De Sanctis’ experimental psychology of dreams

Sante De SanctisIn the latest issue of History of the Human Sciences, 21(3), Giovanni Pietro Lombardo and Renato Foschi review the forgotten contributions of Sante De Sanctis (pictured left).

Sante De Sanctis (1862-1935), a pioneer of psychology in Rome at the end of the 19th century, applied methods from the expanding field of experimental psychology to the study of dreams, which was considered one of the leading ways to gain an understanding of normal and pathological psychic life. Taking inspiration from several traditions, De Sanctis proposed a study that anticipated a scientific program that also differentiated between contemporary psychoanalytical interpretations according to which previous dream psychology was considered a ‘dark forest’. On the contrary, the multi-faceted methodology that he adopted for the study of an, until then, marginal phenomenon of the ‘new’ psychology, represented an element of originality that also included the elaboration of a psycho-physiological theory of dreams. Although the Italian psychologist’s work on dreams was characterized by these important methodological changes, it disappeared from the references of those who contributed to the foundation of modern dreaming psychology after the Second World War. The present article places De Sanctis’ psychology of dreams in its scientific context and singles out its originality while also analyzing the reasons for its marginalization.

AHP has previously discussed the history of dreaming as part of our coverage of Kenton Kroker’s new book on the history of sleep. We had also previously mentioned the recent Wellcome Exhibit on sleep and dreaming, but — regrettably — the links we provided no longer work. If you have a live link, either to the exhibit or to media coverage that discusses it in detail, please add this resource as a comment below.

About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

3 thoughts on “De Sanctis’ experimental psychology of dreams

  1. Just for “italians” or “italo-americans”: De Sanctis, S. (2006/1922-1933). La psicologia del sogno, eds. Renato Foschi & Giovanni Pietro Lombardo. Antigone, Torino.

    All the best!


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