The Function and Meaning of Dreaming

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Many people misunderstood the function and meaning of dreaming. To fully understand it, this article explains different theories regarding dreams. It explains how it happens and its meaning.

The average person experiences 150,000 dreams by the age of 70. They typically encompass everyday events such as going to the supermarket,working at the office, and preparing a meal. Students dream about going to class. Professors dream about lecturing. Dental patients dream of getting their teeth drilled. Dentist dream of drilling wrong tooth. But, what if anything, do all these dreams mean? Whether dreams have a specific significance and function is a question that scientists have considered for many years, and they have developed the three alternative theories about these.

Do Dreams Represent Unconscious Wish Fulfillment?

Sigmund Freud viewed dreams as a guide to the unconscious. In his unconscious wish fulfillment theory, he proposed that dreams represent unconscious wishes that dreamers desire to see fulfilled. However, because these wishes are threatening to the dreamer's conscious awareness, the actual wishes-called the latent content of dreams-are disguised. The true subject and meaning of a ream, then, may have little to do with its apparent story line, which Freud called the manifest content of dream.

To Freud, it was important to pierce the armor of a dream's manifest content to understand its true meaning. To do this, Freud tried to get people to past. He also suggested that certain common symbols with universal meaning appear in dreams. For example, to Freud, dreams in which a person is flying symbolize a wish for sexual intercourse.

Many psychologists reject Freud's view that dreams typically represent unconscious wishes and that particular objects and events in a dream are symbolic. Instead, they believe that the direct, overt action of a dream is the focal point of its meaning. For example, a dream in which we are walking down a long hallway to take an exam for which we haven't studied does not relate to unconscious, unacceptable wishes. Instead, it simply may mean that we are concerned about an impending test. Even more complex dreams can often be interpreted in terms of everyday concerns and stress.


According to the dreams-for-survival-theory, dreams permit information that is critical for our daily survival to be reconsidered and reprocessed during sleep. Dreaming is seen as an inheritance from our animal ancestors, whose small brains were unable to sift sufficient information during waking hours. Consequently, dreaming provided a mechanism that permitted the processing of information 24 hours a day.

According to this theory, dreams represent concerns about our daily lives, illustrating our uncertainties,indecisions,ideas and desires. Rather than being disguised wishes, as Freud suggested, they represent key concerns growing out of our daily experiences.

Activation-Synthesis Theory

According to psychiatrist J. Allan Hobson, who proposed activation-synthesis theory the brain procedures random electrical energy during REM sleep, possibly as a result of changes in the production of particular neurotransmitters. This electrical energy randomly stimulates memories lodged in various portions of the brain. Because we have a need to make sense of our world even while asleep, the brain takes these chaotic memories and weaves them into a logical story line, filling in the gaps to produce a rational scenario.


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