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January 2011



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By Jeremy Dean

We all live two mental lives. When we are awake it is mostly ordered, rational, linear and bounded by rules, both behavioral and physical. When we are asleep it is chaotic, nonlinear, without rules, often without sense.

According to some, dreams are nothing more than the byproduct of a brain disconnected from its normal sensory inputs, freewheeling its way through the night. To others, dreams denote night-time learning or problem-solving, even automatic sifting of the mind’s detritus – useless information to be skimmed off the surface and dumped like so much mental junk.

Amongst the general public, though, there are much stronger beliefs about the power of dreams. So strong that, according to recent research, people seem to believe that dreams can predict the future.


To see how much meaning people ascribe to their dreams, Carey Morewedge and Michael Norton asked participants to compare four ways of thinking about dreams (Morewedge & Norton, 2009). Here are the options:

  • Freudian: dreams reveal buried truths about the self.
  • Problem-solving: dreams help us work through our problems while we sleep.
  • Learning theory: dreams are how we process and sort out the day’s events.
  • Random: dreams are vivid hallucinations that result from our brains trying to interpret random impulses.

Notice the last three theories all share the idea that, while dreaming may or may not have a psychological ‘purpose,’ the actual content of our dreams is still mental junk; sometimes entertaining, sometimes frightening, often weird, but with no real meaning in and of itself. The content only has a strong meaning in the Freudian approach.

Participants from the United States, South Korea and India were all more likely to endorse the Freudian view of dreams than the other three. In the US sample it was 56% Freudian, 8% problem-solving, 18% random and 18% learning.

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Although 56% endorsing Freud might sound high, Morewedge and Norton thought it was still an underestimate of how much store people put by their dreams. So a second and third study asked both Freudians and non-Freudians to estimate the effect of their dreams on behavior.

Read in Full:  http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/10/18/why-dreaming-is-believing/

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