Aarhus Universitets segl

Uffe Schjødt


Uffe Schjødt
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Selected work:

Schjoedt, U. & van Elk, M. (2020). Neuroscience of Religion. The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Science of Religion (In press)


Abstract: This chapter introduces research within the neuroscience of religion, emphasizing the critical dimensions of experimental control, authenticity, and reverse inference. The chapter presents the strengths and weaknesses of five distinguishable neuroscientific approaches that can be characterized along these dimensions. The first approach examines the neural correlates of religion by using adapted versions of standard experimental psychology paradigms. The second examines religion and spirituality in relation to structural differences in brain anatomy. The third examines the religion-brain link by analogy, using hypnosis and illusion paradigms. The fourth examines neurocognitive processes in authentic religious practices and experiences directly in the laboratory. The fifth attempts to elicit religious experiences by exploiting participants’ belief in neuroscience (so-called Neuroenchantment). The chapter ends with a discussion on the potential for theoretical integration across studies and approaches using the general framework of predictive processing.


Niebuhr, O., & Schjoedt, U. (2019). God as interlocutor-real or imaginary? Prosodic markers of dialogue speech and expected efficacy in spoken prayer. In INTERSPEECH 2019 Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association, pp. 36-40.


We analyze the phonetic correlates of petitionary prayer in 22 Christian practitioners. Our aim is to examine if praying is characterized by prosodic markers of dialogue speech and expected efficacy. Three similar conditions are compared; 1) requests to God, 2) requests to a human recipient, 3) requests to an imaginary person. We find that making requests to God is clearly distinguishable from making requests to both human and imaginary interlocutors. Requests to God are, unlike requests to an imaginary person, characterized by markers of dialogue speech (as opposed to monologue speech), including, a higher f0 level, a larger f0 range, and a slower speaking rate. In addition, requests to God differ from those made to both human and imaginary persons in markers of expected efficacy on the part of the speaker. These markers are related to a more careful speech production, including al-most complete lack of hesitations, more pauses, and a much longer speaking time.


Schjoedt, U., & Andersen, M. (2017). How does religious experience work in predictive minds?. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 1-4.
Abstract: Predictive coding is becoming the standard model of perception and cognition in cognitive neuroscience. Scholars of religion now face the challenge of understanding religious experiences in light of this new paradigm. Why do people report vivid supernatural encounters like apparitions, trance, possession, and mystical union if subjective experience is dominated by inferences that cause the least prediction error? Despite the existence of promising methods and pioneering theoretical ideas, few studies have examined real time predictive processing in religious experience. We point to several theoretical and methodological issues that need to be solved before researchers can properly approach religious experience in predictive minds.

Schjoedt, U., Sørensen, J., Nielbo, K. L., Xygalatas, D., Mitkidis, P., & Bulbulia, J. (2013). Cognitive resource depletion in religious interactions. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 3(1), 39-55.

Abstract: We explore the cognitive effects of three common features of religious interactions: (1) demand for the expressive suppression of emotion; (2) exposure to goaldemoted and causally opaque actions; and (3) the presence of a charismatic authority. Using a cognitive resource model of executive function, we argue that these three features affect the executive system in ways that limit the capacity for individual processing of religious events.We frame our analysis in the context of a general assumption that collective rituals facilitate the transmission of cultural ideas. Building on recent experiments, we suggest that these three features increase participants’ susceptibility to authoritative narratives and interpretations by preventing individuals from constructing their own accounts of the ritual event.


Schjoedt, U., Stødkilde-Jørgensen, H., Geertz, A., and Roepstorff, A. (2011). The power of charisma: perceived charisma inhibits the attentional and executive systems of believers in intercessory prayer. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 4 (2), 199–207.

Abstract: We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how assumptions about speakers’ abilities changed the evoked BOLD response in secular and Christian participants who received intercessory prayer. We find that recipients’ assumptions about senders’ charismatic abilities have important effects on their executive network. Most notably, the Christian participants deactivated the frontal network consisting of the medial and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally in response to speakers who they believed had healing abilities. An independent analysis across subjects revealed that this deactivation predicted the Christian participants’ subsequent ratings of the speakers’ charisma and experience of God’s presence during prayer. These observations point to an important mechanism of authority that may facilitate charismatic influence, a mechanism which is likely to be present in other interpersonal interactions as well.

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