Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Short Term Effects of Meditation versus Relaxation on Cognitive Functioning

Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Short Term Effects of Meditation versus Relaxation on Cognitive Functioning

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The aim of this investigation was to examine the immediate effects of meditation on cognitive performance. Twenty-seven experienced meditators and twenty-seven non-meditators were tested and compared for differences in cognitive performance immediately following either a short meditation session (meditators) or a relaxation session (non-meditators). Meditators were hypothesised to perform significantly better than non-meditators on a battery of seven tests of cognitive function. However, meditation was not found to be more effective than relaxation on any of the test measures. Even though there is evidence that meditation provides immediate emotional and physiological benefits, results from the present study suggest that these benefits do not extend into the realms of cognition to any significant degree.

KEY WORDS: meditation; short term meditation; long term meditation; cognition; cognitive functioning; cognitive performance; relaxation.

Research evidence supports the claim that meditation provides considerable emotional and physiological benefits to those who practise the art (Davidson, et al., 2003; Delmonte, 1984; Travis & Wallace, 1999). Over the past forty years, several hundred studies have investigated the effects of meditation in the psychological and physiological domains with encouraging results (e.g., Canter, 2003; Davidson, et al., 2003; Haimerl & Valentine, 2001). In addition, investigations of long term effects of meditation on cognitive performance have obtained positive results (Cranson, et al., 1991; Dillbeck, 1982; Dillbeck, Assimakis, Raimondi, & Kember, 1985; Orme-Johnson, & Rowe, 1986; So & Orme-Johnson, 2001; Yucel, 2001). It is thus reasonable to inquire whether meditation can provide immediate cognitive benefits, a possibility that has received little attention.

Meditation has been practised for at least 2,500 years, over which time divergent approaches have evolved that aim to converge upon a similar goal (Naranjo & Ornstein, 1971; West, 1979). The process of meditation offers a wide variety of attentional control and relaxation techniques that may be broadly categorised into three main groups (Carrington, 2003; Naranjo & Ornstein, 1971): reductive/concentrative approaches (e.g., Transcendental Meditation), receptive/expressive approaches (e.g., Shamanism) and expansive/mindfulness approaches (e.g., Insight Meditation). Concentrative approaches instruct the meditator to restrict focus of attention to a single stimulus such as a word, symbol, sound, object or sensation. It is an outer-directedness approach that aims to interiorize an external form (a symbol, for example). There is a relinquishing of spontaneity insofar as the meditator is encouraged to draw focus back to the single stimulus if attention wanders while ignoring the nature of any distraction. In contrast, an inner directedness typifies the receptive/expressive approach whereby attention is receptive or open to promptings of the meditator's inner thoughts. It is an expressive process, the aim of which is to relinquish expectations and preconceptions so as to develop a spontaneity free from external influences such as traditional or societal belief systems. The meditator learns to be open to his inner experience through undistracted receptivity. These two orientations may be contrasted with the expansive/mindfulness approach that encourages neither an inner nor outer directedness, but a 'self emptying' through not identifying with anything that is perceived. This style of meditation aims to develop stillness of mind, detachment from psychological acting, non-judgmental observation of internal and external stimuli as they arise, and a minimization of goal directed mental activity. These aims are taught with the idea of leading the meditator to insight through a detached observation of experience (Baer, 2003; Naranjo & Ornstein, 1971).

Traditionally, the principal aim of meditation has been to become 'fully conscious', or 'enlightened', a state of heightened awareness meditators believe is attained by the experience of direct knowledge of an absolute such as God, Being, Unity, Brahma or 'The One' (West, 1979). …

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