Dreams as modifiers and tests of mental schemas: an emotional selection hypothesis

Psychol Rep. 2008 Apr;102(2):561-74. doi: 10.2466/pr0.102.2.561-574.


A process is proposed that helps a person adapt to a social environment. During sleep, this process executes a set of dreams with social content that schemas tentatively incorporate by self-modifying. Due to vast interconnectivity that exists amongst social schemas, such modifications may introduce accidental, maladaptive conflicts. Consequently, a second set of dreams is executed in the form of test scenarios in order to evaluate the schema modifications effected by the first set of dreams. The process would monitor emotions generated during these latter dream tests. If prior, tentative modifications alleviate anxiety, frustration, sadness, or in other ways appear emotionally adaptive, they would be selected for retention. Those modifications that compare negatively to existing, unchanged schemas would be abandoned or further modified and tested. The correspondences of these hypotheses to the sleep cycle, previous dream studies, and functional neurological processes are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Dreams / physiology*
  • Dreams / psychology*
  • Emotions* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology
  • Mental Processes* / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Psychological
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Social Adjustment*
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Perception