Children's Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness by David Foulkes, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002; ISBN 0674009711, 208 pages, paperback, $19.95.
Retired psychologist David Foulkes, internationally recognized for his empirical research on children's dreaming, here summarizes his lifework for a general audience, and shares his conclusions about how and when waking reflective self-awareness develops. He believes that "The study of dreaming is the royal road to understanding the unfolding of consciousness and personhood in early childhood," and that "The larger importance of dream reports is that they offer an unparalleled opportunity to learn if and when young children can experience conscious mental states and what kind of conscious mental states they can, and cannot, experience" (pp. 158, 3).
Because the methodology and value of his findings have been called into question by those whose theories disagree with his data, he describes in detail the research methods used in his sleep laboratories at the University of Wyoming and the Georgia Mental Health Institute in Atlanta, and the data obtained from children three to fifteen years old, in studies using both the same children over many years and age comparisons of different groups of children over shorter periods. He disputes the notion that children's dream-life and consciousness is essentially identical to that of adults. Rather, "The evidence of this book suggests that their approach to the world and the developing operations of their own minds is fundamentally different from our own, and that the difference is one of automatic versus conscious mediation" of experiences and behaviors (p. 156). Awake and in dreams, the "first mental imagery seems to be static and rather unversatile" (p. 150), and moving, transformational images generally appear at around seven or eight years old. Also, the dreamer generally does not perceive himself in the dream until at least that age, whereas in the earliest years dreams often feature animals, which stand in for the child and other people. "After its halting initial efforts, children's consciousness is organized narratively across time through the medium of a continuing sense of self" (p. 151). Before that, there is not a self-identity to "integrate the child's different behavioral selves" (p. 153). His evidence "suggests no miraculous, instantaneous, general shifts in the child's cognition, but rather a gradual and protracted set of developing competencies that eventually issue into something like the kind of conscious cognition with which we adults are familiar" (p. 157).
His data suggest that reflective self-awareness is a constructed process developed for the organization and integration of information. Interestingly, as with adults, most REM dream reports of children are not bizarre and illogical, as dreams are popularly considered, but quite pedestrian and logical. He is particularly critical of Freud and his dream analysis, which he finds not only completely without empirical basis, but actually contradicted by empirical findings. He also criticizes reductionist theories that hold that dreams and their content can be explained entirely by chaotic impulses originating in the lower brain. This book presents a thought-provoking look at the development of our distinctively human consciousness and sense of personhood. -- Sarah B. Dougherty