Scientists use the Electroencephalograph (EEG) to study brain wave patterns. Brain waves are measured in terms of frequency (cycles per second--cps) and amplitude (voltage). There are four classes of brain wave patterns.

1. Beta waves--are low amplitude, high frequency waves (> 13 cps). Beta waves characterize the brain when people are awake.

2. Alpha waves have a higher amplitude than Beta waves and are lower frequency (8-12 cps). When people close their eyes, relax, and think of nothing, the brain shifts into Alpha waves.

3. Theta waves are higher amplitude than Alpha waves and slower (4-7 cps). Theta waves are characteristic of the lighter stages of sleep.

4. Delta waves are of the highest amplitude and the lowest frequency (1-3 cps). Delta waves characterize the deepest levels of sleep.

Sleep consists of cycles. Prior to sleep, the brain displays Beta waves. As we close our eyes and think of nothing we go into Alpha, and when sleep starts, the brain displays Theta waves. There are four stages of sleep, from Stage 1 (the lightest sleep) to Stage 4 (the deepest sleep). During the first cycle of sleep the brain slows down and as people descend from Stage 1 to stage 4, the brain goes from Theta to Delta. After spending some time in Stage 4 the brain speeds up and people go from Stage 4 to Stage 1, when often something strange happens. Even though the person is still asleep, the brain may behave as though it were awake by displaying Beta waves. During this time there is also loss of control over muscles and a person’s eyes move around. This is called Rapid Eye Movement--REM Sleep. If a person is awakened during this time, this person will report a dream about 85% of the time. After the dream the person goes back down to Stage 4 and re-cycles up to stage 1 for another dream, and this pattern repeats itself 4-6 times during an average of 8 hrs. sleep. The amount of time spent in Stage 4 grows progressively shorter across the cycles, and the amount of time in Stage 1-REM grows progressively longer. The amount of time spent in the various stages is: Stage 1- 25%, Stage 2 - 45%, Stage 3 -15%, and Stage 4 - 15%.

REM sleep is also called paradoxical sleep because it is harder to wake a person up from REM than it is from Stages 2 and 3. Both REM sleep and stage 4 have rebound effects. If a person is deprived of REM only or stage 4 only, the next sleep pattern will be unusual. The rebound effect consists of above average REM or Stage 4 during the next sleep.

Dream interpretation theories

Freud believed that dreams were the “Royal Road to the Unconscious”. Dreams provide for ID gratification by allowing the person “wish fulfillment” during sleep of events during the day that were less that satisfying. What we remember from a dream is called the “Manifest Content”; the Manifest Content is not the important substance of a dream. What is important is the “Latent Content” which is unconscious. The latent content is transformed into the manifest content by a process called dream work.


One aspect of dream work is a symbolic process whereby all elongated objects that appear in the manifest content are symbolic representations of the penis (e.g., pens, pencils, telephone poles, etc., an open umbrella is and erection). All manifest contents that resemble enclosures are symbolic representations of female sexual organs, (rooms, cups, baskets). Thus walking into a room is a symbolic representation of sexual intercourse. See p. 147 of the textbook for a symbol table.

JUNG’S theory of dream interpretation emphasized the appearance of Archetypes in the content of dreams. Thus, the appearance of a bum or derelict is really the appearance of the Shadow. Trying on new clothes or getting a haircut would be representative of Persona.

A third approach to dream interpretation is called the Cognitive Approach. Here the dreamer is very involved in interpreting his/her own dream. Also, all of the elements of the dream reflect aspects of the dreamer. For example, if you have a dream that you are hitting someone; you are really hitting yourself.

Another approach to dream interpretation believes that the content of dreams reflect nothing more than the random activity of the brain while we sleep. This approach says that dreams have no meaning.