The Inception Files


These results come from a Zogby Interactive survey of 2992 American adults, answering a series of questions about their sleep and dream patterns in May 2010.  The participants were randomly chosen from a panel of @500,000 people available for online opinion research who were originally contacted by Zogby during a random digit dialing telephone survey.

According to the March 2010 report on online panels conducted by the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the key issue in evaluating online polling is whether a truly random, probability-based method is used to recruit participants, otherwise the results cannot be considered statistically representative of a broader population.  As I understand Zogby’s method, it satisfies this requirement.

Public opinion researchers are actively debating the advantages and disadvantages of online surveys in comparison to traditional telephone surveys.  For this project, the online approach had the decisive advantage of enabling the participants to provide first-person narrative reports of their 1) most recent dream, 2) worst nightmare, and 3) earliest remembered dream.  Gathering this kind of data was not feasible using a telephone survey.

However, an online panel of participants is obviously skewed toward people who are computer-literate.  This might be a problem if the current project had a different goal, for example predicting election turn-out.  But since the goal here is to develop a better demographic profile of sleep and dream patterns, the Zogby panel has more than enough diversity to suit the purpose.

On the whole, it seems fair to conclude this data set provides a reasonably representative portrait of the sleep and dream patterns of contemporary American society.  Hopefully, bigger and better studies in the future will add more detail and depth to this portrait.  Until then, this survey appears to be the largest one yet undertaken on the demographics of sleep and dream patterns.

The results cited above have been weighted according to Zogby’s standard calculations for matching the demographics of the 2992 participants with the demographics of American society as a whole.  My future work with this material, while considering the weighted results, will focus primarily on analyzing the raw data.

The questions used in this survey were drawn in part from the Typical Dreams Questionnaire used by Nielsen et al. (2003) in their article in the journal Dreaming (13:4, 211-236) about the typical dreams of Canadian University students.

It could be argued these questions are too vague—a “yes” answer could mean it’s happened only once in the person’s whole life, or it happens for them every night.  For that reason, the results here should be regarded cautiously as indicating the minimum occurrence of these types of dreams.

Another concern is that these questions allow for confabulated memories influenced by social expectations—people may answer yes if they feel it’s the kind of dream a person in their society should have experienced, whether or not they have actually had that kind of dream themselves.  Such a possibility should be taken seriously.  Most forms of opinion research are limited by the difficulty of verifying subjective self-reports and eliminating external influences.

In this project, the approach has been to gather a large number of reports from a wide variety of people and then analyze them in terms of clear, easy-to-identify patterns in the data.  This method assumes that such broad, empirically-based patterns are honest and accurate reflections of people’s actual dream experiences.

9 Replies to “The Inception Files”

  1. Leave it up to Hollywood to change something as wonderful as Lucid Dreaming into a nightmare!
    It’s hard to tell from the trailer if there are some good qualities about the movie. I’ll go see it just to know.

  2. There is no question that lucid dreaming happens.

    Laboratory studies show that during lucid dreams, parts of the brain that are normally unactive when people are asleep remain active.

  3. Inception was a complicated, mulit-layered movie worth seeing again. The fact that it has many stars and a fascinating topic will inspire audiences to view the movie. This alone is valuable … even if, perhaps, they skew the lucid dreaming and shared dreaming experiences, making them seem so much darker and drug-dependent. However, I believe anything that gets the general public to think more about their dreams and expanding their dream possibilities is great. Thank you IASD for putting out more sound information about lucid dreaming, and giving others the opportunity to share their experiences and ask questions.

    1. A big-budget movie like Inception can get lots of people thinking anew about dreaming and its possibilities. Good point about the emphasis on drugs as part of the dream-sharing process in Inception. In the 1985 movie Dreamscape, the trajectory of the main character (Dennis Quaid) was from using technology to using his own innate psychic powers to enter other people’s dreams.

  4. Inception was a futuristic movie that held true to real lucidity for the most part. The technology they used and extra logic they added made the movie really good and into a movie. Without the extra stuff they prolly couldn’t make a movie let alone a good one.

  5. I thought inception was mind blowing and incredible. It has definitely opened my mind to the lucid dream state and has made me explore the whole concept of astral projection. If we can astral project and others can as well why couldn’t we meet on the astral plane and therefore enter the world of dream sharing? I’ve watched inception a handful of times and i catch something new that i hadn’t seen the previous time watching. So for the people who said it was horrible didn’t take it for what it was. Breaking it down and criticizing every detail is not what the movie was originally made for. It was to open our minds to the dream state and opening our minds to wonder if extraction and inception are actually possible when are guards are lowered. The subconcous is a wonderful and powerful thing, and we must not underestimate the possiblities of our dreams!

  6. Your first problem – if they were in a dream and Saito got shot, he could just say “there is no bullet in my chest and I wont be bleeding anymore” and there wouldn’t have been, because they are in a dream. And the place where Saito first understands they are in a dream because Mal told him and they are threatening Arthur, Cobb could just have used “telekynesis” (which i always do when i understand when i am in a dream) with his mind to take away their gun… BUT if they would have done these things, people would have expected to do these kind of obvious things in every situation and that would have made the movie too… too easy? wouldn’t it?

    Second – they were in a dream within a dream within a dream, and in dreams the law of physics don’t aplly and this really can happen, when you are sleeping in car and the car is falling off of a cliff…

    Third – to me it didn’t seem too much action, I know when it is too much action and I don’t like action… but yeah, the film could have been more deep into the mysterious world of dreaming

    Four – motivation wasn’t lame. As Saito said: When Cobol Energy gets him out of the way, the will become a new superpower. And they could like rule the world or smth. Lame? No. One man couldn’t have so much power ower the world, right? Still lame? And to Cobb yes, it was just a last job and to see his children, very intrigueing.

    Five – I have watched Inception four times. People are different, so, this is YOUR problem, so sorry.

  7. I honestly havenever watched the film, but always heard that its about lucid dreaming. I always was scared to lucid dream after i watched that movie but i want to face my fears and actually do it. Could someone tell me how i reach that state?.

    1. I’d recommend you go to Ryan Hurd’s website,, where he has a lot of good resources about lucid dreaming.

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