Humans are undeniable prone to believe in causalities that are not founded in common scientific standards. Many of us believe for instance in god(s), supernatural powers, and engage in rituals and superstitious behaviors. Many of us are happy to spend money on unproven health procedures, because the respective person believes in their efficacy. Such beliefs associate with particular personality characteristics and cognitive biases. Unfortunately, studies in adults are largely correlational avoiding any notions on causality being made (personality / cognitive biases leading to beliefs or vice versa). We are not only interested in relationships between belief-related personality traits and cognitive biases, but also in these relationships` causality. To this end, we are currently investigating in which way and to what extent exposure to magic tricks interacts with belief-related personality traits and cognitive biases.
Some examples of publications:
Brugger, P., & Mohr, C. (2008). The paranormal mind: How the study of anomalous experiences and beliefs may inform cognitive neuroscience. Cortex, 44(10), 1291-1298.
Leddington, J. (2016). The experience of magic. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 74(3), 253-264.
Mohr, C., Koutrakis, N., & Kuhn, G. (2014). Priming psychic and conjuring abilities of a magic demonstration influences event interpretation and random number generation biases.
Belief formation and expectancies are essential mechanisms promoting placebo and nocebo effects. Based on prior experiences, individuals form beliefs as to what to expect in a given situation. When again in such a situation, the context itself can guide behaviour (e.g. seeing a doctor in its clinical environment reducing symptoms). Placebo and Nocebo effects, elicited by inert substances (e.g. a sugar pill) or sham procedures (e.g. fake acupuncture), have been extensively studied in clinical frameworks with a special focus on placebo-nocebo analgesia and hyperalgesia. Our research goal is to investigate the importance of beliefs in placebo and nocebo effects in different contexts ranging from i) societal phenomena promoted by the media regarding hazards brought about by new technologies, ii) cognitive enhancing properties attributed to psychostimulants and iii) pain-relieving interventions in chronic pain patients. These studies are run in collaboration with Dr. Chantal Berna, Cheffe de Clinique at the Pain Center (Division of Anaesthesiology) at the University Hospital Center of the Canton de Vaud (CHUV). We will run our experiments using different designs including the Balanced Placebo Designs. This latter enables distinguishing between pure pharmacological effects of an intervention separately from the particular effects of beliefs and expectancies regarding the intervention. Thus, we will be able to determine whether placebo or nocebo effects can explain these interventions’ consequences, or whether they should be attributed to the direct influence of what is assumed to be part of the intervention (e.g. computer screen exposition, pharmacological effect). To that purpose, we will approach this question using multimodal techniques ranging from psychological (e.g. questionnaires, cognitive tasks) to physiological (e.g. biomarkers) and neurophysiological (e.g. electroencephalography) assessments.