The research of consciousness, or states of awareness, has provided numerous interesting and influential studies. Sleep, dreams, and hypnosis are states of awareness that have intrigued psychologists because they relate to the quality of psychological interaction with the environment. States of awareness change constantly, which produces changes in behavior. Studies in this area have made great contributions to the understanding of psychology. Researchers pursuing answers about states of awareness discovered Rapid Eye Movement sleep and how it relates to dreaming. Rosalind Cartwright, a leading researcher in this area, takes the study of consciousness to another level by suggesting that people may be able to control what they dream about.
Many psychologists have theorized about why people dream. “Sigmund Freud believed that dreams were windows to your unconscious; that your greatest unfulfilled wishes and fears would be expressed symbolically in your dreams.” Freud’s view has been highly influential, and psychotherapists still use dream interpretation during therapy. Chrick and Mitchilson’s “mental housekeeping hypothesis says that you need to dream to clean your mind of information you collect over time that is useless, overly bizarre, or redundant.” Rosalind Cartwright developed the theory that dreams provide and extension of thought in order for people to solve problems they face in life. This approach allows people to experiment with, and gain insight into potential solutions. Cartwright suggested that if a personally relevant presleep wish is made then the topic is likely to enter into dreams. She believed people are most concerned with personality aspects they would like to change, or “cognitive inconsistency about the self”. Cartwright predicted that dreams that follow focus on a personally relevant problem would be related to that topic; and that in the dream the person would approach the situation differently than while awake.
Cartwright used 17 paid volunteer college students to test her predictions. All the volunteers claimed to be good sleepers, and spent a few nights in the laboratory in order to adapt to the surroundings. Each subject had to sort a deck of cards with an adjective such as selfish on each one. The cards were placed into seven categories ranging from “least to most like me”. The subjects then sorted another deck for the person they would most like to be. This allowed the researchers to find a negative aspect the subject wanted to change, called a “target adjective”. The subjects were wired to electrodes during sleep, so their periods of REM sleep could be monitored. Prior to falling asleep, the subjects were told to say over and over; “I wish I were not so (target adjective)” The subjects were awoke during REM sleep so they could report their dreams. Cartwright was extremely thorough in the evaluation of the subjects. She chose two other words along with the target adjective in order to eliminate other motivations for dreaming about a certain topic. “If only the target word is incorporated on a significant number of cases, it might be argued that this is one model for how dreams are formed: A tension area is brought to awareness prior to sleep”, she wrote. The only way she could prove this was by including the control words in each subject’s analysis.
Cartwright’s results supported the predictions she made about why people dream. Fifteen of the 17 subjects dreamed about the target adjective in some way. Only two subjects dreamed the opposite of the target word was describing the self. This supported the prediction that the way you approach a situation in your dreams is different from when you are awake. Some of the subjects dreamed their ideal trait in another character, but the trait caused problems for the character. Cartwright maintained the findings demonstrate that dreaming occurs in order to explore the emotional areas of a tension area. Researchers continue to build on Cartwright’s findings. A recent study examines the ability to control dreams while they occur. In the 1980’s researchers showed it is possible to be conscious during REM, called lucid dreaming. Lucid dreamers are often able to control or alter the dream itself.
Mankind can benefit from a better understanding of consciousness in many ways. For example, learning to control dreams could result in valuable psychotherapy as a way to experiment with personal changes. Just learning how to properly interpret dreams would be valuable psychotherapy as well. Lucid dreaming could be used as a way to eliminate nightmares. Dreaming can provide great insight into the mind and soul of the self. If people took the time to evaluate and understand what they dream, they could acquire numerous ways to deal with what faces them in life. Having a better understanding of yourself, and better approaches to problems are definitely benefits people could acquire from what they dream.