Detecting Meaning in Dream Reports: An Extension of a Word Search Approach

Detecting Meaning in Dream Reports: An Extension of a Word Search Approach by Kelly BulkeleyA new article I co-authored with Bill Domhoff is appearing in the latest issue of the APA journal Dreaming (vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 77-95).  The abstract is below.

What amazed me about this project was how easy it was to make accurate inferences about the waking life of our participant, “Van,” without ever reading his dream narratives–just by looking at the statistical frequencies with which he used certain words in reporting his dreams.

Our findings are additional evidence in favor of the idea that dreaming has meaningful psychological structure, and against the idea that dreaming is merely random nonsense from the brain during sleep.


Building on previous investigations of waking-dreaming continuities using word search technology (Domhoff and Schneider 2008, Bulkeley 2009a, 2009b), this article demonstrates that a blind analysis of a dream series using only word search methods can accurately predict many important aspects of the individual’s waking life, including personality attributes, relationships, activities, and cultural preferences.  Results from a study of the “Van” dream series (N=192) show that blind inferences drawn from a word frequency analysis were almost entirely accurate according to the dreamer.  After presenting these findings we discuss several remaining shortcomings and suggest ways of improving the method for use by other researchers involved in the search for a more systematic understanding of meaning in dreams.

Bulkeley, Kelly. 2009a. The Religious Content of Dreams: New Scientific Foundations. Pastoral Psychology 58 (2):93-101.

———. 2009b. Seeking Patterns in Dream Content: A Systematic Approach to Word Searches. Consciousness and Cognition 18:905-916.

Domhoff, G. William, and Adam Schneider. 2008. Studying dream content using the archive and search engine on Consciousness and Cognition 17:1238-1247.