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Humans have been dreaming about animals for ages. It has been speculated that some of the ancient cave paintings of animals may perhaps be dream images from cave dwellers whose lives were mostly spent chasing, hunting, and taming animals. In ancient Egypt, human-figured deities with animal heads suggest dreams images.
A study carried out by Robert L. Van de Castle found a larger number of animal dreams in children than in adults. Dreams of a group of 741 children (383 girls and 358 boys) aged four to sixteen were examined for the presence of animal figures. The frequency for each animal figure at each age level was tabulated for girls and boys. Animal figures were present in 39.4 percent of dreams from the four-and five-year-old children. The percentage steadily dropped for each subsequent age grouping (six-and seven-year-olds, 35.5 percent; eight-and nine-year-olds, 33.6 percent; ten-and eleven-year-olds, 29.8 percent; twelve-and thirteen-year-olds, 21.9 percent; and fourteen-through sixteen-year-olds, 13.7 percent).
Boys had higher animal percentage figures at ages four through six (44 percent, versus 34 percent for girls), while girls had higher animal dreams at ages nine through eleven (36 percent, versus 26 percent for boys). Overall, animal figures appeared in 29 percent of the combined girls’ dreams and 29.6 percent of the combined boys’ dreams. There were more than three times as many animal figures in the dreams of children as there were in the dreams of adults. The seven most frequent animal figures for children were dogs (30), horses (28), cats (15), snakes (15), bears (14), lions (13), and monsters (e.g., wolfman) (13).
If the frequencies for all animal figures are considered, it is clear that children dream more frequently of large and threatening wild animals, while college students dream more often of pets and domesticated animals. Bears, lions, tigers, gorillas, elephants, bulls, dinosaurs, dragons, and monsters accounted for twenty-seven percent of the animal figures in children’s dreams but only seven percent of the animal figures in adult dreams. This collection of wild animals appeared more frequently (forty-four times) in boys’ dreams than in girls’ dreams (twenty-seven times). Several theorists have suggested that these large, threatening animals may represent parental figures in the dreams of children.
An interesting gender difference was found in the types of animal figures. Women and girls reported significantly more mammals, while men and boys reported significantly more non-mammals. This may indicate females identify at some level with other forms of life that nurse their young with mammary glands, and this identification is reflected in the type of animals that appear in their dreams.