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.