Is My Dream Research Biased? A Quick Look at Limitations and Suppositions

When I wrote my book, American Dreamers: What Dreams Tell Us about the Political Psychology of Conservatives, Liberals, and Everyone Else,
I expected some resistance such as:

Dreams are crazy nonsense.

Response: Wrong.  Dreams are meaningful expressions of people’s most important concerns, activities, and beliefs in waking life.  Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t paid attention to the last half-century of dream research.  For scientific evidence in favor of the “continuity hypothesis” see www.dreamresearch.net

Dream interpretation is Freudian foolishness.

Response: I’m using methods very different from Freudian psychoanalysis.  I start with broad, easily observable patterns in large collections of dreams, and then focus on particular dreams that can further illuminate those patterns.

The author is a leftwing nut job.

Response: True, I live near Berkeley, California.  I have a pony-tail and an androgynous name, and I’m a strong Obama supporter.  So what?  My book still provides a “fair and balanced” account of the political psychology of liberals and conservatives, highlighting the character virtues and weaknesses of each perspective, using methods that anyone can try for themselves.  Take a look at the brief biographies of the 10 members of the “dreamers focus group” and you’ll see the political diversity of the dream material presented in the book.

Limitations to my findings

Limits to the sleep and dream poll:

My friends in the social sciences have pointed out the many uncertainties that bedevil the use of simple statistics like these in arguing for broad psychological theories.  I share their concerns, which were well expressed by de Tocqueville: “When statistical method is not based upon rigorously accurate calculations, it leads to error rather than to guidance.  The mind easily allows itself to be deluded by the deceptive appearance of precision which statistics retain even when wrong and it relies confidently upon mistakes apparently clothed in the forms of mathematical truth” (Democracy in America, 255).  I fully recognize the limits of these data, but I’ll stand by the rigor and accuracy of my calculations regarding the sleep and dream patterns of contemporary Americans until other researchers come up with something better.

Limits to the dreamers focus group:

Without question, the lives of ten people can never be a perfect mirror of a nation of three hundred million.  Any research project that’s based on data from journals, interviews, and surveys runs the danger of over-generalization.  Although I tried to cast as wide a recruiting net as possible, these ten dream-journaling volunteers included no Hispanics or African-Americans, no one from the Midwest or deep South, no high-income professionals, no evangelical Christians, no Jews or Muslims.  Any claims made in this book must be qualified by those limitations.  Still, these ten particular people’s lives embody so many of the challenges facing the country today that it’s fair to view them as representing other Americans with similar experiences and convictions.  We can’t learn everything from this group, but we can learn a lot.

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