The Invasion of the Concept Snatchers: The Origins, Distortions, and Future of the Continuity Hypothesis

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Abstract

This article explains the origins and development of the continuity hypothesis in work by cognitively oriented dream researchers. Using blind quantitative analyses of lengthy dream series from several individuals, in conjunction with inferences presented to the individual dreamers to corroborate or reject, these researchers discovered that the same conceptions and personal concerns that animate waking thought are very often enacted in dreams. Other types of studies later supported this finding. The article argues that the cognitive origins and definition of the continuity hypothesis have been distorted by those dream researchers who mistakenly claim that the concept is focused on dreaming as an incorporation of everyday experiences. A review of the literature on experiential and experimental influences on dreams, which includes studies of day residues, the experimental manipulation of presleep events, the incorporation of during-sleep stimuli, laboratory references in laboratory-collected dreams, and the influence of routine daily events, reveals that none of them is very influential and most are trivial. The article concludes that those who study experiential factors should adopt a phrase such as “incorporation hypothesis” to avoid confusion in the literature and make clear that the continuity hypothesis is a central one in an emerging neurocognitive theory of dreams. The intensity of personal concerns and interests, not the events of the day, shape central aspects of dream content. In particular, the frequency of characters or activities reveals the intensity of various concerns, and these concerns can be discovered for individuals through comparisons with normative findings.

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