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What Does the Psychology Say About Dreams?

Updated on April 21, 2020
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Being a psychotherapist & trainer, I will provide you with quick self-improvement tips that will make your better & groom your personality!


"Introduction to Dreams"

In psychology, dreams have importance in such a way that they sometimes, help in the diagnosis of the underlying mental illness. Because dreams are considered to be the reflection of a person's unconscious mind.

According to the American Psychological Association, dreams are the psychological as well as physiological experience or state that is occurred when a person is sleeping. However, dreams occur at the REM stage of sleep that is a stage that occurs after the third stage of sleep cycle, usually known as "deep sleep". Or you can say, most of the dreams that a person remembers after waking up occurred at REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement).

The content of dreams that occur in your REM sleep would be dependent on your "intense emotions" which includes Fear, Anxiety, Phobias, Anger, etc. It will also include emotions like euphoria, extreme excitement, joy, etc, says APA, dictionary of psychology. Dreaming is a visual, imagery as well as a sensory experience.

People if wake up during or after a Non-REM sleep hardly remembers anything related to the dream. Because the dreams at this stage of sleep are either vivid or do not include any intense emotions at all.


Theories about Dreams

Additionally, there are different theories on dreams in psychology that tell us in detail about the facts related to dreaming!

Sigmund Freud's Concept of Dreams

Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychology has given a lot of importance to the content of the dreams in an individual's life. According to his perspective on psychoanalysis, "dreams are considered to be the royal road towards an unconscious mind". Basically, if a person is dreaming about something or seeing something terrifying in dreams that means there must be something in his/her unconscious mind that has started to emerge in his sub-conscious mind while sleeping.

According to Freud, repressed thoughts, desires, feelings as well as motives tend to emerge in dreams of a person (APA, 6th ed.) In his book, interpretation of dreams, he put an emphasis on the idea that "sexual & aggressive instincts" that a person hides or suppresses consciously tend to appear when a person is sleeping. Thus, this is one of the reasons that dreams occur in the REM-stage of a sleep cycle.

Furthermore, Sigmund Freud, in his book also mentioned the components of dreams for interpretation of them i-e a) manifest content, that includes all the sensory details of the dream and the second one is known as b) Latent content of the dream. It includes the hidden information that is used for the interpretation.

Though, many psychologists criticized the validity of this theory as no significant outcome gained. Yet, researchers gave importance to the content of dreams in the treatment of psychological disorders.


Activation-Synthesis Model of Dreaming

By the origin of this model in 1977, two psychiatrists named J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley suggested that the neural activity in sleep that takes place in a human brain is then interpreted as "dreaming".

Also, they suggested that it is an activity in the circuits of the brain during REM-sleep, involving areas of the "limbic system", amygdala & hippocampus. This is the area of the brain that includes memories, sensations & emotions. So, any activity in this area of the brain during sleep is interpreted as a dream. Furthermore, when a person wakes up, his brain starts giving meaning to the memory of images, incidents he had seen in sleep.


Theory of Dream by Hobsons

Hobson's theory of dreams differs from the idea that is presented by the activation-synthesis model. As the idea mentioned above is that a dream itself has no importance or meaning in one's life & it is nothing but a narrative story of the sensory experience which a dreamer tells after waking up.

Contradictory, Hobson's theory of dreams tells that "dreams are useful", in such a way that it gives a human space to be creative. As the human mind combines the cognitive pieces in a more meaningful manner which would be a source of novel ideas.

Dreams: a safe place for Emotions.

Interestingly, our emotions are regulated when we sleep. Have you noticed that most of our dreams contain the content from our fears or any traumatic incident that we had in our lives? Do you know? yes, we get an answer to this question by the "emotional regulation theory".

A study shows, that the amygdala & hippocampus both are actively involved in REM-sleep. Both are the parts of the brain that transfer/store information from short term memory to the long term memory in the human mind. Emotional processing is also done at this stage of sleep resulting in the form of "dreams" (De Gennaro et al., 2003).


I tried to give a quick brief introduction to the dreams in the light of "psychology". Also, researchers and psychologists are still working on further aspects of dreaming by the human mind. As you know the human mind is the trickiest & complicated thing to study. So, much more research is being done to unfold the hidden secrets of it.


APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Freud, S., & Strachey, J. (1965). The interpretation of dreams. New York: Avon Books

Hobson JA, McCarley RW. The brain as a dream-state generator: An activation-synthesis hypothesis of the dream process. Am J Psychiatry. 1977;134(12):1335-1348. DOI:10.1176/ajp.134.12.1335

De Gennaro L, Cipolli C, Cherubini A, et al. Amygdala and hippocampus volumetry and diffusivity in relation to dreaming. Hum Brain Mapp. 2011;32(9):1458-70. doi:10.1002/hbm.21120

© 2020 Zura Rubab Khan


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