As the mind shifts into unconsciousness the tension of the issues follow and dreams attempt to resolve the struggles that we are facing. In a study of real life stress and dreams two things were observed: 1) people incorporate elements of their stress into their dreams and 2)stress increases dream emotionality (Sheikh 20). We also found out that the more stress that a person has in his or her life, the more that they will dream. This is because it has been discovered that dreaming is a way to cope with the stress that life throws at people(Breger 187). Through learning this fact, our group came to the hypothesis that architecture students, who are always under the stress of many deadlines, will have more dreams, and these dreams will most likely be full of emotion.
Microsoft Word
weekly data sheet (dream log) Check out our data sheet!

The Plan
We are going to pass out our weekly data sheets to about 10 first-year students per week who live on Miami’s Western Campus. We will collect the sheets every week and compile and compare the data to find out the correlation between the stress level and dream type. These sheets will tell us the person’s stress level, reason for the stress, number of hours slept per night, the number of dreams per night, the major, residence, sex of the surveyed individual, as well as the theme of the person’s dreams each night.

We are not attempting to interpret the dreams of the students, only comparing the type of dream to the variables. Once the data is all collected, we will organize the information by the specific categories. We plan on viewing the data separately in three categories. We will first look at it by sex, next by dorm, and finally by major, to see if there are patterns within these categories. We will then enter our information into Statview to find if our results are significantly related or unrelated by performing t-tests and analyzing the graphs that we create.

Our lab is applicable to college students because we are concerned with many factors that are associated with college students, such as sex, stress, etc. This is why we chose to do this lab. It interests us and it interests other people, younger and older.
After doing research we think that the important factors that influence dreams are sex, number of hours slept, and stress level. We have decided that the purpose of this lab is not to analyze what the dreams of students mean because that is very complicated and we think that it is too subjective to do a scientific experiment that would interpret dreams. That is also why we have chosen specific dream themes. We think that it will be useful for data purposes to have students categorize their dreams, rather than letting them just write down their dreams and trying to group them ourselves. That would be much too complicated and the results would likely be skewed.

Soundness of the Experiment
We feel that our experimental design is sound because it was checked over and reviewed by the professor, the teaching assistant, and various students. Our design is also very specific and organized and will allow for an easier interpretation of the data. All of our information is facts given to us by other students. We are going to try to keep the male to female ratio fairly equal, although males are rather outnumbered on Western. The topic of dreams and the dream log itself do not lend the participants to be biased and we are merely observing patterns in data so there is no reason to “fudge” results because neither the participants nor the members of our group really have any specific idea of what we will find.

We are going to have a many people participate throughout our experiment and we are limiting the time periods for participants to fill out the dream logs. Hopefully, this will create a higher chance of getting truer results of their dreams. Rather than have them fill out a survey for a month, we are doing it weekly so that participants will not ignore the survey or make up dreams. We have specified on the survey that if the participants do not remember their dreams they simply have to mark “none remembered” or if they forget about the survey for a day we ask that they will just leave that day blank. We are doing our best to make students be truthful. Finally, we have made the surveys anonymous so that no one feels funny writing down what he or she dreamt. We realize that not everyone remembers their dreams and that distractions, like alarm clocks, can cause people to lose their dreams.

Time Line
We will pass out these surveys from October 7, 2001 until November 18, 2001, during which time our group will be filling out the surveys every week and handing out the surveys and collecting them on a weekly basis. Once we are done collecting on November 18th we will begin to delve deeply into our evidence and see if our predictions have proven true.

The In-Class Experiment
-We are planning to involve our 8:00 Natural Systems Class in our experiment. Our class period will be structured as follows:
-We will do a Power Point presentation to teach the class a little bit about the functions and history of dreams.
-The class will then have to take a nap for approximately forty-five minutes (we know that at 8:00am this will be a difficult task, but we think that the class can handle it! -Bringing sleeping bags and pillows is encouraged). We will use some dream remembering techniques before the nap and we will wake the class slowly, something else that is supposed to enhance dream remembrance.
-After the nap we will ask the class to record what dreams that they had and we hope to have a discussion regarding them. Hopefully we will have enough input from them that we can facilitate a discussion about the dreams, asking the students questions about their stress level and amount of sleep the night before. Check out the PowerPoint presentation that we used as a tool for teaching the class and sharing our results later on!

Here we are breaking the wonderful news to the class that they are allowed to go back to sleep!
Click here!

The class settles down for their half hour nap. Hopefully they are dreaming!
Click here!

They awake slowly so as to facilitate the remembrance of any dream they had during their nap.
Click here!

The Assignment
Finally, the class will also be responsible for carrying out our dream log survey for a week. This is a requirement!

After collecting all of our surveys, we used Statview and Excel to organize the data into tables that allowed us to create graphs. We chose to compare dream types by majors, dorms, and gender by finding the percent dream type and comparing them. The Spearman Rank test ranked the dream type responses by category and calculated a rho value which ranges from -1 to 1, and a p-value that helped us to understand the significance of our results. We used the fact that if the p-value is above .05 then the categories which we compared are independent of each other and if it is below .05 then there is an obvious correlation between the two compared categories. Check out our survey totals here! Below are the graphs that we created. Make note of the rho values, as well as the p values, which indicate whether or not the compared categories are independent or related. There are some interesting revelations on each graph, check them out too.

In addition, we also organized other gathered information into an Statview document. You can see our chart here! We entered in all the data from our survey, which included, age, gender, major, dorm, hours slept, stress level, number of dreams and types of stress (family, friends, school). From this we could make comparisons about one individual as well as between two individuals. We used these comparisons to see if our hypotheses about hours slept and number of dreams, as well as stress level and number of dreams were correct. There were so many comparisons that could be made that we chose to bypass creating graphs, which might not have given us that much information, and instead we simply cross-compared the data on different levels.


Our initial hypotheses included the idea that men and women would have different dreams and that men’s dreams would be more violent, they would dream about nudity, sex, and even falling. Similarly, we believed that women would have more dreams about examinations and being pursued. Our data has revealed that the p-value for the comparison of men and women was .22, well above .05. This proves that men and women do have different dreams, but when ranked, it was revealed that females actually have more dreams about sex and violence and men have more dreams about examinations. We did find that men had more dreams about nudity and falling, while the dreams about being pursued seemed to be evenly split between men and women. These results surprised us and many of our hypotheses were disproved.

We also had interesting findings when we compared majors. We had thought that Architecture and Interior Design students would have similar dreams because they would have similar stress levels and would be preoccupied with the same assignments and deadlines. What we found, however, which is evident in this graph, is that this was not the case. Architecture students’ dream types seem have proven to be more similar to Environmental Science and Western majors. The p-value for the Architecture/Environmental Science ranking was .01 and the p-value for Architecture/Western was .03. These values are below .05 and so it has been proven that these majors have similar dreams. It is also seen that Environmental Science and Western students have similar dreams as well, with a p-value of .02. Interior Design students, however, were found to be unrelated to any other majors, having p-values above .05 when compared to Architecture, Environmental Science, and Western students. This could be due to the fact that all of the Interior Design students are females.

We compared dorms just to see if there was any correlation between where one lives and dream types. We hypothesized that people living in each dorm would have dreams independent of people of the other dorms. The graphs and p-values indicate that our hypothesis was correct. All of the p-values were .05 or greater, indicating that dream type by dorm is independent. It has shown that McKee and Peabody were the least related, with a p value of .39. Peabody and Mary Lyon were more closely related and had a p value of .25. With a p-value of exactly .05, McKee and Mary Lyon seem to be almost similar in terms of dream type. This seems to make some sense because of the fact that both Mary Lyon and McKee house only first year females.

Our results really surprised us, but there are many reasons why we may have gotten the results that we did. When comparing males and females it is important to notice the number of sample taken. We had twenty-seven females and eleven males due to the uneven ratio of first year males (about 15%) and females (about 85%) on Western Campus. It is true that we did use percents when creating the graphs, but a small sample group could, and possibly did, skew these percents and our results. The problem that we encountered was that the first year male population is rather scarce. We were also surprised by the results obtained when comparing majors. Our results indicate that major can have little to do with dream types and even stress level. The results are similar to what the stress group found when sampling the blood pressure of students from different majors. They too found that it varied across the board and that there seemed to be little correlation between Interior Design and Architecture students, and that sometimes these students were in fact less stressed than Western or Environmental Science students (more of their results can be found in the stress and blood pressure entry on the natural systems final discovery lab page). As all Architecture students, we believed that Western students had less stress than we did, but we now know that this may not be the case. Stress is subjective causing people to rate their stress levels differently, and everyone has personal factors that relate to their stress levels and certainly to their dreams. Another reason why believe the results may be off from what we predicted is the fact the sample populations were uneven. This could have the same result as it had on males and females.

Our work actually questions the results of those we researched, but this could be due to the fact that our lab was less scientific and very subjective. If we were to conduct our experiment again we would sample from even numbers of people. We would have the same number of males and females, people from the different majors, and people from the different dorms. This would give more accurate results that would better help us to understand the average dream type in each category. We feel that our total sample group was too small as well. To get a better idea about dream types it would be more beneficial to sample from a larger group, which we attempted to get, but unfortunately many people were not reliable in filling out the dream surveys as they promised. Our dream logs would need to be revised as well. We picked very specific dream types which limited our participants’ choices and a wider range of dream types may have revealed more patterns. Rating stress level seemed to cause some problems, too. Stress is subjective and it is impossible to have people rate themselves on a similar scale. An 8 for one person may be different than an 8 for another and sometimes people even have stress deep down inside that they are unaware of. This may be why we did not find any correlation between stress level and number of dreams and type of dreams. We also came in with a bias about the stress level of the different majors and it may have been beneficial to interview those of different majors to get a better understanding of the various stresses of each major before we made our hypotheses. Finally, another way to find more exact patterns would be to survey people for longer periods of time and give them numbers so that they could remain anonymous but would allow us to find patterns within an individual.

This experiment proved to be more complex than we had anticipated and it turned out that others were not as cooperative as we had expected. Our results did not really correlate with our hypotheses, but we learned a lot. We learned a lot about dreams and those who studied them, as well as the importance of dreams. We have come to understand our own dreams better by learning that they help us to deal with stressful events in our lives and help to make connections in the brain during our early years. Dreams still baffle and intrigue us, but we think that we have obtained a better understanding of them and their significance through this study.


Bowater, Margaret M. Dreams and Visions. Freedom: Crossing Press, 1999.

Breger, Louis; Hunter, Ian; and Lane, Ron W. Psychological Issues: The Effect of Stress on Dreams. International Universities Press: New York, 1971.

C.G. Jung: A Brief Biography and Bibliography. Jung Bio. 18 October 2001.

Delaney, Gayle. In Your Dreams. Harper: San Francisco, 1997.

De Saint-Denys, Hervey. Dreams and How to Guide Them. London: Duckworth, 1982.

Doing Research Projects on Dream Content. Dreams. 12 September 2001.

Hansen, Vern. The Meaning of Dreams for Sleeping Man. Trinity Center: J and L Publications, 1994.

McPhee, Charles. Ask the Dream Doctor. Dream Doctor. 12 September 2001.

Meier, Barbara and Inge Strauch. In Search of Dreams: Results of Experimental Dream Research. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Neuroscience for Kids. 4 October 2001.

Sheikh, Anees A. Dream images: A Call to Mental Arms. Amityville, Baywood Publishing, 1991.

Sigmund Freud.A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries. 18 October 2001.

The Dreaming Process. Dreams. 12 September 2001.

Wilkerson, Richard. Questions & Answers: Dreams Department. Self-help Magazine. 2001. Pioneer Development Resources. 2 October 2001.

Wilkerson, Richard. Science Projects on Dreams. Science Projects- Educational Material from Association for Study of Dreams. 2 October 2001.

Winget, Carolyn and Kramer, Milton. Dimensions of Dreams. University Presses of Florida: Florida, 1979.

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