Cognitive Theory

Who was Calvin Hall?

Calvin Hall (1909-1985) was born in Seattle, Washington. As a psychologist, he was extremely interested in the field of behavior genetics and wrote a chapter in the Handbook of Experimental Psychology (1951) on his discovery of the heritability of genes in rats. In the 1950s Hall wrote  The Meaning of Dreams (1953)A Primer of Freudian Psychology (1954) and Theories of Personality (1957); three works of which enormously contributed to the field of dream interpretation. As an undergraduate, Hall worked with Edward Tollman, who was a well known behaviorist of the time. In 1930 Hall received his bachelors from the University of California, Berkeley, and continued to obtain his Ph.D. in 1933.

Dream Collections

His interest in dreams began when he started collecting reports of dreams that were written by his students (anonymously, of course). He then continued to collect reports from others, and when he passed away he had acquired over 50,000 dream reports. Interestingly, Hall found that dream reports from different individuals were more alike than they were different, and this demographic included children, adults, and people who were spread across the entire world. The main differences present in dreams were consistent with the differences that those people experienced in their conscious life as well (such as cultural factors).  From this, he proposed that there is a “continuity” between a persons wakefulness and their dream experiences (Hall, 1966).

Hall Van Caste Scale

In 1961, Hall studied the pattern of dreams in a sleep laboratory at his Institute of Dream Research in Miami, Florida. From these reports, Hall teamed up with Robert Van Caste to create the Hall Van Caste Scale, a quantitative coding system that was published in The Content Analysis of Dreams (1966). This system includes 16 different empirical scales including animals, mythology, people, places, sexual content, emotions, aggression, etc. The dreams are measured using a baseline for a control group (‘normal’ dreamers) , and then comparing those to a different group (like the traumatized children) (Hall, 1966)

Cognitive Theory

Hall believed that dreams were a conceptualization of our experiences (Hall, 1953). These experiences involved our perceptions of those in our environment, as well as our ideas of our self. His Cognitive Theory of dreaming was one of the first of his time that was not consistent with Freud’s idea of “wishful thinking”. Instead, Hall believed that our dreams were a way of shaping our own ideas of the world. He believed that during dreams, we expressed creativity, similar to what we would do when expressing ourselves through metaphors in poetry(Hall, 1953).

Hall developed five main conceptions that were present in our dreams (Hall, 1966):

  1. ourself (how we see ourselves and our prominent roles in life)
  2. others ( how we react to others around us)
  3. the world (optimism vs. pessimism)
  4. morals (what is accepted as human beings and what are our limits)
  5. conflict (conflicts within our psyche)

Because Hall was a behavioral psychologist, he believed that our conceptions have a tremendous impact on our behavior when awake.These accomplishments have made a tremendous influence in the field of studying dreams. The scale provided the first opportunity to measure dream cognition in a quantitative and statistical way!



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