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The theory has been influential in discovering the function of dreams. In addition, Freud argued that dreams can provide us with vital information about unconscious thoughts and about the way the dreamer is feeling. Most later theories have been unwilling to go that far, however they have accepted that dreams can tell us something about the thoughts and feelings of a dreamer. Moreover, the theory explains the fact that dreams often reflect our current concerns.
There is little empirical evidence to support Freud’s claims about dreams.
The theory is challenged by Hobson and McCarley (1977) who argued that dreams are simply an artifact of brain activity during sleep, and therefore have no real meaning or emotional content. This view is markedly different from Freud’s view that dreams represent the fulfilment of unconscious desires. Freud’s theory has been criticised in relation to the time he lived in, when many feelings were repressed, whereas today it is improbable that there is as much repression in today’s liberal and permissive society.
However, Hayes (1994) pointed out that if dreams have a wish fulfilment function, then we would expect in today’s society that people would find a stronger food and eating content within their dreams.
Furthermore, there are additional problems with this theory. The theory doesn’t explain why some dreams are not wish fulfilling, such as frightening nightmares. Also, the latent content of a dream is open to question because even though some dreams may represent wish fulfilment, it is unlikely that all dreams can be regarded as wish fulfilling.
Another criticism of the Psychoanalysis theory is that it ignores physiological processes involved in dreaming and only focuses on the psychological explanations. Problem solving theory Webb and Cartwright (1978) proposed the problem-solving theory which claimed that dreams are a way of working out personal and work problems.
There are many well known examples of this, such as the chemist Kekule who dreamt of a ring of snakes that revealed to him the ring like atomic structure of benzene molecules. Like Freud’s wish fulfilment theory, the problem solving theory also suggests that dreams are a way of coping with problems. However, in the problem solving theory, the manifest content of the dream is the true meaning of the dream, although the dream may rely on a metaphor, such as the ring of snakes. Research Evidence Webb and Cartwright (1972) described a study which provides support for their theory, in which participants were given problems to solve and then allowed to go to sleep.
Some were then woken when they entered REM sleep. They found those that had been allowed to sleep uninterrupted were able to provide more realistic solutions to the problems the next day, suggesting that there REM sleep had given them the opportunity to work through their problems. In another study Cartwright (1984) interviewed women who were undergoing divorce and were either depressed or not depressed. He then compared them with a non-depressed married group who has never considered divorce.
All participants were studied over a 6 nights in a sleep laboratory. The non-depressed divorcing women reported having longer dreams which dealt with marital status issues. This apparently helped the individuals cope better. Such issues were absent from the dreams of the depressed groups. Presumably the depression was associated with an inability to deal with problems The above findings are supported by Hartmann (1973 who found that people who were experiencing various kinds of problems had more REM sleep than the less troubles individuals.
Evaluation The problem solving theory seems to be a reasonable account of dreaming and is supported by some research studies. However, this approach doesn’t explain why people and animals have dreams not related to the solution of problems. Also, the problem solving theory implies that it would be useful to remember our dreams. But, it seems puzzling that we forget about 95% of our dreams. There is also the question of why sleep is necessary because we can also solve problems by engaging in another task for a while, as indicated by the saying ‘a change is as good as rest’. The most reasonable conclusion is that the problem solving theory helps to explain some dreams, but does not provide a comprehensive account of all dreams. Finally, this approach is uninformative about the physiological processes involved in dreaming.
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