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Support Aeon Donate now Among the promised psychological and physical benefits of meditation are the elimination or reduction of stress, anxiety and depression, as well as bipolar disorder, eating disorders, diabetes, substance abuse, chronic pain, blood pressure, cancer, autism and schizophrenia.
It is a panacea for the individual. There are also apparent interpersonal and collective effects. Mindfulness and other Buddhist-derived meditation techniques, such as compassion and loving-kindness meditation, can perhaps increase prosocial Essays about place and behaviours, yielding greater social connection and altruism, tampering aggression and prejudice.
Such a useful activity naturally finds a variety of applications. Meditation techniques have been deployed in the military with the aim of increasing the wellbeing and work effectiveness of soldiers. Snipers are known to meditate in order to disengage emotionally from the act of killing, to steady the hand that takes a life the element of peacefulness associated with meditation having been rather set aside.
Corporations counteract stress and burnout with meditation which, on the surface, is an amiable aim, but it can also help create compliant workers. Here, too, the goal is to reduce misbehaviour and aggression in a bid to increase prosociality and compliance. Psychological research often upholds this optimism about the efficacy of meditation.
Indeed, studies on the prosocial effects of meditation almost always support the power of meditation — the power not only of transforming the individual but of changing society. So it appears well-grounded that meditation might improve socially advantageous behaviour.
This brings with it the prospect of applications in a variety of contexts, where it might find its use in social conflicts, such as mitigation of war and terrorism. The problem, however, is with the research that bolsters such claims. Last year, the experimental psychologists Miguel Farias, Inti A Brazil and I conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis that examined the scientific literature behind the claim that meditation increases prosociality.
We looked at randomised controlled studies, where meditators were compared with non-meditating individuals, and reviewed more than 20 studies that evaluated the effect of various types of meditation on prosocial feelings and behaviours such as how compassionate, empathetic or connected individuals felt.
The studies we reviewed used a variety of methodologies and interventions. Meanwhile the control group, with which the meditators were compared, engaged in a weekly group discussion about the benefits of compassion. Another study compared guided relaxation participants listening to an audio recording about deep breathing and unwinding with a control group that simply did nothing in a waiting room.
Most studies required participants to fill in questionnaires about their experience of the meditation intervention, and their levels of compassion towards themselves and others.
Some studies also included behavioural measures of compassion, in one case assessed by how willing a person was to give up a chair in a staged full waiting room. Initially, the results were promising.
Our meta-analysis indicated that meditation did indeed have a positive, though moderate, impact on prosociality. But digging deeper, the picture became more complicated.
While meditation made people feel somewhat more compassionate or empathetic, it did not reduce aggression or prejudice, nor did it improve how socially connected one felt.
So the prosocial benefits are not straightforward, but they are apparently measurable. The issue is the way in which those benefits were measured.
To fully dissect the studies, we conducted a secondary comparison to see how methodological considerations would change our initial findings. This analysis looked at the use of control groups and whether the teacher of the intervention was also an author of the study, which might be an indication of bias.
The results were astounding. The purpose of the control group is to isolate the effects of the intervention in our case, meditation and to eliminate unintentional bias. The importance of adequate control conditions was first brought to light by the discovery of the placebo effect in drug trials, which is when a treatment is effective even though no active agent or drug is used.
To avoid this effect, each group in a drug trial receives identical treatments, except one group receives a placebo or sugar pill and the other gets the real drug.
Neither the experimenter nor the participants know who is in which trial this is called a double-blind designwhich helps to eliminate unintentional bias. But the use of adequate controls is tricky in studies that look at behavioural change, because it is harder to create a control group or placebo when the treatment is not just a pill but an action.
The control has to be similar to the intervention but lack some important components that differentiate it from the experimental counterpart. This is known as an active control.
A passive control group simply does nothing, compared with the group that has the intervention. Meditation did indeed improve compassion when the intervention was compared with a passive control group, that is, a group that completed only the questionnaires and surveys but did not engage in any real activity.Some students who need writing aid try to save their money by using a very cheap essay writing service.
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