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Essay/Term paper: Dreams

Essay, term paper, research paper:  High School Essays

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Dreaming is a form of mental activity, different from waking thought, that occurs

during sleep. The nature of dream activity has been characterized by many

clinical and laboratory studies. These studies show that dreams are more

perceptual than conceptual: Things are seen and heard rather than thought. In

terms of the senses, visual experience is present in almost all dreams; auditory

experience in 40 to 50 percent; and touch, taste, smell, and pain in a relatively

small percentage. A considerable amount of emotion is commonly

present—usually a single, stark emotion such as fear, anger, or joy rather than

the modulated emotions that occur in the waking state. Most dreams are in the

form of interrupted stories, made up partly of memories, with frequent shifts of


This broad characterization includes a great variety of dream experiences.

Many dreams collected in sleep laboratories are rather ordinary, but most people

have at least some bizarre dreams. At the start of the 20th century Sigmund

Freud proposed that a mental process quite different from that used in the waking

state dominates the dreaming mind. He described this "primary process" as

characterized by more primitive mechanisms, by rapid shifts in energy and

emotions, and by a good deal of sexual and aggressive content derived from


Research in recent years has clarified many of these aspects of dreaming,

but what may be of greatest significance has been the discovery of a biology of

dreaming. Starting with the work of American sleep researchers Eugene

Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitman in 1953, studies have shown that a dream

does not consist of fleeting imagery that occurs while a person awakens from

sleep, but instead a dream takes place during a biological state of its own.

Thus, two clearly distinguishable states of sleep exist. The first state,

called S-synchronized sleep, or NREM-sleep, occupies most of the sleep period

and is associated with a relatively low pulse and blood pressure, little activation

of the autonomic nervous system, and few or no reports of dreaming. The second

type of sleep, known as D-sleep, or REM-sleep, occurs cyclically during the

sleep period and is characterized by activation of the autonomic nervous system,

rapid eye movements, and frequent dream reports. Typically, a person has four

or five periods of D-sleep during the night, whether the dreams are remembered

often, rarely, or not at all; they occur at intervals of about 90 minutes and

altogether constitute about 25 percent of the night"s sleep. Evidence indicates

that a dream period usually lasts from 5 to 20 minutes.

Such stimuli as sounds and touches impinging on a dreamer can be

incorporated into a dream if they occur during a D-period. These stimuli,

however, do not initiate a D-period if one is not already in progress, so that, at

least in such cases, dreams do not protect sleep in the way that Freud suggested.

Although mental activity may be reported during NREM-sleep, these are usually

short, fragmented, thoughtlike experiences.

Ancient cultures believed that dreams were spiritual in origin, often

foretelling the future. Aristotle believed that dreams originated from within the

dreamer, arising from the heart. Modern dream research has focused on two

general interpretations of dream content. In one view, dreams have no inherent

meaning but are simply a process by which the brain integrates new information

into memories. In the other view, dreams contain real meaning symbolized in a

picture language that is distinct from conscious logical thought.

The recounting of dreams has been used widely as part of clinical

treatment. If dreams express important wishes, fears, concerns, and worries of

the dreamer, the study and analysis of dreams can help reveal previously

unknown aspects of a person"s mental functioning.


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