Dream Research

Mary Calkins did a great deal of innovative dream research and while she was working at Clark University, around the time of 1891 she began a research project. The project involved studying the contents of people's dreams and recording them over a seven week period of time. Calkins described her work, "it's method was very simple: to record each night, immediately after waking from a dream, every remembered feature of it. For this purpose, paper, pencil, candle and matches were placed close at hand" (Furumoto in O'Connell & Russo, 1990, p.59). Calkins recorded over 205 dreams in this manner, on the average of four dreams per night. Her major finding through her research was, "that there existed a close connection between the dream-life and the waking life, and that the dream will reproduce, in general, the persons, places and events of recent sense perception" (Furumoto in O'Connell & Russo, 1990, pg. 59-60). She had quite different ideas than Freud about dreams, "she noted wryly that its main conclusion 'is almost ludicrously opposed to the nowadays widely accepted Freudian conception of the dream' and went on to admit, 'In fact, my study as a whole must be rather contemptuously set down by any good Freudian as superficially concerned with the mere 'manifest content' of the dream" (Furumoto in O'Connell & Russo, pg. 60). A dream researcher in the neurosciences, J. Allan Hobson gave Calkins the title of "dream accountant" and he said that her work was "one of the significant pioneering empirical studies of dreaming and credits her with developing a 'formal characterization of dreams...of direct relevance to...modern dream science" (Furumoto in O'Connell & Russo, 1990, pg.60).

Features of Dream Research

Taken from the Autobiography of Mary Whiton Calkins:

"We, the observers, waked ourselves (by the use of alarm clocks) at different hours of the night; we recorded our dreams at the instant of waking and each morning studied with care all the records, whether slight and trivial or seemingly significant. We took account of the different types of dream examples of dream reasoning and dream volition; and we considered also the relation of the dream to the waking life, distinguishing in particular the persons and the places of our dream experiences. The conclusion which I reached, that the dream merely reproduces 'in general the persons, places and events of recent sense perception' and that the dream is rarely 'associated with that which is of paramount significance in one's waking experience,' is almost ludicrously opposed to the nowadays widely accepted Freudian conception of the dream; in fact, my study as a whole must be rather contemptuously set down by any good Freudian as superficially concerned with the mere 'manifest content' of the dream. It is, however, of interest to me to notice that my old dream study does anticipate more than one of the findings of the psychoanalysts. In agreement with them, for example, it vigorously disputes the assertions of people who report that they never dream; and this on strictly empirical grounds. For I had more than one instance of waking without the faintest memory of having dreamed and of discovering by my side the night record of one dream or several (Calkins in Green, Classics in the History of Psychology, 1930, p.2)

Paried Associate Tasks

While working with William James, Calkins had endeavoured to study 'attention.' James frowned upon this line of research because he was sick of it. Thus she chose 'association' for no specific reason and this was her focus for a number of years. Calkins employed a research method which involved showing participants a series of colors paried with numerals, followed by testing to see how many of the numbers the participants could recall that had been paired with the colors. She was pleased that she had made, as she termed it, "a slightly significant contribution to experimental psychology" (Furumoto, in O'Connell & Russo, pg. 60). She found that in showing people a series of paried colors and numbers, people were more likely to remember any number that was joined with any given color rather than a vividly colored number or a number that was last paired with a color (Calkins in Green, Classics in the History of Psychology, 1930, pg. 3). For more on Calkins work with Paried Association see:


Calkins thought there were three different "basal" theories relating to the psychology of the self: "that of the self, that of the object, and that of the self's relation or attitude toward its object" ( Calkins in Green, Classics in the History of Psychology, 1930, pg.8).

By 1929, Calkins widely known throughout the psychological world and began to write about her accomplishments. "By her books and by her many published papers on points of view in psychology, she not only gained international reputation but has founded a school of thought in psychology-the school of the 'self psychologists,' which however slowly in these days of militant behaviorism, is gaining measurable ground" ( E.F.K in Furumoto in O'Connell & Russo, 1990, pg.61). She credits Hugo Munsterberg as helping her build the foundations of her personal theories and principles of psychology. The main theory she derived from him was called the "double standpoint in psychology" which basically was that every experience a person has should be looked at and dealt with from the perspective of succeeding mental events and the conscious self. However, she later ditched this theory for a more self-centered philosophy which she termed Absolute Personalism. This switch coincided with Calkins' perception that "psychology is most naturally, consistently, and effectively treated as a study of conscious selves in relation to other selves and to external objects" Throughout the remainder of her life, Calkins pushed her point of view of the self-psychologist against the psychological trends of the times which were more interested in the prediction and control of behavior. The following outlines the ideas central to Calkins' notions of the self.






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