As most everyone is aware, meditation is increasingly popular in the West. There has also been a marked increase in clinical, neuroscience, psychological and social science investigations of meditation, focusing on long-term practitioners and those participating in short-term mindfulness and related training programs. Comparing the first to the second five years of this century, there has been a more than 300 percent increase in the publication of basic and applied studies in this area that is now known as “contemplative science.”
Article originally appeared in the Huffington Post
Research evaluating the effectiveness of meditation-based interventions in medical, mental health, educational and business settings is difficult. The gold standard for evaluating interventions in biomedical settings is the randomized, controlled, double-blind experiment. In clinical drug research, participants are randomly assigned to receive either the experimental medication or a so-called placebo which looks and tastes like the experimental drug but is pharmacologically inert. In this way, both the participant and researcher are “blind” to which condition each participant has been assigned, thus controlling for several potential sources of bias. In applied meditation research, participants are often randomized to either a meditation training condition or a “wait-list” control condition in which there is no training but comparable testing before and after the period of time taken for the meditation training condition. A major problem for the interpretation of results from such research designs is that participants can never be truly blind to the condition in which they have been randomized. It is obvious to the participant whether they are or are not receiving meditation training. Why is this a problem?
In addition to whatever may be the impact of the meditation practice per se, those in the training condition are likely to be biased toward different expectations for benefit and such motivations as wanting to please the researcher, compared to those in the wait-list control condition. Thus, it is not possible to disentangle these sources of bias from the specific effects of the meditation practice itself. Because many of the available experimental studies of meditation in applied settings have employed this kind of research design, we are actually less confident about the effectiveness of meditation training than much of the popular press would suggest. Fortunately, alternative designs are possible, in which participants are randomly assigned to a meditation training condition versus another training condition, such as physical exercise, didactic instruction, or simple muscle relaxation training. When the meditation and other active training condition are carefully equated for such things as amount of training, amount of home practice, credibility and enthusiasm of instructors, then investigators can be more confident that any result that differs between the meditation and control groups reflects something specific to the meditation practice itself.
Read full article via Progress and Challenge in Contemplative Studies | Al Kaszniak.