Jay Dixit, in Psychology Today, surveys research that considers dreams to be the brain’s training grounds for real-world emergencies.
The idea that dreams are a dojo for perfecting waking
activities fits well with what is already known about practice. Mental
rehearsal through visualization improves skills, enhances learning, and
changes the brain, polishing performance in almost any domain, from
sports to piano playing.
The single most
pervasive theme in dreaming is that of being chased or attacked. Just
as athletes in training repeat parts of their performance, we may, in
our nightmares, be attacked and chased over and over again, not to
solve a particular problem but to actually practice efficient escape
Saber-toothed tigers no longer
stalk our villages, but Stone Age themes still rule our dreams.
“Nowadays, the evolutionary footprint is clearest in the dreams of
children, who often dream about being chased by monsters, much the same
way we were once chased by predators,” says Revonsuo. As life has
evolved, so have the threats we rehearse. “You insert a modern danger
into that ancestral key and get a bizarre combination,” says Revonsuo.
“We dream of being chased, shot, or robbed, getting into traffic
accidents, a burglar in our house, or perhaps smaller mishaps such as
losing our wallets–and that prepares us for our waking life.”