Cognitive Development 7 (3) (1992)

Children's conceptions of dreams are an important component of their developing understanding of the mind. Although there is much that even adults do not understand about the nature of dreams, most adults in Western society believe that: Dream entities are not real in the sense that they are nonphysical; they are private in the sense that they are not available to public perception, and are not directly shared with other dreamers; and, dreams are typically fictional in content. Thus, children in our society must confront several dualisms with respect to dreams, such as their physical versus nonphysical, perceptually-public versus perceptually-private, and shared versus individuated nature. Thirty-two children, aged 3- and 4-years-old, were told stories about children who were dreaming about an object, playing with an object, or looking at a photograph of an object, and then were asked questions about the status of these entities with regard to these three dualisms. All children judged dream entities, photographs, and physical objects to be appropriately different in terms of physical versus nonphysical properties and in terms of perceptually-public versus private status. They also understood the fictional nature of dreams. However, whereas most 4-year-olds understood that dreams are individuated, many 3-year-olds believed that dreams are directly shared by more than one person. These findings contrast with earlier research characterizing children's understanding of dreams as realistic. We reconcile these contrasting findings by discussing methodological differences, and we situate our findings regarding children's understanding of dreams within the context of contemporary research on children's theory of mind.
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DOI 10.1016/0885-2014(92)90022-j
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