People

Michiel van Elk

Honorary staff member

Michiel obtained degrees in philosophy (MA), biological psychology (MSc) and the psychology of religion (MSc) at Utrecht University, VU University and Radboud University Nijmegen. He completed his PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Donders Institute in Nijmegen (cum laude). He worked as a visiting researcher at the University of California Santa Barbara (2010), as a Marie Curie post-dotoral fellow at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland (2010-2012), as a Fulbright Scholar at Stanford University (2017), as a Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Amsterdam (2019-2010) and as a researcher at the University of Amsterdam (2013-2020). Since 2020 Michiel is affiliated as Assistant Professor to the University of Leiden and as an affiliate researcher at VU University. Supported by grants from the Templeton Foundation, NWO and the BIAL Foundation he supervises the Religion Cognition and Behavior Lab. Michiel has published several popular science books on such different topics as the Babybrain, the Evolution of Religion, Ecstatic Experiences and Psychedelics. In his free time he plays the according in the folk band Bieslook Karavaan, together with Lenya or on his own as a singer-songwriter. Michiel lives together with his sons in the center of Amsterdam and has a Finnish sauna in his backyard.

Suzanne Hoogeveen (PhD student University of Amsterdam)

After her bachelor in Psychology at the University of Utrecht, with a minor in Social Neuroscience, Suzanne started the research master Brain & Cognitive Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. During her internship at the social psychology department of the UvA, she combined her interest in human cognition with neuroscientific methods, and discovered her fascination for the ‘power of belief’. In 2017 Suzanne started her PhD under supervision of Michiel van Elk and Eric-Jan Wagenmakers. Her research concerns the Religious Replication Project, which focusses on the psychological and neurocognitive mechanisms related to supernatural beliefs. Specifically, it involves reassessing of existing research, addressing new questions and applying Bayesian Statistics to shed light on the validity of prevailing theories in the cognitive science of religion. 

Lara Engelbert (Phd student VU University)

Before starting my PhD project, I graduated from the Research Master Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. During my studies, I developed a strong interest in neurophysiological techniques with a focus on functional MRI. I want to contribute to an interdisciplinary approach that combines the fields of cognitive neuroscience and social / organizational psychology to gain innovative perspectives on human behavior and cognition. I am mainly interested in how individuals, who are considered to be charismatic leaders, can influence and motivate other individuals to set aside their own personal interests in order to cooperate with each other to achieve a common goal. In addition, I am interested in what the neurocognitive and behavioral effects of the perception and exposure to charismatic leadership are and how these vary across different settings, e.g. religion, politics, economics, sports or military.
As of September 2018, I started my PhD project on charismatic leadership under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Mark van Vugt, Prof. Dr. Jan Theeuwes and Assistant Prof. Dr. Michal Kandrik and Dr. Michiel van Elk. The project is aimed at investigating neurocognitive and behavioral effects of exposure to charismatic leadership. Neurocognitive mechanisms are strikingly understudied in current research on charismatic leadership. However, these new insights can eventually clarify our understanding and definition of charismatic leadership as well as its influence on followers. The project is highly interdisciplinary as it combines the perspectives and methods of cognitive neuroscience, behavioral economics and social psychology.

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