"Believing is Seeing". The power of belief and suggestion on the mind and brain

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
16 November 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Researchers have long known that prior knowledge in the form of expectations and beliefs influences cognitions and behaviours. This module aims to give a general understanding of how humans are influenced or self-influence their perception, memory, reasoning, and behaviour based on their prior knowledge and information they are provided with.

Being a very general and complex topic, the module will harness the discussion on specific areas of enquiry as to provide the student with the best examples of psychological and neurological processes associated with suggestions and beliefs. The focus will be on those phenomena that have robust empirical evidence and that have daily-life relevance and impact on our society.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To increase students’ awareness and understanding of how suggestions and beliefs affect us.

  • To encourage critical thinking on empirical research as well as extending reflection on their personal life.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the psychological and neural processes involved in belief- and suggestion-based phenomena.

  2. Critically evaluate empirical research and scientific opinions in the specific areas of enquiry covered during the module.

  3. Integrate their understanding of scientific knowledge with everyday life and societal relevance of the learning material.

  4. Demonstrate reflection that will mean you can go beyond descriptive approach to the learning material and reveal understanding and consolidation thereof.

Module information

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.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 2-hour lecture per week for 8 weeks.
  • One 2-hour workshop per week for 2 weeks.

Students will be expected to participate in each lecture.

Weekly lectures will consist of an introduction to each topic of the module. A central part of each lecture is to present and discuss data originating from psychological sciences and neurosciences. Multimedia will support teaching and students will be encouraged to further explore other available material on the web.

Students will be exposed to self-reflection practices.

Students will have homework activity to complete in the shape of reflective diaries. In addition, they will also write a critical reflection essay.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Reflective Diary 1    50% 
Coursework   Reflective Diary 2    50% 

Additional coursework information

Students will write one reflective diary on the material provided in any of the topics of their choice. As a second piece of coursework, students will have to write an essay on another different topic (than the ones chosen in their diaries) and rely on the articles provided as support material, as well as additional material of their choice.

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Elia Valentini, email:
Dr Elia Valentini, Dr Helge Gillmeister



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 12 hours, 10 (83.3%) hours available to students:
2 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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