Health and fitness

‘Meditation has no role in reducing aggression'

Print edition : March 02, 2018

EVER thought that meditation would turn someone into a less aggressive and more compassionate social animal? Probably not, as a meta-analysis of 20-odd studies done in the past demonstrates.

A team of scientists from New Zealand and the Netherlands, who reviewed over 20 studies that probed the effect of meditation on pro-social feeling and behaviours, came to the conclusion that meditation has a limited role in making individuals better people. Although initial analysis indicated that meditation did have a positive impact overall, further analysis revealed that it played no significant role in reducing aggression or prejudice or improving how socially connected a person was. The study was reported in the journal Scientific Reports on February 5.

To ensure scientific robustness of the research, the scientists were careful to include only randomised controlled studies, where meditators were compared with individuals who did not meditate.

All these studies used secular meditation techniques derived from Buddhism, such as mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation, but not other related activities such as yoga or Tai-Chi. Interestingly, the scientists found that when the meditation teacher was also one of the authors of the published work, such studies tended to report moderate improvements in compassion. “The popularisation of meditation techniques, like mindfulness, despite being taught without religious beliefs, still seem to offer the hope of a better self and a better world to many. We wanted to investigate how powerful these techniques were in affecting one’s feelings and behaviour towards others,” said Miguel Farias, a behavioural scientist at Coventry University, New Zealand, and an author of the study. Most of the initially positive results changed when the meditation groups were compared with other groups that engaged in tasks unrelated to meditation.

None of this invalidates the claims of either Buddhism or other religions about the moral value and eventually life-changing potential of their beliefs and practices. But our research findings are a far cry from popular claims made by meditators and some psychologists, Farias said.

T.V. Jayan

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