Dreaming, 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 scene.
II BIOLOGY OF DREAMING
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 (see Sleep). 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.
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.
III OTHER ANIMALS
IV THE MEANING OF DREAMS
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.
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