Diagramming the Emotional Content of Dreams

In this series I devised a system whereby I could attempt to quantify emotions reported in different subject’s dreams and then create visualizations from the data I gathered. Methodologically, the project is itself a nightmare! The quantification of emotion is entirely subjective, the development of a suitably scaled register of emotions extremely tricky, the sample sizes (nine dreams per subject) are too small, and it is next to impossible to assign visibly distinct colors and patterns to a range of emotions large enough to do some justice to the complex human psyche! So as a work of legitimate “science”, these diagrams are perhaps of dubious value (and perhaps that is part of the point – quantification of subjectivity is notoriously difficult!). Still, they do present at a glance a general “gestalt” of a dreamer, and it is easier to note certain features in this format than from a chart of numbers. For example, Phil, a retired humanities professor, has no positive encounters with anybody in the dreams I happen to have selected, while Toby, a young “party animal” has many. Meanwhile Joan, a college student, has dreams that are almost as anxiety-filled as the nightmares of an anonymous Vietnam war veteran. And Barb Sanders has dreams that range all over the emotional scale. In these images, dream reports are transformed into peculiar geometries resembling crop circles, with only the subtle hints of names to indicate their manifest content. 

All the dreams analyzed here are taken from “The Dreambank“, a dream report repository maintained by Adam Schneider & G. William Domhoff at the Department of Psychology, UC Santa Cruz.

Below is the legend used to encode (and decode) the diagrams, and an illustrative example. 

Use the links below to view the dreams of the following subjects (whose names have been changed, FYI!).

Barb Sanders  |  A Vietnam Vet  |  Joan  |  Toby  |  Phil

#0662, 01-04-1985

In the dream on the left, “Barb Sanders” goes through seven distinct emotional states, each represented by a ring of color progressing outward from the center. It starts with strong affection, but ends in anxiety. The size of each ring represents the intensity of that feeling. Two other actors are present in the dream, who are both strangers (the dotted lines), but there is a romantic element in one of them (the wavy line). Her interaction is negative with the “Bad Guy Neighbor”(he is placed on the left), while she has a positive interaction with the other (on the right). Here the size of the circle represents the relative importance they play in the emotional state of the dreamer. In this case they are both quite large, indicating they each play an important role. All diagrams begin with a circle of white, the unknown emotional state that precedes the dream. Note that in general “cool” colors, (greens, blues and also browns) indicate more negative feelings, while “warm” colors (reds, purples, yellows) indicate more positive feelings – this dream moves from generally positive to generally negative.