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Dreams Essay, Research Paper


Theories attempting to explain the origin and functions of REM sleep

include: (1) that REM sleep provides stimulation for the development of the

brain; (2) that it performs a chemical restoration function, since during REM

dreaming neuro-protein synthesis occurs along with the restoration of other

depleted brain chemicals; (3) that it provides oculomotor (eye movement)

coordination, since during non-REM sleep the eyes move independently of each

other; (4) that it provides a vigilance function, since REM sleep (stage I) is

characterized by a level of consciousness close to the awakened state; (5) in a

more recent and controversial theory, REM dreaming performs a neurological

erasure function, eliminating extraneous information build-up in the memory

system; and (6) that, in a more cognitive psychological explanation, REM

dreaming enhances memory storage and reorganization.

Contrary to popular belief, dreaming is not caused by eating certain

foods before bedtime, nor by environmental stimuli during sleeping. Dreaming is

caused by internal biological process. Some researchers have proposed the

activation-synthesis hypothesis. Their neurological research indicates that

large brain cells in the primitive brain stem spontaneously fire about every 90

minutes, sending random stimuli to cortical areas of the BRAIN. As a

consequence, memory, sensory, muscle-control, and cognitive areas of the brain

are randomly stimulated, resulting in the higher cortical brain attempting to

make some sense of it. This, according to the research, gives rise to the

experience of a dream. Now, as in the past, the most significant controversy

centers on the question of whether dreams have intentional, or actual personal,

meaning. Many psychotherapists maintain that while the neurological impulses

from the brain stem may activate the dreaming process, the content or meaningful

representations in dreams are caused by nonconscious needs, wishes, desires, and

everyday concerns of the dreamer. Thus, such psychotherapists subscribe to the

phenomenological-clinical, or “top-down,” explanation, which holds that dreams

are intentionally meaningful messages from the unconscious. The neurological,

or “bottom-up,” explanation maintains that dreams have no intentional meaning.

In between these two positions is an approach called content analysis. Content

analysis simply describes and classifies the various representations in dreams,

such as people, houses, cars, trees, animals, and color, though no deep

interpretation is attributed to the content. Differences in content have been

discovered between the dreams of males and females, and between dreams and

occurring in different developmental stages of life. What these differences

mean is under investigation.

Some recent research seems to indicate that dream content reflects

problems that the dreamer experiences in life, and that the function of such

dreams is to facilitate the emotional resolution of the problems. Numerous

accounts exist of scientific problems being resolved, and literary works being

developed in dreams after dreamers had consciously immersed themselves in a

problem for an extended time.

Cognitive psychologists are concerned with logic and thought processing

during dreaming, and how they are different from mental processes during the

waking state. In studies of the developmental cognitive processes of children’s

dreams, for instance, it has been found that the increasing complexity of

children’s dreams parallel waking cognitive development. Many researchers

believe that knowledge about dreaming is important for understanding waking


Current and future research issues involve further establishing and

extending all of the above areas. Anthropologists are studying cross-culture

similarities and differences in dreams. Research into NIGHTMARES and bizarre

dreams continues. In addition, REM research is important for understanding

psychobiological abnormalities. Some findings indicate that epileptic seizures

are suppressed during REM sleep. Narcoleptics, people who may involuntarily fall

asleep at any time, enter REM sleep almost immediately. Research continues on

the variations in dream recall. For instance, artists tend to recall more

dreams than scientists, and, for the population at large, only a small

percentage of dreams are recalled. Lucid dreaming, the ability of dreamers to

become aware of and to control their dreams while dreaming, is also the focus of

some current research. Some lucid dreamers can learn to communicate with

researchers through nonverbal signals. New research also promises to yield

significant knowledge about memory, storage and retrieval, cognitive

organization, psychobiological processes, human consciousness, and specific

operations of the mind


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