Religion Cognition and Behavior Lab

University of Amsterdam

The last decade many commercial cognitive enhancement devices have appeared on the market trying to persuade consumers into fostering their mental powers through brain stimulation products. In addition, novel technologies have been introduced such as biofeedback and brain-computer interfaces that hold a great promise to enhance human behavior and performance also by recruiting hidden mental resources. These cognitive enhancement techniques build on the great belief and trust of the lay audience in neuroscientific and biological research and the potential to foster cognitive performance through unleashing the hidden potential of the human mind (e.g., the widespread idea that humans only use a limited capacity of their brain). At the same time there is a recurrent scientific discussion regarding the actual efficacy of many cognitive enhancement techniques. Recent research suggests that while specific effects of such technologies may be difficult to replicate, there seems to exist broader effects of prior expectations, suggestibility and transliminality for improving cognitive performance and for increasing well-being through belief in the ability to unleash the hidden powers of the mind.


Several studies from our lab show that human beliefs in the ability to unleash hidden mental powers can exert powerful effects on experience and performance. For instance, in a recent large-scale study conducted at a music festival in the Netherlands that received wide media-attention, we found that about half of all participants reported intense mystical and spiritual experiences in association with the use of a so-called ‘god-helmet’ – allegedly capable of inducing these experiences. In another study, we introduced participants with a novel brain stimulation device developed to ‘unleash hidden mental powers’ and we found that belief in the capacity of the device to improve or impair performance, affected participant’s responses to errors in a cognitive control task.