Robert Hoss, M.S. , is author of Dream Language, Executive Officer and Past President International Association for the Study of Dreams, and faculty member of the Haden Institute for Dream Leadership Training and adjunct faculty of Scottsdale College . A scientist, and former researcher in the field of light energy, he was a pioneer with multiple patents in the field of optical communications, and was corporate vice president for global communications at both American Express and IBM.
He now devotes his science and management skills to dream studies, for which he has been a frequent guest on radio and TV, and an internationally acclaimed lecturer and instructor for 30 years.
His unique, simple but powerful dreamwork approach is based on his training in Gestalt therapy and background in Jungian studies, the neurobiology of dreaming, plus his pioneering research on the significance of color in dreams.
What motivated you to dedicate so many years to the study of colors in dreams?
When I began teaching a course in Dream Psychology almost 30 years ago at Richland College in Texas , I had to learn all the various theories and latest research at the time on dreams and dreaming, in order to prepare the course. There was a reasonable amount of information and substantial theory addressing much of the symbology found in dreams, but very little related to color in dreams. As time went on little changed and even the latest books related to color did not apply well to what I observed in dreams. It made sense that color had specific significance, so about 15 years ago I decided to systematically research dream color. I relied on laboratory research and well supported studies in the field of color psychology and related those to the personal and emotional content that came from dreamwork. I used a well accepted Gestalt based dreamwork technique to reveal emotional dream content "which I formed into a set of six standard questions for research purposes."
I compared the dream content to the color associations from the various color psychology studies and testing tools such as the Luscher Color Test. The results indicated that dream color is a meaningful symbol just like any other image in a dream, and that color relates to the emotional issues that the dream is trying to deal with and process.
According to you, what is the purpose of dreaming? Dreaming has many purposes some which are still speculative and others well supported by many researchers and psychological processionals. Many researchers, as well as myself, support the idea that dreams process unresolved emotional issues of the day. This is not new; the two great luminaries Jung and Pears indicated that dreams work with unfinished business of the day and strive to bring about inner balance, closure and "wholeness." They do this through a process that Jung called "compensation" - in simple terms dreams provide guidance in order to reverse misconceptions we have about ourselves and life that stand in the way of our progress.
What is the significance of colors in dreams?
Dream color represents emotions, emotional memories and emotional situations that the dream is dealing with. My research found that the emotional issues revealed by working on a dream image, were closely related or identical to the emotional response to color of subjects in color psychology studies. There was a particularly close correlation between the dream response and the associations of the Luscher Color Test an emotional profiling tool based on color preference. That color relates to emotion is likely a function of a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for our emotional response and attention system. It functions to assign an emotion to every image we see, including color. The amygdala is very active when we dream and thus likely continues to associate color (in this case by creating dream color) with every emotion that it processes.
Are colors in dreams important like metaphors and symbols?
Yes. Analyzing a dream symbol while ignoring its color (if it has one), ignores half the information and half the meaning of the image, particularly the emotional content. A simple example might be the dream of a red car. It makes sense that a "red" car might represent a greater sense of energy, assertiveness or vitality than would a colorless car. Most things we see in a dream appear as a combination of images that represent a combination of thoughts, feelings and memories. Color is just as much an image as is say the shape or form that makes up a dream element. For example the dream of a locked, square gray door, is a combination of being locked, squareness, doorness and gray. All dream image associations are personal - so lets assume the dreamer in this case associate the door with a way to control entry, and states that a lock as a way to protect access. Exploring the gray may further relate to trying to remain isolated from the situation emotionally.
Are there any colors that appear more frequently than others?
Yes - I have performed the only extensive content analysis on color in dreams reported to date (the results can be found in my book Dream Language ). I studied the colors reported in over 24,000 dreams and found that the most frequently reported colors in dreams, by a factor of 2 to 1 over any other colors, is black and white (in equal proportion). The next most frequently reported colors (about 5 times more frequent than others) are red, yellow, blue and green, also in almost equal proportions (although red is slightly more frequent than the others). This is the same for males and females, although females dream a few percentage more about blue than males.
How can we see the difference between personal or collective content?
Personal content in dreams or dream imagery is what is revealed when the dreamer provides their associations with the dream image. While cognitive association (what comes to mind when I consider that dream image) can provide some information it is subject to our rational filters. The most effective approach is role-play, a technique I call Image Activation Dreamwork, whereby the dreamer uses their imagination to "become" the dream image and let it speak for itself. It results in immediate emotional responses that relate to waking life situations the dream is dealing with. The method that I lovingly call the "6 magic questions" can be found in Dream Language .
Collective content on the other hand, is somewhat common patterns that appear in dreams, related to our instinctive self, our evolutionary history and perhaps our collective unconscious connection to all humanity. It is the imagery that Jung called Archetypes - such as the shadow that often appears as shadowy sometimes frightening unknown characters in our dreams to challenge the ego. Since color is also linked to the instinctive more primitive parts of the brain (the amygdala) and our basic emotional response, in a sense it has a collective nature to it even though it represents an instinctive emotional response to a personal emotional situation.
Do past life experiences happen as frequently as in other type of dreams?
Past life experiences, much like other paranormal or anomalous experiences in dreams, occur in a very low percentage in most dreams. Those who are particularly sensitive and who regularly practice meditation and other spiritual and mental disciplines, may have a greater percentage of paranormal dreams than do most of us, just as they have a greater occurrence of these events in waking life. The problem with past life is it is so difficult to determine whether the dream is presenting a typical dream story using a metaphor that incorporates an earlier time, or that it is truly tapping into a past life. The best way to determine this is to work on the dream or a few key images to determine if it relates to something in your present life (use the "6 magic question" technique in Dream Language to quickly test this).
Is your book Dream Language for the general public?
Yes it certainly is. While it is grounded in the latest research findings and theories, it was written for the general public and contains some very quick simple and effective techniques for working with your dreams. It was based on a course that I have taught to the general public for 30 years and thus does not need to be read cover to cover for complete understanding - much of it can be used as a reference so that the reader can decide the depth to which they wish to go in any particular area.