How Early Adolescents Describe Their Dreams: A Quantitative Analysis

By Azzone, Paolo; Freni, Salvatore et al. | Adolescence, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

How Early Adolescents Describe Their Dreams: A Quantitative Analysis


Azzone, Paolo, Freni, Salvatore, Maggiolini, Alfio, Provantini, Katia, Vigano, Daniele, Adolescence


Manifest dreams have been given increasingly more consideration, both as representations (not only as the deformation of latent contents) and as meaningful stories in themselves, beyond dreamers' associations (Greenberg & Pearlman, 1978; Pulver, 1987). Analyzing dreams can produce materials related to day residues and significant childhood memories (Palombo, 1984). The Freudian dream model, with its relation between superficial and deep structure, has been compared to that of transformational linguistics (Heynick, 1981). Linguistic competence in dreams is much higher than Freud thought, since he denied that dreams could produce new propositions if not through the editing of secondary elaboration (Heynick, 1981). Nevertheless, psychoanalysts continue to place special importance on the single dream and its interpretation (Haesler, 1994). Studies on typical dreams are sparse, with the exception of dreams about falling (Saul & Curtis, 1967) and embarrassment (Saul, 1966).

Apart from psychoanalysis, research has been conducted on the manifest content of dreams (see Webb & Cartwright, 1978), and scales for measuring dream reports have been elaborated (Foulkes, 1971; Hauri, Sawyer, & Rechtschaffen, 1967). Several studies have revealed links between dreams and gender (Hall & Domhoff, 1963; Winget, Kramer, & Withman, 1972; Urbina & Grey, 1975), personality traits (Spadafora & Hunt, 1990), mental disturbances (Kramer, Withman, Baldridge, & Ornstein, 1970; Beck & Ward, 1961), and sociocultural conditions (LeVine, 1966; Roll, Hinton, & Glazer, 1974).

Dream content has been investigated from a developmental perspective (Hall & Van de Castle, 1966; Foulkes, 1971, 1982; Turpin, 1976). Children's dreams have been found to be realistic representations of their lives - their dreams being a follow-up of their waking hours and not a discontinuous experience (Webb & Cartwright, 1978). In psychoanalysis, it is acknowledged that dreams change according to age. Children's dreams reflect the interaction of drives and ego development. They represent the most pressing concerns and tasks for children at the different stages of growth. In dreams, children give symbolic or metaphoric expression to their developmental struggles (Ablon & Mack, 1980; Mahon, 1992; Greenberg & Pearlman, 1978).

As objects of analysis, dreams are tales, that is, one of the most direct and universal expressions of the human capacity to produce stories. Studying a dream as a narrative shifts attention from interpretation to analysis: (1) interpretation makes the meaning of a dream clear to the dreamer, who is trying to grasp its references to both external and internal worlds; (2) analysis identifies the tale's form, characters, theme, plot, and structure. A dream cannot be interpreted without the associations that provide references, but it still can be analyzed as a text, and its morphology and narrative structure studied.

The analysis of dream narratives can involve several facets (e.g., content, structure, language). The present study analyzed the frequency of grammar forms and words used in dream telling. Since this kind of research does not require a synthesis based on content categories, it allows generalizations that are independent of any theoretically based interpretative model.

Emphasis has been placed on the uniqueness of dreams rather than on their universality, on their referentiality rather than their textuality. In general, they have been interpreted as expressions of infantile desires or considered elaborations of the problems of waking hours. If, however, typical content is emphasized, dreams can be seen as a way of giving shape to conflicts occurring during the life cycle. The typical problems of life form the common ground activating the emotional symbolization of age-specific anxieties or situations. Therefore, the dreams of those at the same developmental stage can be studied collectively (rather than the wishes of a single dreamer), and the elements common to a subgroup of individuals sorted out.

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