The Emergence of Dreaming (2018)

by G. William Domhoff

Published by Oxford University Press

ISBN: 9780190673420
DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190673420.001.0001


1. Dream Reports From Sleep Laboratories

2. Dream Reports Collected in Non-Laboratory Settings

3. Findings From Studies Of Individual Dream Series

4. The Emergence of Dreaming in Children and Adolescents

5. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Dreaming

6. The Activation-Synthesis Theory of Dreaming

7. The Failed Freudian Revival

8. Does Dreaming Have Any Adaptive Function(s)?

9. A Promising Agenda

Methodological Appendix

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On YouTube: "Seven Surprising Discoveries That Changed My Thinking About Dreams" — A one-hour lecture by Bill Domhoff that discusses many of the topics in The Emergence of Dreaming.


This book presents a new neurocognitive theory of dreams. It is distinctive in that it emphasizes the similarities between dreaming and waking thought, demonstrates that personal psychological meaning can be found in a majority of dream reports, has a strong developmental dimension based on excellent longitudinal and cross-sectional studies carried out in sleep labs with children ages 3-15, and locates the neural substrate for dreaming in the same brain network active during mind-wandering and daydreaming. In addition, it marshals the evidence that shows it is very unlikely that dreaming has any adaptive function.

These claims are based on five different sets of descriptive empirical findings that were developed between the late 1950s and the first 17 years of the twenty-first century. All of these findings were unanticipated by scientific dream researchers and then resisted to varying degrees by dream theorists for a variety of reasons. The first five chapters spell out the theory and the evidence for it without any discussion or criticism of past theories. However, the next two chapters present detailed criticisms of the shortcomings of two major alternative theories, activation-synthesis theory and Freudian theory. The penultimate chapter presents evidence that it is very unlikely that dreaming has any adaptive function in the evolutionary sense of the term, although it stresses that humans have invented uses for dreams in religious and healing rituals. In that regard, dreaming has an emergent function in culture that develpped in the course of history due to human cognitive capacities. The final chapter presents a general agenda for future research using new methodologies and technologies to test all of the hypotheses.

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