Emotional Selection

Emotional Selection is a psychological theory of dreaming introduced in 2008 by Richard Coutts and refined in 2010.

Emotional selection describes a process that executes a set of dreams during non-REM sleep with content that is tentatively accommodated by mental schemas. Because schemas coexist as a network, accommodations can introduce accidental, maladaptive conflicts and therefore are ideally tested prior to full integration. Consequently, during subsequent REM sleep a second set of dreams is executed in the form of test scenarios. If schema accommodations performed during prior non-REM dreams alleviate anxiety, frustration, sadness, or in other ways appear emotionally adaptive during REM dream tests, they would be selected for retention. Those accommodations that compare negatively to existing, unchanged schemas would be abandoned or further modified and tested.

Jean Piaget described schemas as being riddled with conflict, which is why Coutts asserts that they are modified and tested with dreams during sleep. From his paper, "People strive for independence, yet find solace in the company of others; they place a high priority on our personal safety, yet quickly jeopardize it to help those in need; they are sexually attracted to many people, yet seek loving, monogamous relationships. Schemas help strike the balances necessary for navigating the complex, often contradictory landscape that comprises life."

The schemas targeted by emotional selection are those essential for meeting human needs. Consequently, emotional selection theory agrees with evolutionary forces by describing a role for dreams as adaptively enhancing mental schemas.

The theory of dreams selecting adaptive mental schemas can be considered a special case of the survival value of emotional communication in general. The German philosopher Ferdinand Fellmann proposed in 2009 emotional selection as a third form of evolutionary selection besides natural and sexual selection. Loving, monogamous pair-bonding seems to be the favoured field where sexual selection is being transformed in emotional selection specific for human courtship and mating.

The concept of emotional selection fits the recent trend of evolutionary psychology which suggests that individual differences are more than the raw material upon which natural selection operates as a homogenizing force. Instead, personality and individual differences are created by “psychosocial selection” (Julian Huxley) in the more intense forms of pair-bonding in primate sociality. Pair-bonds are based on detecting and supporting emotional complexity in partners with whom we maintain long-term intimate intercourse.

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