Latent Content of Dreams: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:04 Manifest and Latent Content
  • 0:44 Freud and Dream Interpretation
  • 1:45 Repressive Nature in Dreams
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

The latent content of a dream is the deeper meaning behind the literal plot of the dream. Read on to learn about the theory that explains the latent content of dreams, and take a quiz to test your understanding.

Definition of Latent Content in Dreams

There are two ways to look at dreams. On one level, you have the manifest content of your dreams. That's all the stuff that literally happens in the dream. On a deeper level of that dream, you have the latent content. The latent content of dreams is what the manifest content represents.

Let's take a common example: many people dream that they are falling. In a dream like that, the act of falling is the manifest content of the dream. But the fall can represent so much more - the latent content of your dream might have to do with feeling out of control in your life or failing at something. It might even represent giving in to sexual temptation.

Freud and Psychoanalytic Dream Interpretation

Sigmund Freud first proposed that dreams have both manifest and latent content. Freud started a movement in psychology called psychoanalysis. Freud's theories about the nature of humans centered on the unconscious: things we hide even from ourselves. We have urges and issues that we repress. They float around underneath the surface in the unconscious, and then they come out during dreams.

To Freud, dreams were all about wish fulfillment. The manifest content of the dream masked the true wishes and desires of the dreamer, which were revealed in the latent content. In the 'falling' dream example, Freud might have said that the act of falling represented giving into a sexual urge. To him, the latent content of dreams was much more important than the manifest content.

Dreams were such an important part of Freud's psychoanalytic theory that he believed the way to heal people of many physical and psychological afflictions was through dream analysis. In fact, Freud was the first person to open dreams up to scientific investigation.

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