These are only some of the questions we will address: Why do people indulge in magical thinking? What happens in our brains during hypnosis and meditation? How easy is to implant a false memory? How powerful is the effect of an inert drug when we believe it does have a healing action? We will first set out the levels of interpretations, the lens through which we will discuss mind, brain, and behavioural correlates of suggestion- and belief-laden phenomena. You will be asked to reflect on the learning material by creating connections between the different themes, everyday life and other aspects of social life, including your own experience. This integrative approach will aim to spark comprehensive understanding of the general mechanisms governing the human mind. Your active role and reflective approach to learning will contribute to a transformative learning experience and personal growth, whether you believe it or not!
There is no textbook; you will be expected to read several journal articles that report empirical research and theoretical discussion in the field. You will be asked to reflect on and critically assess the science of belief and suggestion. You will be expected to participate in learning activities in workshop-based sessions.
In addition, you will be welcome to meeting teaching staff in one-to-one sessions to further discuss the literature and plan extra-reading.
- Introduction to psychological science of belief and suggestion and instructions for coursework.
This lecture will explain why studying belief and suggestion is important, provide a definition for both phenomena on the basis of philosophical and psychological knowledge, and detail what is expected from students during the course and how to prepare best for the assessments.
- Theory of mind and moral judgment.
This lecture will present the science of reasoning and how often we build our beliefs on invalid arguments. It will particularly mention research investigating how we represent other people mental states and form beliefs on those, and discuss the way we develop behavioural norms that shape the way we evaluate and judge people and contexts.
- Hypnosis, meditation, and suggestibility.
This lecture will show how using hypnosis and meditation we can alert our cognition emotion and perception, and eventually modify our behaviour. It will discuss the concept of suggestibility and how cognitive practices and interventions based on contemplative, reflective, introspective contexts can alter our perception and beliefs.
- Perceptual illusions and the healing power of psychedelics.
The brain can fool us. This lecture will show how sensory systems can make us perceive something unreal as real. It will also discuss how some chemical compounds can exert a dramatic change not only in our perception (e.g. hallucinations) but also in our beliefs, by generating transformative meaning experiences that can contribute to psychological healing.
- False memories and mnemonic suggestibility.
Another psychological function where belief and suggestion meet quite astoundingly is memory. This lecture will introduce the phenomenon of false memories and their relevance in different societal settings.
- Placebo and nocebo phenomena.
This lecture will review the psychological principles underlying placebo and nocebo effects and our current understanding of their brain bases, focusing on studies demonstrating both the importance of cognitive expectations and those that demonstrate expectancy-independent associative learning.
- The belief in magic and paranormal belief in the age of science.
This lecture will demonstrate how magic and paranormal beliefs are grounded on our emotional and cognitive biases. It will examine both psychological and neuroscientific evidence attempting to account for the mechanisms associated with this peculiar human attitude.
- Workshop Hands-on session: "Thinking, experiencing, knowing: Fighting unhealthy beliefs through meditation and self-reflection".
This lecture will go through different ways of perceiving and knowing. Among these, you will be practicing mindfulness meditation. It will then reflect on how ambivalent thoughts translate in feelings and body sensations in small groups.
- Influence and persuasion: marketing cases and the case of climate change communication.
This lecture will discuss two different examples (i.e. marketing and communication) of how to use information to persuade others (i.e. consumer and citizens). It will look into similarities and difference with a look into the role of big data and Bauman's concept of liquid society.
- Workshop and final discussion.
This session will give an overview of what has been taught and we will take the opportunity for group work in preparation of your final essay and collect feedback on the course and on which of the discussed topics you feel you may be prepared to further explore in the future.