Dreaming, Reflective Consciousness, and Feelings in the Preschool Child

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LeDoux (2015) discriminates creature consciousness, in which an organism is awake and alert, processing currently available stimuli, from mental-state consciousness, which is characterized by the possibility of reflection about current or past events and the ability to imagine new situations or scenarios. He establishes criteria for distinguishing the two, and finds no other animal that can experience conscious emotional feelings, nor more generally exhibit mental-state consciousness. A plausible extrapolation of his argument to humans suggests that they share this inability until about age 5. Tulving’s (2005) analysis of the development of episodic memory leads him to characterize the preschooler as anoetic, since the child is unable to encode conscious mental imagery capable of later recollection. Dreaming is another instance of mentalstate consciousness (Nir & Tononi, 2010), and the gold standard of research on dreaming is achieved in the modern sleep laboratory protocol. Longitudinal sleep laboratory studies have shown that dreaming is basically absent at ages 3 and 4, conforming to the general anoetic pattern of waking research on preschoolers, and confirming that dreaming also is a mental-state phenomenon. Resistance to accepting the sleep-laboratory data at face value seems to rest on an assumption that children must be inhibited by the laboratory setting, but this assumption already was refuted by direct home-lab comparisons in the same longitudinal project.

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