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Description: Many of the claims made by Freud regarding the structure of the human mind and especially his claims related to the role of the unconscious in our psychological makeup have not been supported by systematic research in the years since he first put the ideas forward. His theory of dreaming and in particular his idea that our dreams are the symbolic expression of underlying sometimes unpleasant thoughts and desires has not received much empirical support. On the other hand, a fascinating line of research on the processes involved in suppressing thoughts, that is, not thinking about certain things on purpose, shows an interesting link between thought suppression and dream content. Quite apart from what this might suggest about Freud’s theory (it is really not related to Freud’s view at all), think as you read the article linked below about what this line of research is telling us about how our brains manage our memories and thought processes particularly in situations where were trying to direct our thoughts away from particular people or events.

Source: Why do we dream? The verdict on Freud’s theory, Josie Malinowski, News, Science, The Independent.


Date: August 8, 2016

Links:  Article Link —  or

Research conducted by Daniel Wagner and others seems to suggest that if we try to actively ignore or suppress a thought that thought seems to keep coming back. In line with much cognitive-neuroscience research which is suggesting that many of our mental events are the consequence of two or more neurological processes playing out together, it may be that suppressing the thought involves one process that actively suppresses the thought and another which monitors for unexpected re-appearances of the thought. These two processes need to work together if we are to be successful in not allowing the particular target thought to intrude on our current thought processes. During dream state (REM) sleep it may be the case that the areas the brain which manage attention and working memory and cognitive control are deactivated and therefore no longer suppress the thought or thoughts that we’ve been trying to keep out of our conscious cognitive processes. The result being, as shown in a number of studies, that we actually dream about the thoughts that we are trying to suppress prior to going to sleep. The resulting dream content has been referred to as dream rebound. In fact it also seems to be the case that if individuals are trying to suppress a number of thoughts (perhaps regarding a scary movie or regarding certain experiences that they’ve had recently that are causing them anxiety and raising concerns about their well-being and stability) their sleep suffers and they experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. This all suggests that dream work may have a positive role to play in relation to obtaining personal insight inside and outside of therapy settings, though in a perhaps much more straightforward way than that envisioned by Freud in relation to his version of psychoanalysis.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How does the process of thought suppression seem to work in the human mind?
  2. Rather than the examples described in the research studies noted in the linked article above can you think of several examples from everyday life of situations where one might be trying to actively suppress certain thoughts and how might those suppress thoughts turn up in people’s dreams?
  3. What does this general line of research suggest to us about how we ought to be thinking about Sigmund Freud’s theories of dreams and dream analysis today?

References (Read Further):

Check out the various links embedded in the linked article for additional articles and sources.

Watch a video by Daniel Wegner about through suppression:

Imhof, M., & Schulte-Jakubowski, K. (2015). The white bear in the classroom: on the use of thought suppression when stakes are high and pressure to perform increases. Social Psychology of Education, 18(3), 431-442.

Bomyea, J., & Lang, A. J. (2016). Accounting for intrusive thoughts in PTSD: Contributions of cognitive control and deliberate regulation strategies. Journal of affective disorders, 192, 184-190.