Comparison of Articles about Dreaming: Which Contributes More to Its Discourse Community?

One of psychology’s unsolved mysteries is why we dream and there are many theories that attempt to explain the phenomenon. This paper will explore two of those theories from two different approaches of psychology: biological psychology and evolutionary psychology. Additionally, this discussion will specifically focus on how each scholar contributes to their respective discourse communities. The biological approach considered in “The Defensive Activation Theory: REM Sleep as a Mechanism to Prevent Takeover of the Visual Cortex” contributes more to its discourse communities than the evolutionary approach considered in “The Role of Dreams in the Evolution of the Human Mind” because it presents more concrete, empirical evidence and utilizes past research more effectively.

According to Swales, discourse communities are “groups that have goals and purposes, and use communication to achieve their goals” (Swales 546) and there are 8 points of criteria. First of all, a discourse community needs to have a set of goals that has a general consensus. It then needs a way of communication, a way of participation to receive feedback, and the usage of genres to achieve its goals. Additionally, discourse communities have developed discoursespecific lingo, a hierarchy that manages the discourse community to reach their goals, “silential relations”, and has established expectations of progression.

To understand how the two theories contribute to their discourse communities, the complexities of each discourse community surrounding the two approaches must be analyzed to look at their goals. “The Role of Dreams in the Evolution of the Human Mind” and “The Defensive Activation Theory: REM Sleep as a Mechanism to Prevent Takeover of the Visual Cortex” are both in multiple discourse communities. At a very broad level, both articles fall under the academic discourse community that has a goal of research and education.

However, there are sub-discourse communities in the broader discourse community of academics that narrow down to the more specific academic topics that the scholars are engaged in. For the two articles, the scholars participate in the subdiscourse community of psychology because dreams are studied by psychologists. The goals of the discourse community of psychology is the scientific study of the mind, behavior, and brain. As we continue to narrow into more niche categories, we find that within the subdiscourse community of psychology, there are branches of psychology that create more subdiscourse communities. “The Role of Dreams in the Evolution of the Human Mind” falls under evolutionary psychology while “The Defensive Activation Theory: REM Sleep as a Mechanism to Prevent Takeover of the Visual Cortex” follows a biological perspective. The goal of evolutionary psychology is to discover and explain cognitive mechanisms that guide current human behavior through the perspective that the mechanisms were evolved as solutions to adaptive problems from ancestors.

In comparison, the goal of biological psychology is to understand how biological processes affect behavior. As part of all their discourse communities from academia, psychology, and respectively, evolutionary psychology and biological psychology, the two theories should contribute to the goal of research and education of the study of the mind, behavior, and brain in their respective psychological approaches.

In regards to the primary audience of the two approaches, the audiences are those engaged in the same discourse communities as the authors of the publications. In other words, people in academia, psychology, and, respectively, the evolutionary and biological approaches. Specific examples include experts, researchers, and students that are in the field of general psychology or the specific psychological approach. As part of the academia discourse community, both pieces are scholarly publications that are peer reviewed and have proper citations for their references. Although accessible for the general public, the complexity of dreams and the psychological approaches can make it difficult for a reader that is not familiar with psychology.

Specifically for the biological approach, the lack of background knowledge on the biological nature of the brain will impede on true comprehension of the publication because of the multitude of bio-psychological terms used. Despite the evolutionary approach having less “discourse community specific” language, the processes that surround dreaming, such as REM sleep can still be too complex for the general reader. Thus, it is likely that the two articles would be unappealing to the general public.

The evolutionary argument for the role of dreams is discussed in “The Role of Dreams in the Evolution of the Human Mind” in a publication from the journal, Evolutionary Psychology. This article is an extension from a past theory by researcher Revonsuo who argued that dreams provide an evolutionary benefit by creating threat rehearsals. The authors of “The Role of Dreams in the Evolution of the Human Mind”, based on Revonsuo’s original theory, theorize that dreams reflect a general virtual rehearsal that is important in developing human cognitive capacities instead of being a simple rehearsal mechanism.

The evolutionary approach supported their theory by utilizing previous research from other researchers in the psychology discourse community. This is a weakness on the scholars’ part because the scholars’ argument is based on only inferences. Despite the sources being credible, scholarly publications, “The Role of Dreams in the Evolution of the Human Mind” does not empirically test its evolutionary theory or provide past empirical evidence that directly supports the evolutionary benefit of dreams. The evidence the scholars use ineffectively substantiates their argument because the research utilized is too broad and does not provide any direct evidence to explain how dreaming is the result of evolution.

Additionally, the argument is heavily weakened because the scholars only provide a general summation of previous research instead of detailing specific statistical data. In the article’s concluding paragraph, the scholars of the evolutionary approach state that the fact we do not always remember our dreams is a challenge to their hypothesis. Their acknowledgement of a limitation in their argument somewhat strengthens their rhetoric, but overall the scholars’ argument is weak from the lack of more conclusive evidence.

Compared to the evolutionary approach, the scholars of “The Defensive Activation Theory: REM Sleep as a Mechanism to Prevent Takeover of the Visual Cortex” are significantly more effective in utilizing previous research and also conducts their own experiment to support their argument. The “Defense Activation Theory” through a biological perspective argues that the brain dreams to keep the occipital cortex active while sleeping in order to prevent neuroplastic damage to the visual system of the brain. Similarly to the evolutionary approach, the scholars of the biological approach cite past research from other researchers in the psychology field.

However, while the evolutionary approach bases their entire argument on inferences from past research, the biological approach uses past research only to introduce and build their initial hypothesis which they then test through a systematic and controlled experiment. This use of past research is effective in providing a well-rounded explanation to their hypothesis and basis to their own research. The scholars additionally use past research to strengthen the conclusions from the results of their experiment.

The scholars of The “Defense Activation Theory” further strengthen their argument by explaining exactly how they conducted their study with clear and detailed descriptions of their participants, procedures, and results. By explaining the experimental design, the audience is able to see that the data is collected in a controlled manner to avoid biases thus strengthening the claim of their argument. Moreover, the scholars also effectively utilize visual figures with figures of the brain to explain neurological processes, and tables of data and graphs to organize their collected data. This presentation of evidence is clear and organized to the audience, thereby allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the argument. The article also describes the statistical method the scholars utilized in their research to claim significance data which provides even further concrete evidence to support the validity of their argument.

A weakness that the scholars acknowledge in their article is that behavioral measures, which is what they measure in their experiment, are not a direct measure of visual cortical plasticity. However, this limitation is based on the fact that visual cortical plasticity does not exist for the majority of primates. They thus make the assumption that plasticity of different brain regions correlates generally within a species but additionally explain that if their assumption is false, their results will not be statistically significant. The scholars’ acknowledgement of their limitation improves their rhetoric by being transparent in a possible weakness in their own argument. The scholars state their hypothesis could be tested more thoroughly but in their benefit, rhetorically, provides the specific alternative methods for future research that would improve their claims.

Overall, the scholars of the biological approach in “The Defensive Activation Theory: REM Sleep as a Mechanism to Prevent Takeover of the Visual Cortex” contributes more to its discourse community of academia, psychology, and biological psychology. The article clearly executes the goal of research and education of the study of the mind, behavior, and brain through a biological perspective by effectively utilizing past research and conducting their own research to provide concrete evidence to support their “Defensive Activation Theory”.

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