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Freud's Theory of Dreaming

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Freud's Theory of Dreaming

When talking about psychologists, the name that most likely comes to people's minds is Freud. Freud, a psychoanalyst, is known for his controversial theories that paved the way for the psychodynamic approach to psychology. His research focuses on the unconscious mind and how conflicts and unconscious messages affect mental well-being and behaviour. The Freud Theory of Dreaming (1900) focuses on the psychodynamic approach to dreaming.

  • First, we will discuss Freud's psychoanalytic theory of dreams.
  • Then we will dive into the various aspects of Freud's theory of dreaming, including Freud's wish fulfilment theory of dreams and Freud's theory of dreaming versus the modern activation-synthesis theory.
  • Finally, we will cover the evaluation of Freud's dream theory, delving into the criticisms of freud's theory of dreaming.

What is Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory of Dreaming?

Freud's psychoanalytic theory of dreaming is essentially his application of the psychodynamic approach to dreaming. Before we learn about his theory of dreaming, let's first take a look at how Freud described and explained the mind.

The unconscious mind

According to Freud, the mind consists of the following:

  • The conscious mind - these are the things you are aware of and actively doing.
  • The unconscious mind - these are the things that we subconsciously do, such as dreaming. The unconscious mind relays hidden messages that may contribute to why we behave in the way we do.
  • The preconscious mind - these are thoughts and desires we are not completely aware of all the time, but can bring into the conscious mind should we choose to do so (for example, the phone number of your mother)

Freud described the mind with an analogy of an iceberg:

The tip of the iceberg is the conscious mind that you can easily see. Whereas beneath the surface, parts of the iceberg remain hidden and cannot be seen. This represents the unconscious mind.

Freud said that our personality reflecting our conscious and unconscious mind should be called the psyche. The psyche has three components. The components are:

  • id - the pleasure principle, responsible for our impulses and selfish desires
  • ego - the reality principle, makes sense of reality and keeps the id and superego balanced
  • superego - the morality principle, responsible for our morals

Freud's Theory of Dreaming, Iceberg, StudySmarterFreud described three components to the psyche, depicting the mind as an iceberg, flaticon.com/free-icon

The id and superego need to remain balanced for healthy and normal functioning.

Freud's psychoanalytic theory of dreaming

Forgetting dreams is a common thing that happens to many people. Freud proposed a purpose behind this, the theory of dreaming (1900). When asleep, according to Freud, the ego is weakened, and the unconscious mind begins to seep through.

The theory of dreaming suggests that dreams contain manifest content.

The manifest content is the story you tell in your dream. It is what you see in your dreams.

As you would predict with the psychodynamic approach, the theory proposes that these dreams/the stories you tell in your sleep have hidden meanings. These are known as the latent content of dreams.

The latent content is the hidden meaning behind what you see in your dreams and is considered the true meaning.

The psychodynamic intervention, psychoanalysis tries to uncover what these hidden meanings (the latent content) are. Dreams are where unconscious desires, thoughts, behaviours and wish fulfilment surface.

Freud's psychoanalytic theory of dreaming explains that the process of dreaming happens through dreamwork.

Dreamwork is what your brain does to change the latent content of dreams to manifest content, as unconscious desires may be disturbing in nature. For you to understand dreamwork, there are four components of this that you need to learn:

  1. Condensation - all of the elements of the manifest content of a dream are associated and combined into one with one another. Therefore, all dream elements represent the hidden message relayed in dreams.
  2. Displacement - what you think is an essential detail of a dream may not be as vital as you feel. This is a defence mechanism used to hide the important details that may uncover the latent content of dreams. Emotions concerning one aspect of a concept is removed and placed onto another concept through displacement.
  3. Secondary revision - this is when the psyche's ego tries to make sense of dreams and attempts to fill in the gaps to make sense of the dream. These are usually not accurate.
  4. Understanding representations of dreams - this is the process of changing thoughts and experiences into images so that they can be relayed in your dreams. Essentially this changes the latent content that the psyche is trying to keep hidden into manifest content.

Freud's Theory of Dreaming, Speech bubble with moon and stars representing dreams, StudySmarterDream of moon and stars, flaticon.com/premium-icon

Freud's Wish Fulfilment Theory of Dreams

Many reasonings behind the purpose of dreams have been proposed. One of these is Freud's wish fulfilment of dreams.

An example of wish fulfilment is that someone may overcome an overwhelming desire they cannot satisfy in real life by fighting their boss in a dream.

This example essentially describes what wish fulfilment is. Wish fulfilment is when people can fulfil unconscious desires in their dreams that they cannot do in real life.

  • Now, this example seems harmless. However, they can be more serious, such as stopping people from committing adultery or murder. According to the wish fulfilment theory of dreams, their point is to settle (the ego and superego do this) urges of the id that may be destructive.

You may have been thinking, why is the brain working so hard, and why are there so many defence mechanisms to stop us from learning the latent content of our dreams?

  • This is because if the unconscious thoughts and behaviours hidden in dreams surface to consciousness, and can lead to people giving in to impulses of the id. When the psyche is not balanced, you may develop mental health illnesses, such as narcissistic personality disorder. Therefore, the psyche represses thoughts, feelings and behaviours that may do this.

Repression is when you unconsciously 'forget' by blocking a memory. Regression is a defence mechanism of the brain used to hide traumatic memories or negative feelings or thoughts. On a less extreme scale, you may repress a memory from your childhood because you are embarrassed by what happened.

Evaluation of Freud's Dream Theory

Let's now evaluate Freud's dream theory!

Strengths of Freud's dream theory

Some strengths of Freud's theory of dreaming include:

  • Freud provided research evidence for his theory (the Little Hans case study, 1909).
  • Little Hans had developed a phobia of horses.
  • Freud used dream analysis to uncover what caused his phobia.
  • Freud interpreted the dream as Hans being scared that his father would castrate him because he had incestuous feelings for his mother.
  • After Hans's father told him that he would not castrate him, eventually, the phobia went away.
  • Freud provided more supportive research evidence for his theory (the Wolfman study, 1918).
  • Freud aimed to understand and treat the underlying psychological problems Wolfman had
  • Wolfman had been diagnosed with several mental illnesses, such as anxiety, hysteria and obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Freud used dream analysis to uncover the latent content meaning behind the manifest content of Wolfman's dream
    • E.g. manifest content - feared the wolves would eat him and the latent content, according to Freud, was that the Wolfman had undergone some trauma after witnessing his parents having intercourse.
  • It allows people and therapists to uncover the root of problems that may be contributing to mental distress/ illnesses (as the Little Hans shows).
  • It has been applied to create psychodynamic intervention techniques, such as dream analysis, which research has shown to help treat mental illnesses.

Criticisms of Freud's Theory of Dreaming

Some weaknesses of Freud's theory of dreaming include:

  • How dreams are interpreted is subjective. What you understand as the latent content of a dream will likely differ from how someone else interprets your dream. So, which one is the right interpretation?
  • As Freud suggested, condensation is an important part of dreamwork. However, it is unlikely that someone will remember every single detail of a dream. Another common thing is that many people do not remember dreams at all. Therefore, this theory has limited use.
  • If the brain is repressing memories, should we try to recall them? What if it causes more damage than help.
  • The Wolfman case study has undergone intense scrutiny, with the child himself, Sergei Pankejeff, stating the idea was very implausible and "out-there", and he disagreed with the assumption he was cured. Sergei Pankejeff said in later life, he was suffering from the same issues he had before.

Freud's Theory of Dreaming Versus the Modern Activation-Synthesis Theory

Both Freud's theory of dreaming and the modern activation-synthesis theory propose different reasonings for how dreams occur. So, which one is right?

According to the modern activation-synthesis theory, dreams are a neurobiological process; neuronal activity causes dreaming behaviour. Dreams make sense of what is happening in the brain on a biological level, in that spikes in activity are rationalised in dreams.


Freud's Theory of Dreaming - Key Takeaways

  • Freud proposed that the mind has three levels of consciousness: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious.
  • Dreams are an unconscious process where hidden desires, thoughts, behaviours and wish fulfilment surface.
  • Freud's psychoanalytic theory of dreaming explains that dreams are formed via dreamwork. According to this theory, dreamwork has four components: condensation, displacement, secondary revision, and understanding of dream representations.
  • The strengths of Freud's psychoanalytic theory of dreaming are that he has found supportive research (Little Hans and the Wolfman case study), and the theory has been applied to create the intervention dream analysis. Therefore, the theory can be considered useful for improving available psychological interventions.
  • Criticisms of Freud's theory of dreaming are that as dreams are subjective, it is difficult to establish the exact meaning of dreams. Also, if our brain is actively repressing memories, may we be causing harm trying to remember them. The Wolfman case study also has little credibility. Finally, is Freud's theory of condensation actually possible?

Frequently Asked Questions about Freud's Theory of Dreaming

Freud's theory suggests that dreams are formed through dream work. Dreams are an unconscious process where hidden desires, thoughts, behaviours and wish fulfilment surface. 

Freud believed that there were three levels of consciousness:


  1. The conscious mind
  2. The preconscious mind
  3. The unconscious mind


Alongside three aspects of personality: the id, ego, and superego.


According to Freud's theory of dreaming, there are four components of dreamwork:

  1. Condensation 
  2. Displacement 
  3. Secondary revision 
  4. Understanding representations of dreams 

Wish fulfilment is when people can fulfil unconscious desires that they cannot do in real life. According to Freud, the point of wish fulfilment is to settle (the ego and superego do this) urges (of the id) that may be destructive. 

The two types of dreams that Freud identifies are manifest content and latent content dreams. 

Dreams are important to Freud as repressed hidden unconscious messages surface during this period. These hidden messages may be contributing to mental illnesses, which can be understood when undergoing dream analysis. 

Final Freud's Theory of Dreaming Quiz

Question

Which theory contradicts Freud's (1900) theory of dreaming? 

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Answer

The modern activation-synthesis theory

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Question

Fill in the blank space, the               mind is where hidden messages are repressed. 

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Answer

unconscious

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Question

Which of the following is defined as the actual contents of a dream - what we see in our dreams, and not the hidden meaning. 

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Answer

Manifest content. 

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Question

What is the name of the theory that Freud proposed to explain how dreams are formed? 

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Answer

Dreamwork. 

Show question

Question

What is Freud's wish fulfilment theory of dreams?

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Answer

Wish fulfilment is when people can fulfil unconscious desires in their dreams that they cannot do in real life.

Show question

Question

How is the psyche involved in Freud's wish fulfilment theory of dreams?

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Answer

According to the wish fulfilment theory of dreams, the goal of dreams is to settle (the ego and superego do this) urges (of the id) that may be destructive. 

Show question

Question

What is repression? 

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Answer

Repression is when you unconsciously 'forget' by blocking a memory. 

Show question

Question

What supportive evidence did Freud propose for his dream theory? 

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Answer

The Little Hans case study (1909) and the Wolfman study (1918) - both have issues, however, with reliability and validity. 

Show question

Question

What are the criticisms of Freud's theory of dreaming? 

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Answer

  • How dreams are interpreted is subjective. 
  • As Freud suggested, condensation is an important part of dreamwork. However, it is unlikely that someone will remember every single detail of a dream. Another common thing is that many people do not remember dreams at all. 
  • If the brain is repressing memories, should we try to recall them? What if it causes more damage than help?
  • The Wolfman case study has issues with credibility, as the Wolfman himself disagreed and called Freuds ideas far-fetched.

Show question

Question

Which intervention applied the principles of Freud's theory of dreaming? 

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Answer

Dream analysis.

Show question

Question

According to Freud's theory, what happens during dreaming?

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Answer

Dreams are where unconscious desires, thoughts, behaviours and wish fulfilment surface. 

Show question

Question

Match the correct definition to the condensation aspect of Freud's dreamwork? 

Show answer

Answer

All of the elements of the manifest content of a dream are combined and associated with one another.

Show question

Question

Match the correct definition to the displacement aspect of Freud's dreamwork? 


Show answer

Answer

All of the elements of the manifest content of a dream are associated with one another. 

Show question

Question

Match the correct definition to the secondary revision aspect of Freud's dreamwork? 

Show answer

Answer

Changing latent content of dreams to manifest content. 

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Question

Match the correct definition to the understanding representations of dreams aspect of Freud's dreamwork? 

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Answer

All of the elements of the manifest content of a dream are associated with one another.

Show question

Question

What is an alternative explanation of why dream occur?

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Answer

Activation-Synthesis Theory

Show question

Question

Which two studies supported the Freudian Theory of Dreaming 

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Answer

The Wolfman

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Question

Is the Wolfman study generalisable to the public?

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Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

Does the Freudian Theory of Dreaming have an objective or subjective foundation?

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Answer

Subjective

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Question

The Wolfman Study is a ________ case study of Sergei Pankejeff.

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Answer

longitudinal

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What was the name of the Wolfman in Freud's 1918 study?

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Answer

Sergei Pankejeff

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Question

The Wolfman Study is an example of Freud using ______ analysis to understand the reason behind Wolfman's psychological issues.

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Answer

dream

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Question

How many wolves did the Wolfman dream of?

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Answer

Six to seven white wolves.

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Question

What was Wolfman's dream?

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Answer

Wolfman dreamt he was in bed and could see six to seven white wolves sitting in an oak tree outside of his window, which sat at the foot of his bed. 


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What did Wolfman fear the wolves would do in his dream?

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Answer

He feared that the wolves would eat him.

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Question

What trauma did Freud suggest the dream represented from Wolfman's childhood?

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Answer

Freud suggested the dream represented trauma from a time when Wolfman had witnessed his parents having intercourse. 


Show question

Question

What did the wolves represent in the Wolfman's dream, according to Freud?

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Answer

The wolves symbolised Wolfman's father.

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Question

What did the wolves white coloured fur symbolise in the Wolfman's dream, according to Freud?

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Answer

the white colour possibly references the bed sheets, according to Freud. 

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Question

What did Freud interpret the fear of being eaten by the wolves as in the Wolfman's dream?

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Answer

Freud interpreted it as a fear of castration from his father (castration anxiety).

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Question

The wolves in the Wolfman's dream represented a fear of his ______.

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Answer

Father

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Question

Both Wolfman's sister and father committed suicide, true or false?

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Answer

True

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Wolfman's parents suggested he be more outgoing like his sister, true or false?

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True

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Wolfman had a negative relationship with his father, true or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

What were Wolfmans' (Sergei Pankejeff) views on Freud's claims?

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Answer

Wolfman said the concept that Freud was pushing was preposterous, and "'The whole thing is improbable."


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Question

Freudians attributed Wolfman's issues with his mental health in later life to what?

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Answer

Castration anxiety

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