5 theories on why we dream
Do you jolt out of sleep while dreaming of walking down the stairs, skipping a step, and falling? You're not alone. Many of us experience strange dreams--some we remember, some we don't. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud's theory was that dreams are a manifestation of the unconscious mind. Here are some popular theories on why we dream.
According to Freud, the unconscious tries to resolve a problem or let you know of suppressed desires through dreams. Dreams are attempts made by the unconscious to resolve a conflict, or "disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes." The theory believed that we dream to satisfy our own wishes. However, over the years, the theory was proved to be incorrect since not all dreams are significant.
Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo found that during REM sleep, the fight-or-flight section of the brain works the same ways as during a survival threat. This theory states that negative dreams try to help us rehearse for similar real events, recognize threats and avoid the situation faster and more automatically. Dreams are an evolutionary trait to help us practice safety.
Carl Jung believed that dreams expressed an individual's unconscious state through a language of symbols which was very different from the language of communication. He also believed that universal archetypes naturally present in human consciousness existed in this language. Dreams serve two functions as per this theory--to compensate for disproportion in a dreamer's psyche and to make the dreamer anticipate the future.
During REM stage of sleep, electrical signals called electroencephalogram recordings pass through the brain. In the 1970s, Harvard professors Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley theorized that the brain naturally reacted in an attempt to make sense of the stimulus. According to this theory, dreams have no intrinsic meaning and are a side effect of the brain's normal activity.
Dreams help us sort out the day's events and combine and organize our memories. The self-organization theory of dreaming explains that dreaming is a side effect of brain neural activity as memories are consolidated during sleep. While we dream, helpful memories get stronger, while less important ones fade. Research has stated that when a person dreams about complex tasks, they improve in performing them.