Last Updated 21 Apr 2020

The Psychology of Dreams

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Why we dream: an analysis of contemporary research and theory on the function of dreaming Krista L. Hulm Essay Topic Why do we dream? Discuss with reference to psychological theories and research. Abstract Within classical psychoanalytic psychology, Freud’s (1900) conception of dreams is the most prominent dream theory among modern Western culture (Fosshage, 1983). Freud theorised that dreams serve a dual, compromise function. He suggested that unconscious, instinctual drive energy pushes for discharge, moving toward the expression of a consciously unacceptable impulse.

The reduction in conscious restraints characteristic of sleep allows a symbolic, disguised dream expression of the repressed wish. The overt (manifest) content of the dream represents a compromise between the instinctual forces (latent content) striving for expression, on one hand, and the repressive forces of consciousness on the other (Freud, 1900). Freud assumed that the energy pushing for action would awaken the sleeper if not for the dream which, through symbolic discharge, allows a return to sleep.

Therefore the dream is seen as serving the biological function of preserving sleep, with the psychological function of discharging an unacceptable wish that might otherwise burst destructively into waking life (Dallet, 1973). Various aspects of Freud’s dream theory have undergone review from the point of view of contemporary dream research (Breger, 1967; Foulkes, 1964). It is generally agreed that with respect to dream function in particular, the sleep preservation view is invalid and the underlying model on which the wish-fulfilment theory rests requires extensive revision.

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A study on REM sleep deprivation and its effects on depression found that when dream sleep was experimentally repressed in depressed patients, they were found to be more outgoing, energetic, more likely to engage with others and generally less unhappy (Cartwright, 1993). This may be due to dreams of depressed people having the characteristic of being more self-blaming. These findings contradict with Freud’s theory: if dreams are a safe expression of infantile wishes, why does this function fail to help the depressed?

Despite the many problems inherent in Freud’s theoretical formulation of dream function, his far-reaching work has provided a basis for many of the contemporary theories discussed below. Contemporary research on dreams using brain-imaging studies contradict the view that content emerges from random signals (Morewedge & Norton, 2009). The hippocampus, which is critical to the acquisition of some types of memories, and the amygdala, which is important for emotional memories, are both seen to be active during REM sleep in brain-imaging studies (Nielson & Strenstrom, 2005).

This understanding of the physiological aspects of dreams supports the idea that one of the functions of sleep itself is to draw together recent experiences with one’s goals, problems and desires (Paller & Voss, 2004). Fossage’s (2007) organisational model of dreams stemmed from such understandings. The model proposes that the core process and function of dreaming is to organise data. More specifically, dream mentation, like waking mentation, develops, maintains, and restores psychological organisation and regulates affect in keeping with shifting motivational priorities.

Research shows that babies spend 50% of their sleep time in REM sleep, adults 25% and older people 15% (Breger, 1977). From the idea that REM sleep quantitatively decreases throughout the lifep, a number of theorists (Breger, 1967; Reiser, 1990) suggest that dreaming fosters structuralisation of the nervous system through the establishment of neural memory networks or maps and babies spend more time in REM in order to establish maps and corresponding categories of organisation. This suggestion supports the organisational model of dreaming.

Furthermore, the organisational model of dreaming includes a revision of psychoanalytic theory to explain the content of dreams concluding, in short, that dreams more directly reveal – through affects metaphors and themes – the dreamer’s immediate concerns (Fosshage, 2007). References Bulkeley, K. (1993). Dreaming is play. Psychoanalytic Psychology 10(4), 501-514. Retrieved September 8, 2009, from PsychARTICLES database. Cartwright, R. (2000). How and why the brain makes dreams: A report card on current research on dreaming. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, pp. 914-916. Fosshage, J.

L. (1983). The psychological function of dreams: A revised psychoanalytic perspective. Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, 6, 641-669. Fosshage, J. L. (2007). The organizing functions of dreaming: Pivotal issues in understanding and working with dreams. International forum of psychoanalysis, 16, 4, 213-221. Retrieved 14 August 2009, from Academic Search Premier database. Freud, S. (1900). The interpretation of dreams. Revonsuo, A. (2000). The reinterpretation of dreams: An evolutionary hypothesis of the function of dreaming. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 23, pp. 877-901.

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