I have engaged in the following press & media:
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Build trust to combat dangerous conspiracy theories
Local Government Chronicle, 01 February 2021
“Councils need to help reduce threat and uncertainty to stop the wave of misinformation, writes the research fellow at Coventry University’s Centre for Peace, Trust & Social Relations.”
“Many psychologists, including myself, endeavour to understand why people believe these conspiracy theories so we can design interventions to stop their spread and consequences. What do we know so far?”
Popular Science articles
How your brain decides what to think
The Conversation, 20 February 2023
You’re sitting on the plane, staring out of the window at the clouds and all of a sudden, you think back to how a few months ago, you had a heart-to-heart with a good colleague about the pressure you experience at work. How do thoughts seemingly completely unrelated to the present pop into our heads? Why do we remember certain things and not others? Why does our mind go off on tangents and why do we have daydreams?
Young people may be more likely to believe in conspiracy theories that deny COVID facts – here’s how to respond
The Conversation, 21 May 2020
Given the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic, influencing people’s lives across the globe, it’s not entirely surprising that there are some people who wish to dispute what is happening. COVID denial occurs on a spectrum, from playing down the effects of the virus to denying its existence altogether through belief in “hoax” conspiracy theories. While all kinds of people can hold these beliefs, younger people are often more likely to believe in COVID conspiracy theories compared with older people. Belief in conspiracy theories can be incredibly damaging and the denial of COVID-19 ignores the danger of the virus, so we must resist and engage with those who deny the facts where possible.
Ritual, transcendence & psychedelics
IAI tv, 08 October 2021
“Shamanic practices have long involved music and dancing with others while on mind-altering substances. A new study seems to suggest that the contemporary, secular version of that, taking psychedelic drugs while dancing at a rave, can induce similar experiences as those that religious rituals aim for: awe, social bonding and the feeling of belonging to something greater. And while personality traits, like openness, seemed to play a role in how likely people were to have a lasting transformative experience, the ritualistic context was key in helping participants overcome pre-existing meaning systems and gaining new perspectives, writes Valerie van Mulukom.” (behind a paywall; click here for a preprint)
The surprising power of daily rituals
BBC Future, 15 September 2021
Dr. van Mulukom features in this BBC Future article about how rituals may help us deal with uncertainty and stress:
“Ritualistic behaviour can improve social bonding when we practise it collectively. “Having social networks has frequently been linked to wellbeing, and it is thought that rituals – frequent group gatherings – are particularly good at facilitating such networks,” says Valerie van Mulukom, a psychologist at Coventry University in the UK and co-author of a study on the effect of secular rituals on social bonding.”.
“Research by van Mulukom into religious rituals in Brazil and the UK determined that taking part in rituals boosted pain thresholds and the ability to experience positive emotions, which increased social bonding in the group. But social bonding is not only limited to religious rituals. “We found that this effect occurs in both religious rituals and secular rituals,” adds van Mulukom.”
Awe-inspiring psychedelic trips reduce narcissism by boosting connectedness and empathy, study suggests
PsyPost, 15 October 2020
New research suggests that feelings of awe from psychedelic drugs can positively affect narcissistic personality traits. The study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, found that psychedelic-occasioned experiences of awe are linked to increased feelings of connectedness and empathy, which in turn is related to decreased levels of exploitative-entitled narcissism.
How non-religious worldviews provide solace in times of crisis
The Conversation, 21 May 2020
The saying “There are no atheists in foxholes” suggests that in stressful times people inevitably turn to God (or indeed gods). In fact, non-believers have their own set of secular worldviews which can provide them with solace in difficult times, just as religious beliefs do for the spiritually-minded.
How imagination can help people overcome fear and anxiety
The Conversation, 16 May 2018
Most of us only feel scared when a threat is present. But when the threat fear response happens even when a threat isn’t present, it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, or anxiety. These disorders may often be treated using exposure therapy, but a new study found that something as simple as using your imagination can help people overcome fear.
Is it rational to trust your gut feelings? A neuroscientist explains
The Conversation, 16 May 2018
Relying on your intuition generally has a bad reputation, especially in the Western part of the world where analytic thinking has been steadily promoted over the past decades. Gradually, many have come to think that humans have progressed from relying on primitive, magical and religious thinking to analytic and scientific thinking. As a result, they view emotions and intuition as fallible, even whimsical, tools.
However, this attitude is based on a myth of cognitive progress. Emotions are actually not dumb responses that always need to be ignored or even corrected by rational faculties. They are appraisals of what you have just experienced or thought of – in this sense, they are also a form of information processing.
Published online on: Newsweek on 17 May 2018; Business Insider on 19 May 2018; World Economic Forum on 22 May 2018; BBC Future on 28 May 2018; Novoya Vremya (Ukrainian news outlet) on 7 June 2018; RTÉ (Ireland’s National Television and Radio Broadcaster) on 28 August 2018.
The secret to creativity – according to science
The Conversation, 3 January 2018
Whether you get mesmerised by Vincent van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night or Albert Einstein’s theories about spacetime, you’ll probably agree that both pieces of work are products of mindblowing creativity. Imagination is what propels us forward as a species – it expands our worlds and brings us new ideas, inventions and discoveries.
But why do we seem to differ so dramatically in our ability to imagine? And can you train yourself to become more imaginative? Science has come up with some answers, based on three different but interlinked types of imagination.
Printed in i newspaper on 11 January 2018, and published online on: the Daily Mail on 3 January 2018; Metro news on 4 January 2018; Science Alert on 5 January 2018; PBS on 7 January 2018; World Economic Forum on 8 January 2018; Business Insider on 11 January 2018; The Week on 15 January 2018.
An Indonesian translation of ‘The secret to creativity – according to science’ (‘Rahasia menjadi lebih kreatif menurut sains’) was published at The Conversation, on 31 January 2018, and featured online on National Geographic Indonesia.
Watching a scary movie this Hallowe’en? This is what happens to our brain and bodies when we view a frightening film
Coventry University news, 27 October 2017
From slasher movies to zombie-fests and ghoulish horrors to tense thrillers, plenty of people will be entering into the spirit of Hallowe’en by watching a scary film this weekend.
But why do we flock to view these frightening flicks when we know they might give us nightmares and leave us wanting to sleep with the light on for the following week.
What effect do these films have on our brain and body when we watch them and why are some scarier than others?
Academic blog posts
A cognitive profile of COVID-19 conspiracists
Cognitive Science Society, 16 November 2020
COVID-19 conspiracy theories appeared and spread almost as fast as the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself. While they may appear absurd or ludicrous to some, they are not harmless: COVID-19 conspiracy theories have been linked to a reduced adherence to recommended COVID-19 safety guidelines, hoarding, and reduced vaccination intention, not to mention discrimination, prejudice, and violence. It is therefore paramount that we understand how such conspiracy theories come to be, and why they spread.
Many features of individuals who endorse COVID-19 conspiracy theories are familiar to cognitive scientists. When we better understand them, we may be able to reduce the power of misinformation and keep everyone safer.
Using Neuromodulation to Change Belief – and Unbelief
Methods and Methodologies, Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (NSRN) Blog, 15 August 2016.
Valerie van Mulukom introduces cognitive research exploring how religious beliefs can be modulated. She shows how reframing such research as stimulating of ‘unbelief’ open new avenues for new ways of exploring the nature of unbelief and its similarities and dissimilarities to religious and spiritual beliefs.
Interview on the Nature & Nurture Podcast, ‘Nature & Nurture #72: Dr. Valerie van Mulukom – Imagination, Memory, & Belief’, 15 September 2022.
Featured on the Naked Neuroscience podcast ‘Go with your gut’, by The Naked Scientists (the University of Cambridge), 20 November 2019.
Featured on the Conversation podcast Anthill, #25 Intuition, 16 May 2018.
Radio & video interviews
Breakfast on BBC Radio Oxford (with Sophie Law), discussing research on childbirth and identity fusion (‘Band of Mothers’). Broadcast 31 October 2020. Listen to the recording:
BBC Radio 5 Live Afternoon Edition programme with Nihal Arthanayake and guest presenter Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, hosting a debate on ‘Intuition versus data?’, with Dr Valerie van Mulukom, Dr Dean Burnett, and Katy Leeson, on 29 November 2018.
Politics.co.uk with Michael Saliba, discussing why people believe in conspiracy theories and what the negative consequences of such conspiracy beliefs might be. As part of the in-depth feature ‘Conspiracies: Has fiction replaced reality?‘ (see video there) together with Dr Hugo Leal and Marc Tuters (6 October 2021).