What Is Manifest Content? [Defined]

Have you ever thought about the meaning of your dreams? It’s an exciting topic. If you think about it, all you’re doing is replaying what happened in your day or what you were thinking about the day before. Dreams don’t mean anything. But one’s dream can be compared to a story, with the dreamer being the narrator and the dream interpretations being a literary work of fiction.

Dream interpretation has been around for ages and is a hot topic for psychoanalytic and psychiatric research. Over the years, various theories and views have been developed in different schools and disciplines.

What Is Manifest Content?

The manifest content can be defined as everything we don’t consciously think about and includes our emotions and feelings surrounding the experience. It is all that appears in the dream when remembered or recounted after waking up. It is what you remember, including any images, situations, emotions, or sounds. For example, if you dream about being chased across houses by a bear, the manifest content would be the bear, homes, and running.

The manifest content can be interpreted to find out what our subconscious minds are “saying” to us; we respond with how we feel (and act) towards that particular experience. It can be considered the story of the dream, which can be regarded as an outward embodiment of one’s unconscious thoughts, drive, and desires.

If one’s manifest content is unhappy, one’s unconscious feelings or urges ultimately focus on adverse outcomes. On the other hand, if the manifest content is happy, one’s unconscious feelings will eventually focus on positive results.

To understand the manifest content of a dream, we need to first look at how Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung interpreted the meaning of dreams. Though their views differed on specific issues, they were both interested in the general analysis of an individual’s subconscious wishes.

Freud’s Definition of Manifest Content

In the early 90s, Sigmund Freud developed a theory in which the manifest content would be a person’s actual daytime lives in a projection state. In contrast, latent content is the hidden meaning of what the person is unaware of. In Freudian Psychology, the manifest content is the undisguised superego script of a dream.

In contrast, the latent content is a dream’s disguised and symbolic superego script. Both manifest and latent content exists at every level in a dream: in the archetypal form of pure images and emotions and its fully developed narrative form – replete with dialog and scenery. Let’s learn more about the difference between manifest and latent content in a dream.

What Is the Difference Between Manifest Content and Latent Content?

As I stated above, the manifest content of a dream is the actual literal content and storyline of the dream. This is usually contrasted with what is referred to as the dream’s latent content or hidden meaning. I like to think of manifest content as the “What happened?” and latent content as the “Why did it happen?”.

Manifest content means a dream is a literal meaning of a dream. The importance is directly evident. For example, the dream’s manifest content might be that you dreamed you were going to have a child or have a pregnancy.

Latent means hidden, unexpressed, or concealed; hence, the latent meaning is symbolic. It is the hidden meaning behind what you dreamed. Concerning the example, you could be having fears or doubts about whether you would be a good parent.

Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams

The manifest content is the conscious part of the dream we experience when awake. It is what we could recall if we attempted to remember our dreams. Most of what we experience and think about daily is manifest content. Freud believed that the manifest content represented one’s unconscious mind.

The manifest content of our dreams reflects these unconscious thoughts, hidden beliefs, and biases. It appears in the dream in the form of images, symbolized by the latent content. There are many theories about what this hidden content might contain, but basically, it is a way of understanding what your subconscious is trying to tell you.

Final Thoughts

Waking up from a dream is an exciting thing. We wonder what we could have possibly been thinking, and once we start analyzing the dream, it begins to make sense. That doesn’t mean we will understand it, though. Our dreams are often filled with symbols, people, and actions that would be interpreted differently depending on the person interpreting the dream.


  • Zhang, W., & Guo, B. (2018). Freud’s Dream Interpretation: A different perspective based on the self-organization theory of dreaming. Frontiers in Psychology, 9.
  • Babcock, C. G. (1966). The manifest content of the dream. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 14(1), 154–171.

Hi, I am Happy. I'm a professional writer and psychology enthusiast. I love to read and write about human behaviors, the mind, mental health-related topics, and more.