The last decade we have witnessed a psychedelic revival, reflected in an increased societal interest, a flurry of clinical applications and a boost of scientific research. At the same time, both the popular and the scientific debates about psychedelics are highly polarized. Proponents argue that psychedelics, such as LSD and psilocybin, can induce mystical experiences with a profound impact on people’s lives and a strong therapeutic potential for biomedical disorders. Skeptics point out the potential dangers of recreational and semi-therapeutic psychedelic drug use – especially in light of the absence of clear guidelines and best practices. Currently there is a lack of integration between these two perspectives. The aim of this project is to fill this gap, by setting up a research program to study the psychological and neurocognitive mechanisms underlying psychedelically induced mystical experiences. An innovative theoretical model is proposed, according to which psychedelics induce strong feelings of awe and thereby affect self- and body perception. The model, which already receives partial support from existing research, will be put to the test in three inter-related quantitative high-powered studies, which will focus on (1) neurocognitive and bodily effects of psychedelics, (2) how prior expectations (i.e., often referred to as ‘set’) shape psychedelic experiences, and (3) the efficacy of psychedelics compared to other techniques to induce mystical experiences. In addition we will replicate key findings from the scientific literature through the use of Open Science Practices and Bayesian statistics. The outcomes of this project will help us to understand how the positive and negative effects of psychedelics come about and will be disseminated to relevant stakeholders, including psychiatrists, clinicians, researchers, user groups and policy makers. Thus, by integrating exciting new theories and technologies from different research fields, the current project will provide a fresh perspective on psychedelic research.
The project is part of a research program funded by a VIDI grant of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research awarded to dr. Michiel van Elk. The research group will participate in the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC), an interfaculty center for interdisciplinary research on brain and cognition.
- Development, preparation and execution of behavioral and neuroimaging studies involving different pharmacological challenges (psilocybin, LSD);
- Report results at conferences and in international journals, leading to a PhD dissertation;
- Supervise BSc and MSc thesis projects;
- Participate in the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC).
- Master degree in cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience or closely related field;
- Experience or affinity with neuroimaging techniques, behavioral tasks, psychophysiological measurements;
- Programming experience (Matlab; R; Python);
- Prior experience with psychedelic research, applying for medical-ethical approval etc., is considered a pre;
- Excellent research and writing skills;
- Excellent command of English.
The preferred start date is between September 1st and the end of 2021. The appointment is for four years (one year plus a further three years after a positive evaluation) and should lead to a doctoral degree. The gross income is € 2.395,- per month in the first year, increasing to € 3.061,- per month in the fourth year, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities).
Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3 %), training and career development. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. For international spouses we have set up a dual career programme. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break. For more information, see the website.
Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.Address: