Michiel Van Elk, PhD
University of Amsterdam
Effects of Psilocybin Microdosing on Awe and Aesthetic Experiences: a double-blind placebo-controlled study
There is an increased societal trend to engage in microdosing, in which small sub-perceptual amounts of psychedelics are consumed on a regular basis and for a variety of reasons. Following subjective reports that microdosing enhances the experience of nature and art, in the present study we set out to study the effects of psilocybin microdosing on feelings of awe and art perception. We used a double-blind placebo-controlled within-subjects study design (N = 31). Participants either received a psilocybin microdose or a placebo for three consecutive weeks, and following a one-week break the condition assignment was reversed. During each block participants visited the lab twice to measure the acute effects of our experimental manipulation. We used standardized measures of awe, in which participants were presented with immersive videos representing natural scenes, and they observed abstract artworks from different painters. We found that participants felt more awe and reported more positive emotions in response to the artworks in the microdosing compared to the placebo condition. However, these effects turned out to be driven in large part by participants breaking blind and their prior expectations about the alleged effects of microdosing. Our findings suggest that expectancy-effects may be a driving factor underlying the subjective benefits of microdosing. Future studies should systematically investigate the role of prior expectations on both the subjective (i.e., self-report) and objective (i.e., neurophysiological) effects of microdosing.
Michiel studied philosophy, biological psychology and the psychology of religion in Utrecht, Amsterdam and Njjmegen. He completed his PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Donders Institute in Nijmegen and was a visiting researcher at UCSB in California. He worked as a Marie Curie post-dotoral fellow at the EPFL in Switzerland. Since 2013 he is working as assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam supported by grants from the Templeton Foundation, the BIAL Foundation and the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research. In 2017 he has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University supported by a Fullbright Scholarship and in 2019/20 he is working as a Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies. As head of the Religion, Cognition and Behavior lab at the Department of Psychology, his research focuses on religious and spiritual experiences. His research uses a multidisiplinary approach, including theories, insights and methods from cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, anthropology and religious studies.