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Action Synthesis

Theory of Dreaming
MASTER CLASS

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The activation-synthesis theory is a
neurobiological explanation of why we
dream.

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An overview
Harvard psychiatrists J. Allan Hobson and Robert
McCarley first proposed their theory in 1977, suggesting
that dreaming results from the brain's attempt to make
sense of neural activity that takes place during sleep.

Even when you are sleeping, your brain is quite active.


Hobson and McCarley suggested that during sleep,
activity in some of the lower levels of the brain that are
primarily responsible for basic biological processes are
then interpreted by the parts of the brain responsible for
higher-order functions such as thinking and processing
information.

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-activation-synthesis-
model-of-dreaming-2794812 3
What did the theory suggest?
Dreams occur when the mind tries to make
sense (synthesis) of the brain activity happening
during sleep (activation).

They believe that


dreams have
no real meaning.

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The neuropsychology in the
theory
Just before & during REM sleep:
×Powerful electrical signals pass through
the brain like a wave – appear like
sudden spikes.

×Signals come from pons in the


brainstem & from the neurons that
move the eyes – activates the limbic
system & travels to the occipital lobe.
×Spikes – send surge of stimulation
through the brain that activates the
cerebral cortex & the higher brain tries
to give meaning to what is happening.
The connection to
dreaming
The effort to give EXAMPLE
these sudden signals The spikes might be similar to those
meaning is what produced whilst running – when
leads us to dream. sleeping a person might synthesise
those signals & dream of running.
The brain draws
upon its memories to As pons continue to fire, the higher brain
provide synthesis (a has to keep making sense of them,
meaning that makes which is why dreams can shift so
sense). quickly.

But because different


areas of the brain
are activated this can
be quite strange.
In summary
High levels of Activation in The forebrain
activity in the these areas of attempts to
brainstem are the brain place
necessary for results in meaning on
dreaming to REM sleep the random
take place. and dreaming signals
and that all created from
dreaming the activation
takes place of the
during REM brainstem,
sleep. resulting in
coherent
dreams.
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CRITICISMS
×The theory is × Patients with × The theory states
too reductionist damage to the that dreaming only
brainstem do occurs in REM
+ Dreams are not stop sleep but dreams
complex & dreaming – occur in non-REM
packed full of contradicts the stages of sleep.
meaning – theory.
cannot reduce + Brain activity is
them down to + Even with reduced in other
simple neuronal usual signals stages of sleep,
processes. not been sent, there is evidence of
they still dream. dreaming even if it
isn’t as vivid.
HOMEWORK TASK – sleep journal

Over the next week, you are to record your dreams in a sleep journal.

Each day when you wake up take 5-10minutes to quickly write down
what you dreamed about.

If you can’t remember anything, note this down, but across 7 days you
should be able to describe at least 1-2 dreams.

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HOMEWORK TASK – sleep journal analysis
Use the bizarreness coding scale devised by Hobson et al. (1987) and have a go at
coding someone else’s dreams in groups of four (each student codes another three
students dreams).

Now compare your analysis to check for inter-rater reliability as in the original study
which had three judges.

What problems did you have in reporting dreams/fantasies?


How could this influence results?
Why could this have been a problem in Williams’ research?

Recap social desirability bias- why was social desirability a problem in the research?

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Holism vs. reductionism
Synoptic Task

(1) Apply the reductionism debate to other theories in the


specification. Rank them in terms of a reductionism/holism
continuum.

(2) Use your knowledge and understanding from across the


psychology course to explain how far you agree with the
following viewpoint:
“Often the simplest explanation is the best.”

In your answer you should refer to the activation synthesis


theory of dreaming and at least one different area of
psychology you have studied. [13]
Action Synthesis
Theory of Dreaming
WORKSHOP

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Teaching the rest of the class about the theory AND checking their
I can define the key terminology from The Activation Synthesis UNISTRUCTURAL
APPRENTICE understanding
Theory of Dreaming: REM sleep; neurons; pons; synthesis; cerebral
cortex.
Design a memory technique that you can share with a partner that
HOW? Read pages 158-159 and engage in research through will enable you to
UNISTRUCTURAL the website and create a study chart about the key terms. 1. Remember the following key terms: pons, neurons, cerebral
APPRENTICE NEED MORE? Check cortex.
your understanding by 2. Be able to spell the word synthesis ACCURATELY.
NOW GO TO THE designing a
lesson/revision activity
for our class
I can explain the Activation Synthesis Theory
HOW?
(a) Draw a diagram of the human brain and label the key parts that are linked
Teaching the rest of the class about the theory AND checking their
MULTISTRUCTURAL
MULTISTRUCTURAL to the Activation Synthesis Theory. NOVICE understanding
NOVICE (b) Explain the following beneath the diagram:
- the role of REM sleep 1. Design a plenary activity that you could use with another group next
- the function & actions of the brain during sleep, including the limbic system week to check whether:
- activity of neurons in the pons during sleep
- the process of synthesis as a function of the cerebral cortex
- they understand the process of this theory using technical detail (all the
(c) Explain the process of synaptic transmission using a diagram to support key terms).
NEED MORE? Check your
your explanation. understanding by - they can include a clear example to demonstrate the theory.
NOW GO TO THE grabbing a challenge card
from the wall.
I can analyse the Activation Synthesis Theory of
Dreaming by exploring the reductionism and holism
RELATIONAL debate. The theory sees dreaming from a relatively simple perspective.
RELATIONAL
EXPERT
HOW? Read page 159 EXPERT
(a) Define reductionism and holism
(b) Explain why the Activation Synthesis Theory of Dreaming is a To demonstrate this you are to describe the case of Tom. Describe
reductionist theory. how he experiences dreaming on a given night using the Activation
(c) Explain why this limits the validity of this theory.
Synthesis Theory to guide your description.
NEED MORE? Check your
NOW GO TO THE
understanding by
designing a Compare your description with a partner.
lesson/revision activity
for our class
I can synthesise the limitations of the theory
and evaluate its validity.
EXTENDED ABSTRACT Write the script of an interview with Hobson & McCarley about the
EXTENDED ABSTRACT HOW? Read the criticisms on page 159 again and MASTER validity of their study.
MASTER explore the information through the website.
You can record or film your interview if you wish but everyone needs
Choose THREE criticisms of the theory that resonate to have the script written.
with you and explain each one, using an elaboration/
example for each one. Your aim is to ensure that the rest of the class knows about THREE
NEED MORE? Check criticisms of the Activation Synthesis Theory through your interview.
NOW GO TO THE
14 your understanding by
designing a
lesson/revision activity