Meditation May Not Make People Kinder after All

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, February 7, 2018 | Go to article overview

Meditation May Not Make People Kinder after All


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Just last month, researchers published yet another study that suggested meditation encourages people to develop more compassion and empathy toward others.

Such studies have helped to drive the mainstreaming of secular mindfulness meditation training, a trend that has swept through schools, corporations, medical schools, sports teams and even the military in recent years.

Research published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports calls those earlier studies into question, however. The new research — a meta-analysis of data from 22 separate clinical trials — found that meditation’s effect on compassion, empathy and other social behaviors is limited, at best.

Indeed, the meta-analysis identified significant methodological flaws in most of the previous studies that have claimed meditation has powerful pro-social effects.

“Contrary to popular beliefs that meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the effects of meditation on prosociality were qualified by the type of prosociality and the methodological quality of the study,” the study’s authors conclude.

They’re not saying that meditation doesn’t lead people to become kinder toward others. They’re saying that past research on the topic just hasn’t been rigorous enough to come to that conclusion.

Study details

For the meta-analysis, a team of researchers from New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom combed through more than 4,500 studies on meditation and mindfulness, looking for randomized controlled trials in which meditators were compared to a similar group of people who did not mediate.

They eventually narrowed their search to 22 studies involving a combined total of 1,685 participants. Those studies all had a minimum of one outcome that was related to at least one of five types of social behavior: compassion, empathy, aggression, prejudice and connectedness.

The data revealed that the overall impact of meditation on those behaviors was “limited.” There was some evidence that meditation had a positive influence on two of the behaviors — compassion and empathy — but those effects appeared to have been influenced by methodological weaknesses and biases. …

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