Does Meditation Work?


From Aeon: “Confirmation bias is difficult to overcome. Journals rely on reviewers to spot them, but because some of these biases have become standard practice (through the reporting of marginally significant effects, say) they often slip through. Reviewers and authors also face academic pressures that make these biases more likely since journals favour the reporting of positive results. But in the study of meditation there is another complication: many of the researchers, and therefore the reviewers of journal articles, are personally invested in meditation not only as practitioners and enthusiasts but also as providers of meditation programmes from which their institutions or themselves financially profit. The overly positive view of meditation and the fierce fight to protect its untarnished reputation make it harder to publish negative results.

My aim is not to discredit science, but scientists do have a duty to produce an evidence base that aims to be bias-free and aware of its limitations. This is important because the inflated results for the power of meditation fuel magical beliefs about its benefits. Mindfulness websites market it as a ‘happy pill, with no side effects’; it is said it can bring world peace in a generation, if only children would breathe deep and live in the moment. But can we be sure that there are no unexpected outcomes that neither benefit the individual nor society? Is it possible that meditation can fuel dysfunctional environments and indeed itself create a path to mental illness?”

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