IASD Members - this page was last updated on Mon, 28 Jul 2003

Don Kuiken, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

P217 Biological Sciences Building
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta
T6G 2E9

Internet Presence

Website: http://www.psych.ualberta.ca/~dkuiken/personal/kuikend.html

About Don Kuiken, Ph.D.

Don Kuiken, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alberta. His primary interests include phenomenological methods, psychological aesthetics and impactful dreams. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the ASD journal Dreaming.

My notes on the IASD
 List of dream-related publications and/or web sites where my work is featured.


Current Research


I have a continuing interest in the self-perceptual depth that sometimes occurs through intensive self-reflection (cf. Kuiken, Carey, & Nielsen, 1987; Kuiken & Madison, 1987), especially during self-reflection involving dreams (cf. Kuiken & Smith, 1991; Nielsen, Kuiken & McGregor, 1989). Dreams have long been associated with the potential for prompting intimacy and intricacy in self-perception, and the primary goal of research conducted in our group is to identify what kinds of dreams facilitate such changes and the processes by which they do so.

There is evidence that dreaming combines and juxtaposes memories in a manner that accentuates felt meanings (cf. Kuiken, Rindlisbacher, & Nielsen, 1990) and metaphorically transforms those meanings (Kuiken, Miall, Bears, & Smith, in press). In ordinary dreams, such felt meanings can be further accentuated through intensive self-reflection, as often happens in psychotherapy. However, in some dreams, powerful endings influence waking thoughts and feelings independently of dream reflection or interpretation. Such impactful dreams include nightmares, transcendent dreams, and a class of dreams we call existential dreams (cf. Kuiken & Sikora, 1993; Busink & Kuiken, 1995). Existential dreams are of particular interest because of a seeming incongruity: they involve agonizing sadness and yet prompt valued personal insights. They seem to have an almost poetic expressiveness that transforms personally relevant meanings. Perhaps the most poignant portrayal of the this type of dream experience can be found in Bert States’ chapter, entitled, ‘The Death of the Finch,’ in his book, ‘Seeing in the Dark’ (1997). My own attempt to articulate the significance of these experiences can be found in two papers: Kuiken, 1995; Kuiken, 1999.

We are also studying individual differences in the occurrence of such impactful dreams (cf. Kuiken & Nielsen, 1996; Kuiken, Busink, Dukewich, & Gendlin, 1996), hoping to identify those who most frequently are affected by them. Most recently we have obtained evidence that existential dreams are relatively frequent among people who are grieving (Kuiken, Beauchemin, & Elliott, in preparation). We currently are exploring whether these changes in bereaved individuals’ dream lives influence their feelings about loss, their sense of personal history, and their creative endeavours. For example, we have found that bereaved individuals become less distressed when expressively writing about their impactful dreams, whereas those who have recently experienced trauma become more distressed (Kuiken, Loverso, Dunn, & Carlisle, in preparation).

Our dream studies are methodologically diverse, including, when appropriate, phenomenological procedures for describing dream experiences.


Some time ago, Coleridge suggested that dreaming and readers’ experience of literature similarly prompt people to perceive things in freshly vital and compelling ways. Correspondingly, we have found that people who frequently experience dream-induced self-perceptual depth also tend to read literary texts in a way that facilitates self-perceptual depth (Kuiken & Miall, 1994). So, with a colleague from the Department of English, David Miall, I have been examining how aesthetic experience, especially readers’ response to literature, facilitates self-perceptual depth (see Reader Response for more details on this expanding project).

We have developed and validated an instrument, called the Literary Response Questionnaire (LRQ), which assesses individual differences in readers’ orientations toward literary texts. The LRQ includes a scale that reflects the extent to which readers derive personal insights from their reading experiences (Miall & Kuiken, 1995). We have found that this scale predicts those for whom reading facilitates shifts in self-perceptual depth, especially under experimental conditions that induce what is traditionally called the ‘aesthetic attitude’ (Kuiken, Miall, Busink, & Cey, in preparation). Also, paralleling our findings with dreams, we have found that bereaved individuals reading poetry concerning loss are more likely to experience shifts in self-perception than people who have experienced other types of loss (cf. Kuiken, Miall, & Meunier, in preparation). My most concerted attempt to articulate how such aesthetic experiences attain their experiential depth can be found in a paper concerning the role of the depth metaphor in aesthetic experience: Kuiken, 1998.

We have tried to clarify how the distinctive qualities of literary texts facilitate changes in self-perceptual depth. We have found evidence that stylistic variations (referred to as foregrounding) in literary texts prompt the ‘defamiliarization’ of familiar referents and evoke feelings that guide subsequent reconceptualization of those referents (Miall & Kuiken, 1994). Contrary to a number of contemporary perspectives, we have garnered evidence that these processes of change are specific to literary reading (Miall & Kuiken, 1998; Miall & Kuiken, 1999). We continue to study these processes in a laboratory that is equipped for computerized presentation of textual materials and assessment of reader’s reactions.


Given the research goals described above, it has been important to develop procedures that enable the identification and description of the subtleties of dream experience and aesthetic experience. We have developed a form of empirical phenomenology that is rigorous and yet faithful to the complexity of peoples’ open-ended expressions of their experience (cf. Kuiken, Schopflocher, & Wild, 1989; Kuiken & Miall, 2001). These procedures are phenomenological in that they: (a) presume that experience as immediately ‘given’ to the experiencing individual is a proper subject matter for psychological studies; (b) acknowledge that experience is as richly complex as the language required to express it, and (c) provide descriptions of experience rather than causal explanations, i.e., they enable identification of the distinctive or defining features of experiences of a certain kind. Unlike most ‘qualitative’ research that shares these assumptions and objectives, our procedures take advantage of numerical classificatory methods, specifically cluster analysis. Such numerically aided phenomenology has been used in studies of dreaming (Kuiken & Sikora, 1993), responses to visual art (Wild & Kuiken, 1991), and responses to literature (cf. Kuiken & Miall, 1995). These procedures were instrumental in articulating the features of existential dreams (Kuiken & Sikora, 1993) and the features of a type of reading event that seems comparable to traditional descriptions of aesthetic experience (Kuiken & Miall, 1995).

The development of these procedures was aided by interaction with selected individuals affiliated with or visiting the now defunct Centre for Advanced Study in Theoretical Psychology at the University of Alberta (Mos & Kuiken, 1998). The methodological diversity among members of the Social and Cultural Psychology area continues to foster the articulation of such methodological alternatives.

Most of the research described here has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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