COVENTRY, England — Meditation may help improve your ability to focus, but despite previous claims, it’s not going to make you a much better person or improve your social skills, a new study finds.
Researchers from three European universities reviewed more than 20 studies on the effects of various forms of meditation on social behavior. The authors focused on practices derived from Buddhism, such as mindfulness, which emphasizes the idea of being hyper-aware of your senses and surroundings, and loving-kindness, which aims to increase positive attitudes and reduce negative habits.
But the researchers’ analysis showed that negative behaviors, such as aggression or prejudice, were not improved by regular meditation. Moreover, there was no evidence of participants across the studies being any more socially-connected than control groups.
That said, the results weren’t all discouraging. Many meditation practitioners and experts have long said meditating regularly can boost one’s level of compassion, and the researchers found that participants in the studies did feel moderately more compassionate or empathic.
Interestingly, the researchers determined that there could be bias in studied that claim an increased level of compassion in individuals. They found that the claims were only supported in studies — when the meditation teacher was the author of the report.
“Despite the high hopes of practitioners and past studies, our research found that methodological shortcomings greatly influenced the results we found,” says Dr Miguel Farias, one of the co-authors, in a news release. “Most of the initial positive results disappeared when the meditation groups were compared to other groups that engaged in tasks unrelated to meditation. We also found that the beneficial effect of meditation on compassion disappeared if the meditation teacher was an author in the studies. This reveals that the researchers might have unintentionally biased their results.”
Farias, who conducts research at Coventry University’s Centre for Advances in Behavioral Science, says his work shouldn’t take away from anyone’s desire to meditate as a means for a more centered life. Instead, future studies should better account for such “shortcomings” that may have influenced results in earlier reports. That means authors should not be the practitioners in any experiment nor should they team with teachers affiliated with their studies or research universities.
“None of this, of course, invalidates Buddhism or other religions’ claims about the moral value and eventually life changing potential of its beliefs and practices. But our research findings are a far cry from many popular claims made by meditators and some psychologists,” he says.
The complete analysis of the studies was published today in the journal Scientific Reports.