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TOPIC: Study measuring outcomes of different tradititions

Study measuring outcomes of different tradititions 04 Jul 2015 19:16 #99528

Interesting/controversial new article on different benefits/effects of meditation across different practice groups:

Empathy, Compassionate Altruism and Psychological Well-Being in Contemplative Practitioners across Five Traditions
In an online anonymous study we compared 2409 contemplative practitioners to 450 non-meditators on measures of psychological functioning. The meditators followed five traditions: Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism, Centering Prayer, Yoga and Mindfulness. Meditators were lower in depression, neuroticism, empathic distress, and types of empathy-based guilt, and higher in empathy (cognitive and emotional), agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, resilience, and compassionate altruism towards strangers. Comparing traditions found Tibetans and Centering Prayer higher in altruism towards strangers and Centering Prayer lower in neuroticism. In all traditions, intensity and duration of practice predicted positive outcomes. Meditators whose goal was benefit to others, compared to those whose goal was benefit to the self, were lower in depression, empathic distress, and neuroticism, and higher in cognitive empathy, resilience, and altruism towards strangers. Religion-based practitioners were lower in guilt, empathic distress, depression and neuroticism, and higher in conscientiousness, resilience, and altruism towards others compared secular meditators.

www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.a...D=57476#.VZhbWkYWDSf

As a side note, worth noting in terms of critique is the way the sample was selected:
The practitioner survey was announced on Rick Hanson’s blog (www.rickhanson.net), Craigslist, and on a variety of Tibetan Buddhist listservs connected to the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) in the United States and in the newsletter of the International Organization of Tibetan Buddhist Monastics.

Few other interesting points:
Responses were used to determine practice variables such as specific tradition, frequency of meditation, duration of sessions, and how long the participant has been meditating. Two derived, ordinal measures were calculated from these responses: intensity of meditation (frequency × duration of sessions) and total strength of meditation (intensity × how long the participant has been meditating). The questions about meditation practice also included an item asking “What is the main goal of your meditation?” The response options were “to relax”, “improve my health”, “make me more positive in general”, “get out of samsara or cyclic existence”, “become enlightened” or “benefit all sentient beings”.

I'd note that this study didn't evaluate why people who were 'convert meditators' began practice, e.g. if they begun practice because they were experienceing, e.g., depression, even if the practice alleviated depression it may still show higher rates of depression in those groups than in other.

But in any case thought this would be of interest, although my personal thoughts are that I'm not very interested in scientific studies of spiritual practice (at least until science begins properly dealing with the issue of consciousness - see Thomas Nagel's 'Mind and Cosmos'). I do however appreciate seeing studies which don't just use 'meditators' or 'yoga practitioners' as a coherent category but are beginning to tease out different practices, approaches and goals as meaningful.
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Study measuring outcomes of different tradititions 05 Jul 2015 09:12 #99534

"... my personal thoughts are that I'm not very interested in scientific studies of spiritual practice (at least until science begins properly dealing with the issue of consciousness - see Thomas Nagel's 'Mind and Cosmos'). "

I concur; in fact, lately I've dived into a personal rabbit hole about autism and psychology-- this is related, as I will show. Every now and then over the last 50 years, I have encountered "the new research/theory" on autism. It began with a meeting of a small group of folks in Berkeley when I was an undergrad, where I discovered that the subject was NOT potential junior Picassos. Common mistake back in the early days when no one else had ever heard about it, or seen an autistic kid-- they were that rare.

A couple of years later, my first employment after college was working at a residential treatment center for "emotionally disturbed children." The majority of the kids were clearly traumatized kids, acting out in predictable ways after horrific abuse. But my unit was 6 or 7 (the number varied over the 3 years I was there) autistic boys-- nonverbal, largely incommunicado, in some cases self-injuring, most engaging in hours of self-stimulating (or sensory-filtering) behavior. In retrospect, I am appalled that the state of "knowledge" was that these kids had psychological problems, due to poor parenting. Thank God, psychologists weren't using pharmaceuticals as a "cure" so much yet.

In the years and decades after I left, I read whatever first-person accounts showed up in the popular press. Starting about the turn of the millennium, I've been following the stories about vaccines and neurological injury as it relates to autism-- all the dots are lined up, in my view. These folks are the unfortunate experimental subjects who have taught us a great deal about the gut-brain axis, and other aspects of psychoneuroimmunology-- the way a trainwreck shows up flaws in track design and scheduling procedures.

But for me, there are the larger implications about how we think about mind and body and brain/nervous system; there are the further implications about science and subjective and objective phenomena. Watching video of the most horrific case of medical malpractice I have yet to see, and hearing the treating psychiatrist claim that "healing the brain" (with pharmaceuticals to which the patient had demonstrable allergies!) would result in healing of an intestine riddled with lesions. It was a diabolical, materialist version of the Christian Science doctrines I grew up with-- and rejected.

But this is the worst-case scenario that really highlights our hideous ignorance about "the mind-body problem"-- and why that ignorance isn't just an academic or philosophical issue. Our whole species needs to let go of our superstitious worship of the guys in the white coats who have replaced the guys in the holy vestments-- and exercise our innate capacity to think critically, and remember historically. After all, it was only a few hundred years ago that it was obvious to everyone but a crank or two-- who were suitably flammable-- that all the planets glided along their crystal spheres, around the Earth.
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Study measuring outcomes of different tradititions 05 Jul 2015 11:14 #99535

We live in interesting times. There is an increasing (seemingly, to me) interest among those in the medical profession that leans toward viewing the mind and the body as an indivisible unit. I do think that western science has managed to split the mind/body organism in some artificial ways. But I have hope because we did indeed once think that the universe revolved around us, and that diseases were caused by demons, and mental illnesses were evil spirits invading people. I think we can still progress, as we have done so far, albeit slowly. Humans all tend to operate on belief, belief in this, belief in that, so it takes time, study, and patience, to effect real change and to make sure that real change is really change.

To Rowan's point, however, the one thing that we've made no progress on, and may never, is in defining and understanding consciousness. I watch developments in neuroscience and related fields skeptically as opposed to ignoring them altogether, though. The current state of the tools we use to study spiritual practice are as yet really primitive, so I struggle to get too excited about the constant stream of meditation studies that assert this or that benefit, or detriment, of practice.

I guess this is my own version of seeking a middle way.
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Study measuring outcomes of different tradititions 05 Jul 2015 11:45 #99536

It may be that we're looking at the wrong tools and the wrong questions when we try to study "consciousness;" the analogy that pops into mind is that it is akin to trying to study "wetness" as distinct from water. Only worse, because wetness is a physical property of the material object, water. Consciousness, on the other hand, is a non-physical, inferred property of a living organism. We infer it from the behavior of some organisms, and the reports of subjective experience of human beings. And the filters for the study of a physical object are much simpler than the social, historical, linguistic, and philosophical filters through which we study consciousness. So, yeah-- it may not be possible.

Which is perfect, for conundrum appreciators everywhere!
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Study measuring outcomes of different tradititions 05 Jul 2015 18:02 #99539

A few stray thoughts on the above:

- one of the problems is that Western science has tried to heal the mind-body split by resolving it in favour of the body, i.e. I am my body and all consciousness/mental states are nothing more than correlates of certain physical patterns in the body

- but there have been attempts to bring science and/or materialism and consciousness into conversation, the most famous being William James' Varieties of Religious Experience which has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for quite some time now
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Study measuring outcomes of different tradititions 05 Jul 2015 19:26 #99540

i think if a study inspires someone to actually practice that's good. Different people need different kinds of carrots and sticks.
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Study measuring outcomes of different tradititions 03 May 2016 20:49 #103313

Another new study on meditation in which long-term meditators and neuropsychs did a retreat together:

www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/al...9634?section=science
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Study measuring outcomes of different tradititions 04 May 2016 13:19 #103319

Thank you for this article, Rowan.
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