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Theories of Dreams in Psychology

Updated July 30, 2022
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Theories of Dreams in Psychology essay

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Dreams are an essential part of the human life. Every night a person has an average of three to five dreams per night. Throughout time, psychologists and researchers have come up with theories as to the importance of dreaming and its purpose. Dreams can hold an underlying message and can serve other beneficial purposes, it is important to not overlook those images that the brain puts together, as they can serve as a tool to better people’s lives.

The dictionary definition of a dream is, a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep. Every time a person engages in sleep, they begin to dream, although many people think they didn’t as most dreams are quickly forgotten. According to Sigmund Freud, dreams are expressions of unconscious wishes. He proposed that dreams reflect conflicts between unconscious desires and the conscious mind. For example, a person may dream about all the things they wished they had in their real life including a perfect relationship, the dream job, luxuries, and other things along those lines. A dream lets us see what is going on in the mind and brain, it connects our thoughts, images, memories, fears, and wishes. “This connection and bringing things together in your dreams is very helpful when one is encountered with a problem” (Hartmann 1991).

Many scientists have hypothesized that dreams can be used as a problem-solving tool. “When we are encountered with problems in our lives we tend to put much focus on it, thus we end up having it in our dreams and most of the time we are able to figure out ways to tackle the problem” Deirdre Barrett states. She also stated, “If we remember our dreams, we have the ability to test out the “solution” and maybe lessen the stress of our daily lives”. Deirdre Barrett has studied problem-solving in dreams for more than 10 years and has conducted many experiments. In one of her popular experiments, she had college students pick a problem to try to solve in a dream. Students focused on the problem each night before they went to bed. At the end of the week about half of the students had dreamed about the problem and about a quarter had dreamt about an answer. “Dreams have evolved to be useful for really as many of the things that our thinking is useful for. It’s extra thinking time, so potentially any problem can get solved during it” (Barrett 2010).

People spend about one third of their life sleeping and an average of six years dreaming. Researchers have found that people typically have several dreams each night, each lasting about five to twenty minutes. Before a person begins to dream, there is specific stages that a person goes through in their sleep to reach the dreaming stage. The first stage of sleep is the lightest, lasting from thirty to forty minutes (lohff 2003). A person is still conscious during this stage and is slowly transitioning into stage two. In stage two, a person is in between light and deep sleep. Once a person is in the third and fourth stages of sleep, it is harder to wake up from. The REM sleep stage occurs during this deep sleep stage. REM sleep is called “rapid eye movement” and is the time when you dream (lohff 2003). In this period is when, “the brain’s default network- a system of interconnected regions, which includes the thalamus, medial prefrontal cortex, and posterior cingulate cortex began to be active”.(Nightmares and the brain, 2017)

During this REM stage, people can encounter two types of dreams: Nightmares and lucid dreams. Each of these can have an effect in people’s lives. Nightmares are simply dreams that cause a strong but unpleasant emotional response, and are oftentimes more remembered than normal dreams. These tend to occur when somebody is under stress or is having problems. Other factors that can cause nightmares, Dr. Chiang says includes, PTSD, substance abuse, anxiety, and certain medications. Nightmares are very common, but if a person is experiencing recurrent nightmares they may lead to insomnia, fear of going to sleep, anxiety, sleep deprivation, daytime sleepiness, and impaired quality of life, and a doctor should be seen. One specific type of Nightmare, RBD (REM sleep behavior disorder) can cause a negative impact on a person. A person that has this disorder acts out their nightmare. “RBD causes a loss of temporary muscle paralysis in your dreams due to a nervous system structural abnormality”. (Why do we have nightmares? 2017) RBD sufferers can hurt themselves badly by falling out of bed and/or crashing with furniture. A treatment for RBD are medications like clonazepam and melatonin. On the other hand, lucid dreaming is the experience of achieving conscious awareness of dreaming while still asleep (LaBerge 1986). “Lucidity can be self-induced. Subjects can be trained to to become lucid via pre-sleep auto-suggestions”. (Holzinger, LaBerge, Levitan, 2006) Subjects succeed becoming lucid by talking to themselves, before going to sleep, to recognize that they are dreaming. “Because lucidity can be self-induced, it constitutes not only an opportunity to study the brain basis of conscious but also demonstrates how a voluntary intervention can change those states”. (Voss, ).

Scientists have also conducted studies that try to find out how dreams affect our daily lives and just how important they are. One of their studies, the “Selective Mood Regulatory of Dreams and Sleep” focuses on the amount of time sleeping. It proves how sleeping for an adequate amount of time of uninterrupted sleep will help you wake up in a better mood (Kramer 1993). The emotions derived in your dreams while sleeping can have an effect in your mood when you wake up. Dr. Milton Kramer states, “we need sleep to be continuous if we are to improve our mood over the course of the night”. For example, the people who sleep a full night without interruptions, dreamt more and were in better moods in contrast to the ones that has less hours of sleep. Most studies performed are based off negative characteristics and negative dreams. Blagrove, Farmer, and Williams recruited 147 participants to record their dreams for two weeks where they explored the connection of frequent unpleasant dreams as an indicator of low well-being.Blagrove et al. found correlations between low well-being and the likelihood of experiencing unpleasant dreams.

Oneirologists, scientists who study dreams, are not sure if dreams have a hidden message or not. Some believe they are just successions of images in the mind that occur during REM. Dream psychologists have came up with several interpretations of dreams. Sigmund Freud believed that everything in dreams have some hidden meaning. He believed most of those hidden meanings are sexual. He had a belief that the number three represented a man’s sexual organ and that things such as mountains, rocks, sticks, umbrellas, poles, trees, etc. represent a phallus. He also believed that harming objects such as: knives, daggers, sabers, lances, swords, guns, rifles, revolvers, cannons, pipes, watering pots, fountains, hanging lights, pens, and aerials are also symbolic for phallus. He symbolized erections through balloons, airplanes, helicopters, rockets, etc. Hollow objects that can contain shafts, pits, caves, boxes, bottles, suitcases, pockets, closets, ships, entrances to houses and buildings represent female genitalia. Lastly, Freud believed that sliding, playing instruments, slipping and breaking branches represent masturbation. Also, teeth falling out were symbols of punishment for masturbating (Freud’s approach to dreams). Freud also noted that dreams of bodily harm were likely to be signs of medical problems that people were only aware of on an unconscious level.

The dream theories of Carl Jung were very distinct to Freud’s theories. Jung believed that in dreams there are seven different major archetypal characters. “The persona” is the image we present to the world while we’re awake. “The shadow” is the rejected or oppressed feature of oneself, the shadow symbolizes fear, anger or weakness. It can be represented as a close friend or relative which may seem frightening, this figure allows us to confront things that we don’t want to see or hear. “The Anima/Animus” is the female and male features of us. In dreams, the anima is a very feminized person and the animus is a very masculine figure. Jung believed these served to remind people to appreciate their assertive masculine side or emotional feminine side. “The Divine Child” is known as one’s true self, in a pure form. It symbolizes a person’s innocence, helplessness, vulnerability as well as a person’s aspirations and full potential. A baby or young child usually symbolizes this in a dream. “The Wise Old Man” is a figure that shows guidance and wisdom, in a dream is represented by a father, teacher, doctor, priest, or any other authority figure. “The Great Mother” is the nurturer in dreams. Appears as one’s own mother and grandmother and provides reassurance. “The Trickster” plays jokes to keep us distracted and lessens the possibilities of taking oneself in serious. Jung believed that all of these main characters in our dreams all have a meaning behind them (Dream moods: Carl Jung).

A difference between male dreams and female dreams were also discovered. Several studies using Japanese participants has shown differences in dream content from both male and females. The researchers collected 297 reports of dreams, the participants included seventeen males and twenty-two females. They used the Hall-Van de Castle system to score the dream reports. Some differences they found were that male characters were about twice as high in male dreams as in female dreams. Females typically reported equal numbers of male characters and female characters in their dreams (Tartz, 2017). It was also reported how males typically tend to dream about aggression, whether it being how aggressive they are or about the lack of aggression they have. While females have more emotions attached within their dreams.

A disorder that is associated with dreams is DRC or Dream-reality confusion. Dream-reality confusion (DRC) is a difficulty or an impossibility to determine whether an event or an experience took place during wakefulness or if it was the content of a dream. An Individual experiencing DRC is not able to trace a particular memory to a real event or a dream. The delusional confusion of dream content and real experiences was investigated in narcolepsy. From research, there is a number of factors related to the occurrence of DRC. They have been divided into three major categories; personal characteristics, sleep disturbances, and dream variables (Skryzypińska).

Previous studies have also been conducted to analyze dream topics many people experience, they have tried to determine common themes within the popular topics. The most frequent themes are “falling”, “being chased”, “sexual experiences”,“school/teachers”, “arriving to late”, “a person now alive being dead”, and “flying”. The rank order of the typical dream themes is very consistent across different samples which included dreamers from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Germany, and China. The ages and gender of the participants who completed the survey also affected the popularity of the common dream themes. It was found that male participants dreamed more about finding money, being physically attacked, and having superior abilities. Whereas women dream more about failing an examination and a person now alive being dead (Schredl, 2010). The younger participants had more dreams of occurrences at school, teachers, and studying. This can be explained by the fact that they spend most of their waking time with these themes. Since older people experience more losses, they tend to dream more often of people dying (Schredl, Piel, 2005). From this study it can be concluded that people share common dream topics and dream themes, and these dream topics and dream themes are derived from their surrounding environment and the routine of their daily lives.

Scientists have also studied the impact of dreaming and dreams to memory and memories. Payne suggests that dreams reflect a biological process of long-term memory consolidation. Dreaming serves to strengthen the neural traces or recent events, to integrate new traces with older memories and previously stored knowledge, and to maintain the stability of existing memory representations in the face of subsequent experience (Winson, 1985).

Theories of Dreams in Psychology essay

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Theories of Dreams in Psychology. (2022, Jul 30). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/theories-of-dreams-in-psychology/

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