The Psychology of Dreams

All of us have dreamed something during our lifetime and many of us are fascinated by not only how it happens but also why we dream. Dreams can be so vivid and detailed that can cause us to experience the emotion of the dream during our sleep as though it is occuring.

A dream is a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep (

As you all probably know good old Sigmund Freud was a fan of dreams, and would often interpret the dreams of patients to uncover unconscious thoughts, feelings and conflicts. Freud believed that the dreams of individuals would reveal important fact, Freud came up with four elements of dreams known as dream work, and these are

-Condensation- Freud believed that many different ideas are represented within a single dream and thus information is condensed into a single thought of image.

-Displacement- dreams disguise their emotional meaning and often display the meaning in an entirely different way that does not raise suspicion.

-Symbolization- this also supports the idea that repressed ideas represent themselves during dreams by including objects that are meant to symbolize the meaning of the dream.

-Secondary revision- Freud suggested that bizarre elements of a dream are recognized in order to make the dream comprehensible.

An example case study where Freud used dream analysis can be seen by this link about the case of Dora.

Other psychologists believe that dreams aren’t down to unconscious thoughts etc. but are a cognitive process that reflects the present thoughts and concerns of a dreamer’s waking life (Domhoff). Domhoff claimed that with 1000 dreams over a couple of decades he would be able to interpret and give a profile of a person’s mind that is as accurate as his or her fingerprints.

Despite the theories and explanations as to why dreams may occur and the different ways to interpret them there is a physiological difference when we dream and this is known as REM sleep (rapid eye movement). This was discovered by Aserinsky (1952) and the effects can be measure by looking at the alpha waves during sleep by using EEG. REM sleep is not only characterised by rapid eye movement but also a low muscle tone and rapid, low-voltage EEG.  REM sleep typically occurs 20-25% of total sleeping time and this means that on average we dream around 2 hours a night. Dreaming occurs after we have been in a deep sleep during the cycle of sleep. During dreams the spinal cord signals are shut down in order to make people immobile, this prevents people from acting out their dreams and putting themselves in dangerous situations such as walking into walls, falling down stairs etc.

There are many different opinions and reasons as to why we dream but the fact is we will probably never know the reason, but here are a mere few opinions as to why we dream

  • Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives. – William Dement.
  •  Dreaming is an act of pure imagination, attesting in all men a creative power, which if it were available in waking, would make every man a Dante or Shakespeare.  ~H.F. Hedge
  • A dream which in not interpreted is like a letter which is not read- The Talmud
  • Dreams are illustrations… from a book your souls is writing about you- Marsha Norman.
  • Pay attention to your dreams- God’s angels often speak directly to our hearts when we are asleep- Eileen Freeman

Pictures retrieved from … and Google images.

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3 thoughts on “The Psychology of Dreams

  1. Pingback: Final set of comments for Thandi!! « psuc1b

  2. What an interesting topic to write about! Although I do not agree with many of Freud’s theories, I do share his fascination of dreams! I experience extremely vivid dreams, I can usually remember absolutely everything that has happened in my dreams, but I too ponder as to why this is? …Philosophers and Psychologists have been trying to answer this question for thousands of years, there is no single consensus as to why we dream. Some researchers propose that there is no real reason why we dream, but I disagree with this, there is a reason for everything! Dreaming is part of mental, emotional and physical well-being, Ernest Hoffman of Sleep Disorder Center proposes his explanation of why we dream as “….a possible (though certainly not proven) function of a dream to be weaving new material into the memory system in a way that both reduces emotional arousal and is adaptive in helping us cope with further trauma or stressful events.” I personally have an ecclectic view as to why we dream, I see one explanation and agree with it, and then see another and agree with that! The activation-synthesis model of dreaming proposed that dreams are activation of brain circuits during REM sleep, whilst activating the limbic system, amygdala and hippocampus. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Freud proposed that dreams were mere representations of unconscious desires, and beleived that aggression and sexual instincts within our personality finds their way into our dreams …having said this, i do not particularly agree with Freud because I’ve never been jealous of my father’s penis, nor do I believe that my brothers secretly lusted after my mother!

    Keep dreaming! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Last set of comments (for Kat) « psuc41

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