Experimental research on dreaming: state of the art and neuropsychoanalytic perspectives

Front Psychol. 2011 Nov 18;2:286. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00286. eCollection 2011.

Abstract

Dreaming is still a mystery of human cognition, although it has been studied experimentally for more than a century. Experimental psychology first investigated dream content and frequency. The neuroscientific approach to dreaming arose at the end of the 1950s and soon proposed a physiological substrate of dreaming: rapid eye movement sleep. Fifty years later, this hypothesis was challenged because it could not explain all of the characteristics of dream reports. Therefore, the neurophysiological correlates of dreaming are still unclear, and many questions remain unresolved. Do the representations that constitute the dream emerge randomly from the brain, or do they surface according to certain parameters? Is the organization of the dream's representations chaotic or is it determined by rules? Does dreaming have a meaning? What is/are the function(s) of dreaming? Psychoanalysis provides hypotheses to address these questions. Until now, these hypotheses have received minimal attention in cognitive neuroscience, but the recent development of neuropsychoanalysis brings new hopes of interaction between the two fields. Considering the psychoanalytical perspective in cognitive neuroscience would provide new directions and leads for dream research and would help to achieve a comprehensive understanding of dreaming. Notably, several subjective issues at the core of the psychoanalytic approach, such as the concept of personal meaning, the concept of unconscious episodic memory and the subject's history, are not addressed or considered in cognitive neuroscience. This paper argues that the focus on singularity and personal meaning in psychoanalysis is needed to successfully address these issues in cognitive neuroscience and to progress in the understanding of dreaming and the psyche.

Keywords: dream; dream functions; neuroimaging; neurophysiological correlates of dreaming; personal meaning; psychoanalysis; unconscious.