Content (Freudian dream analysis)

In Freudian dream analysis, content is both the manifest and latent content in a dream, that is, the dream itself as it is remembered, and the hidden meaning of the dream.[1]

Dreams-The Royal Road to the Unconscious.
The "Royal Road" to the Unconscious.

Dreams embody the involuntary occurrences within the mind throughout various stages of sleep. Throughout the early part of the twentieth century, psychologist Sigmund Freud made incredible advances in the study and analysis of dreams. Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) used an evolutionary biological perspective to infer that these nightly visions are a product of one's individual psyche. As the "royal road to the unconscious", dreams allow for accessibility to parts of the mind that are inaccessible through conscious thought. According to his psychoanalytic theory, dreams—like most psychological experiences—can be understood through two distinct levels: manifest and latent. Modern research continuously proves that dreams contain fundamentally meaningful information. Therefore, appropriate interpretations of these two layers can facilitate assistance in understanding, “whether, when, and how unconscious processes are truly relevant to daily life” (Friedman & Schustack, 2012).


Manifest contentEdit

The manifest content can be interpreted as the information that the conscious individual remembers experiencing. It consists of all the elements of actual images, thoughts, and content within the dream that the individual is cognitively aware of upon awakening. Illustrated through iceberg imagery, the manifest content would be identified as the “tip”: it is barely exposed above the surface with an enormous portion still hidden underneath. As the hallmark of psychoanalytic theory suggested, what is observed on the surface is only a partial representation of the vastness that lies beneath (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). Although images may initially appear bizarre and nonsensical, individual analysis of the dream can reveal its underlying meaning.[2]

Latent contentEdit

Related to yet distinctly separate from manifest content, the latent content of the dream illustrates the hidden meaning of one's unconscious thoughts, drives, and desires. The unconscious mind actively suppresses what can be revealed from the latent content in order to protect the individual from primitive feelings that are particularly difficult to cope with. Freud (1900) believed that by uncovering the meaning of one's hidden motivations and deeper ideas, an individual could successfully understand his or her internal struggles through eventually resolving issues that create tension in their lives. In contrast to the information easily recognizable, latent content makes up everything underneath the surface. Illustrated once again through iceberg imagery, the depth of meaning that can be derived from examining this layer can reveal deeper underlying thoughts within an individual's unconscious.[3]

Interpreting dreamsEdit

The technique of free association, actively utilized by Freud in dream interpretation, often begins with a psychoanalyst's analysis of a specific dream symbol followed by the proceeding thought that automatically comes to a client's mind. To further this investigative practice, Freud classified five separate processes that facilitate dream analysis.

  1. Displacement occurs when the desire for one thing or person is symbolized by something or someone else.
  2. Projection happens when the dreamer places their own personal desires and wants onto another person.
  3. Symbolization is illustrated through a dreamer's unconscious allowing of repressed urges and desires to be metaphorically acted out.
  4. Condensation illustrates the process by which the dreamer hides their feelings and/or urges through either contraction or minimizing its representation into a brief dream image or event
  5. Rationalization (also referred to as secondary revision) can be identified as the final stage of dreamwork in which the dreaming mind intently organizes an incoherent dream into something much more comprehensible and logical for the dreamer[citation needed]

Furthermore, Freud believed in the universality of symbols in dreams that can be used in dream interpretation. These symbols highlight socially undesirable behavior in more accepting forms. Distasteful images in the form of symbols can be associated by shape, action, color, number, quality, status, sound, etc. Some of the more obvious and salient dream symbols are:

1) Vagina - circular objects; jewelry

2) Penis and testicles - oblong objects; the number three

3) Castration - an action that separates a part from the whole (losing a tooth)

4) Coitus - an action that resembles sexual behavior (riding a horse)

5) Urine - anything yellow in color

6) Feces - anything brown in color; chocolate

Practicing free association with a dream psychoanalyst can provide the individual with a deeper understanding of the meaning of dreams and the possible regressive thoughts are affiliated with the unconscious images.

Modern research on dreamsEdit

Until recently, most psychoanalytic dream researchers have followed Freud's theoretical approach by interpreting dreams as one's unconscious desires. Currently, most modern day psychologists are concerned with "tracing out the metaphoric meanings of dreams rather than investigating what they might be expressing more literally with social and personal experience" (Hollan, 2009, p. 313). Trauma researchers especially have focused their efforts on patients' experiences with nightmares, reoccurring memories, and flashbacks as unique manifestations of psychiatric disorders, particularly PTSD. A few previous research studies including Barrett (1996) have delineated a strong pattern of post-traumatic nightmares, in which the dreams follow an extremely close reenactment to a particular event. These updated analytic techniques expand on Freud's theoretical framework and provide a more holistic approach of dream understanding.

Latent Semantic AnalysisEdit

Altszyler et al. (2017)[4] have shown that text mining techniques, such as Latent Semantic Analysis, can be used to extract word associations from dreams reports. These tools allow us to measure word associations in dream reports and to identify the meaning of words in their context.


  1. ^ Anthony Storr (1989). Freud: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-285455-1.
  2. ^ Nagera, Humberto, ed. (2014) [1969]. "Manifest content (pp. 52ff.)". Basic Psychoanalytic Concepts on the Theory of Dreams. Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-31767047-6.
  3. ^ Nagera, Humberto, ed. (2014) [1969]. "Latent dream-content (pp. 31ff.)". Basic Psychoanalytic Concepts on the Theory of Dreams. Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-31767048-3.
  4. ^ Altszyler, E.; Ribeiro, S.; Sigman, M.; Fernández Slezak, D. (2017). "The interpretation of dream meaning: Resolving ambiguity using Latent Semantic Analysis in a small corpus of text". Consciousness and Cognition. 56: 178–187. arXiv:1610.01520. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2017.09.004.


  • Cash, Adam. Understanding the Id, Ego, and Superego in Psychology. May, 2002.
  • Crowe, Lauri. Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams. September 11, 1998.
  • Freud, Sigmund. (1900). Interpretation of dreams. Standard Edition, 5.
  • Freud, Sigmund. Manifest Dream Content and Latent Dream Thought. New York. Boni & Liveright. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. 1920.
  • Friedman, Howard & Schustack, Miriam. Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research. (5th edition). Boston. Allyn & Bacon. 2011.
  • Hall, Calvin. (1953). A Cognitive Theory of Dream Symbols. The Journal of General Psychology. 48. 169-186.
  • Hollan, Douglass. (2009). The Influence of Culture on the Experience and Interpretation of Disturbing Dreams. Culture, Medicine, & Psychiatry. 33. 313-322.
  • McLeod, Saul. Freud-Dream Interpretation. 2009.
  • Sigmund Freud. January 20, 2012.
  • Theory of Dreams According to Freud. August 12, 2003.

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