So, is there more to men than sex and cars? Dream on

New research shows men revert to stereotype in their dreams. And, oh dear, guess what women fantasise about in their sleep? By Roger Dobson

They are, says Shakespeare, the "children of idle brains" and have fascinated and baffled since the dawn of mankind.

They are, says Shakespeare, the "children of idle brains" and have fascinated and baffled since the dawn of mankind.

Now scientists have thrown new light on the surreal world of dreams in men and women - and have found the genders differ markedly in their dreams, and dream to type.

Women, for example, have more emotion in their dreams and dream about food, clothing and personal appearance.

Men, on the other hand, dream about other men, violence, sex, cars and weapons.

Women dream about their jobs almost twice as much as they did half a century ago, reflecting the huge increase in that time in the number of women going out to work.

Scientists have yet to establish why we dream, but dismiss the idea that dreams are open to universal interpretation. There is no doubt, however, that dreams are important. Each night we have at least five dreams, although we tend to forget them almost immediately.

The first known descriptions and interpretations of dreams, by Antiphon, date from around 500BC. Freud believed dreams were a manifestation of our subconscious desires or anxieties.

Scientists at the University of Mannheim's world-renowned sleep laboratory looked specifically at work dreams and death dreams, and found that work themes had increased among women.

Working women under 40 dream about their jobs more than women of other ages. Men also dream about work more than they did 40 years ago, but that may be fuelled by fear of job loss.

Outdoor and unfamiliar settings are common in men's dreams, but women are more likely to be based indoors. Men's dreams frequently involve weapons, tools, cars and roads. They also have more sexual dreams involving unknown partners.

The research is supported by a study from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, which found that men are likely to dream about sex, work and money while women dream about childhood and falling through the air. Philip Hodson, a fellow of the BACP, said: "Women's dreams are hallmarked by anxiety. They tend to dream about childhood and parents and often that is about bad experiences and insecurities."

A report of the Mannheim research in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, says: "Women's dreams contain more explicitly mentioned emotions, more dream characters, especially familiar dream characters, and show a higher incidence of indoor settings, household objects and references to clothing. Men's dreams are characterised by more physical aggression, sexuality and weapons."

The team has also found that gender differences in dreams start early in life. A study of 600 boys and girls aged over 10 found that girls had more anxiety dreams, especially after the age of 14.

Gender differences in content were found, too. Boys dreamt more of monsters and large animals, while girls' dreams were dominated by humans and small animals.

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