ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

Many individuals believe that meditation has the capacity to not only alleviate mental-illness but to improve prosociality. This article systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the effects of meditation interventions on prosociality in randomized controlled trials of healthy adults. Five types of social behaviours were identified: compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. Although we found a moderate increase in prosociality following meditation, further analysis indicated that this effect was qualified by two factors: type of prosociality and methodological quality. Meditation interventions had an effect on compassion and empathy, but not on aggression, connectedness or prejudice. We further found that compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one. Contrary to popular beliefs that meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the effects of meditation on prosociality were qualified by the type of prosociality and methodological quality of the study. We conclude by highlighting a number of biases and theoretical problems that need addressing to improve quality of research in this area.
This content is subject to copyright. Terms and conditions apply.
1
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
www.nature.com/scientificreports
The limited prosocial eects of
meditation: A systematic review
and meta-analysis
Ute Kreplin1, Miguel Farias2 & Inti A. Brazil2,3,4,5
Many individuals believe that meditation has the capacity to not only alleviate mental-illness but to
improve prosociality. This article systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the eects of meditation
interventions on prosociality in randomized controlled trials of healthy adults. Five types of social
behaviours were identied: compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. Although
we found a moderate increase in prosociality following meditation, further analysis indicated that
this eect was qualied by two factors: type of prosociality and methodological quality. Meditation
interventions had an eect on compassion and empathy, but not on aggression, connectedness or
prejudice. We further found that compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the
teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study
employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one. Contrary to popular beliefs that
meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the eects of
meditation on prosociality were qualied by the type of prosociality and methodological quality of the
study. We conclude by highlighting a number of biases and theoretical problems that need addressing
to improve quality of research in this area.
If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, the world will be without violence within one genera-
tion’ — this quote, attributed to the current Dalai Lama, and circulating on online forums, tweets and Facebook
pages1, succinctly conveys the beliefs and expectations held by many about the powers of meditation. ese vary
considerably, from supernatural abilities (e.g., telepathy) to psychological states of peacefulness. Beliefs in the
Western world about the powers of meditation became widely spread in the 1970s through the Transcendental
Meditation movement2, a technique where one sits quietly and focuses on the mental repetition of a Sanskrit short
word. e popularisation of Buddhist-based mindfulness meditation in the last two decades has further helped to
promote the belief that meditation can be practiced as a faith-free method of inducing signicant positive changes
in consciousness3.
Buddhist mindfulness meditation was redened as a non-religious technique of paying attention to the pres-
ent moment with a non-judgemental awareness of inner and outer experiences that aim to create a state of ‘bare
awareness4. Its adaptation to a Western clinical context, originally aimed at chronic pain patients, paved the way
for its popularisation through new mutations such as mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which was
developed to reduce relaxpse into depression5. As it became mainstream, mindfulness meditation was adapted to
non-clinical contexts, including the corporate6 and the military worlds7, with the aim of increasing the well-being
and work eectiveness of employees and soldiers. e utilization of meditation techniques by large corporations
has created growing tensions within the wider community of individuals who practice and endorse its benets.
e more traditional practitioners and researchers advocate that mindfulness meditation without the ethical
teachings can lead into the wrong kind of mindfulness8. An example of this would be that of the sniper who is fully
mindful of his body, feelings, thoughts and intentions before pulling the trigger, which releases the bullet that will
kill another human being9.
1School of Psychology, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand. 2Brain, Belief, & Behaviour Lab,
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, England. 3Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition
and Behaviour, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. 4Forensic Psychiatric Centre Pompestichting,
Nijmegen, The Netherlands. 5Collaborative Antwerp Psychiatric Research Institute, University of Antwerp, Antwerp,
Belgium. Ute Kreplin and Miguel Farias contributed equally to this work. Correspondence and requests for materials
should be addressed to U.K. (email: u.kreplin@massey.ac.nz) or M.F. (email: miguel.farias@coventry.ac.uk) or I.A.B.
(email: i.brazil@donders.ru.nl)
Received: 30 May 2017
Accepted: 27 December 2017
Published: xx xx xxxx
OPEN
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
www.nature.com/scientificreports/
2
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
Although most of the popular claims and the scientic literature on the benets of meditation have focused
on isolated psychological and physical eects, there has always been a parallel interest in its inter-personal and
collective eects. Dating back to the 1970s, Transcendental Meditation researchers published a number of studies
reporting that this technique decreased aggression and violence at a societal level10. More recently, mindfulness
and other Buddhism-derived meditation techniques (including compassion and loving kindness meditation)
have been used to try to increase prosocial behaviours and feelings, such as compassion, social connection, and
altruism1114.
e studies on the prosocial eects of meditation have an obvious appeal. ey not only help dispelling cri-
tiques of secular applications of meditation as self-centred or ethically misguided, but they support beliefs about
the power of meditation – the power not only of transforming the individual but of changing society, as con-
veyed by the opening quote of this article. e possibility that meditation might improve prosocial behaviours,
and reduce prejudice and aggression, brings with it the prospect of applications in a variety of contexts, includ-
ing schools with high rates of conict15 and in prisons16. It is conceivable that it may even nd its use in social
conicts, such as mitigation of war and terrorism. Our primary aim in this article is to examine the extent to
which the use of meditation-based techniques in healthy populations, outside of a religious context, might lead
to improvements in prosociality. In other words, can meditation per se make the world a better — less aggressive
and more compassionate —place? Our secondary aim was to test the inuence of factors that may moderate this
eect, such as the duration of the meditation.
As far as we are aware, this is the rst systematic review and meta-analysis of the prosocial eects of med-
itation. Previous articles have reviewed the clinical benets of compassion meditation (CM) and loving kind-
ness meditation (LKM), both of which include a concern with stimulating positive other-centred emotions1719.
Importantly, there are dierences between some types of meditation. While with mindfulness meditation one
observes the ow of thoughts, feelings and sensations, in LKM and CM the aim is to focus on and elicit powerful
positive feelings towards oneself, loved ones, and strangers. However, the literature is oen unclear in which way
compassion meditation is dierent from loving-kindness, though some authors suggest that the former focuses
more particularly on the feeling of sharing suering19. Prior studies employing these types of meditation were
focussed on the clinical applications of meditation and, therefore, only partially looked at the prosocial eects of
the interventions. Recognising that meditation may inuence social behaviour, a recent meta-analysis of Buddhist
meditation techniques considered a dimension representing ‘kindness and social domains, alongside health,
well-being and suering17. It was concluded that the results for the clinical and social eects of the nine examined
studies were encouraging, but inconsistent.
Here we sought to examine, through a systematic review and meta-analyses, if the power of meditation to elicit
substantial improvements in various social variables (including compassion, connectedness, empathy, aggression, and
prejudice) is empirically supported. Because of the lack of a theoretical agreement on the factors that underpin medita-
tion, we also sought to assess potential moderators of its eects. Following the recent meta-analytical literature on med-
itation (e.g.,20,21), the role of expectation eects in meditation interventions22 and the variability introduced by dierent
types of measures23, we considered as relevant moderators the duration of the intervention, the teacher’s involvement in
the study, the type of control group, and the type of measures used to index social functioning. We did not have a priori
expectations about the major categories of prosociality we would nd. e search terms we used considered an array of
prosocial variables (positive and negative), such as empathy and anger. e studies we selected, based on a set of criteria
(see Literature Search section), revealed that the types of outcome measures most frequently used were: compassion,
connectedness, empathy, aggression, and prejudice. We thus considered these ve categories in our meta-analysis.
Other conceptually interesting prosocial variables, such as forgiveness24,25, could not be considered in the meta-analysis
due to incomplete reporting of statistical results. Because of successive criticisms about the poor methodological quality
in meditation research20,26, we decided to only include randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that investigated the eects
of mindfulness on social emotions (e.g., increased empathy, compassion and connectedness) and social behaviour (e.g.,
reduced aggression or prejudice) in healthy populations.
Method
Literature search and study selection. In May 2015 we searched PsycINFO, AMED, EMBASE,
MEDLINE, PsychARTICLES, DirectSCIENCE, SCOPUS, and COCHRANE databases. We did not include year
or language restriction. Because of criticisms concerning the methodological quality in meditation research20,26,
we only included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that investigated the eects of mindfulness on prosociality.
Our search strategy included the words meditation or mindfulness in combination with any of the following terms:
empathy, relationship, connectedness, compassion, love, interpersonal, anger, social, altruism, outgroup, thankful-
ness, forgiveness, prosocial. Our search strategy included only ‘meditation’ and ‘mindfulness’ to cover the whole
breadth of meditation techniques. Note that the word ‘meditation’ is generally used as a composed noun, such
as ‘lovingkindness meditation, ‘transcendental meditation’ or ‘compassion meditation’. Mindfulness, however,
is an exception as it is sometimes used as a single noun, which is why we have included it as a separate search
term. Because our inclusion criteria focused on randomised controlled trials, we were unable to include a single
study employing Transcendental Meditation. Although we found a number of studies on the prosocial eects of
this technique, particularly on its supposed eect on reducing violence10, their methodology did not meet our
inclusion criteria.
Following the removal of duplicates, 4517 records were identied and screened (see Fig.1). Two researchers
independently read the titles and abstracts, excluding 4464 studies that did not meet the inclusion criteria (see
Table1), which le a total of 54 articles for full text analysis.
The researchers read through the full studies and, following the exclusion criteria, rejected thirty stud-
ies (see Table1 and Fig.1). The twenty-two included articles (total N = 1685) reported studies that were
randomised-control trials (RCT), used a meditation intervention and a passive or active control group, and had
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
www.nature.com/scientificreports/
3
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
at least one outcome related to prosocial variables (e.g. Self-Compassion scale, Implicit Association Test of preju-
dice, empathic facial expression rating). We used a stringent denition of meditation as a form of focused atten-
tion to one or more elements, such as to one’s body, breath, conscious awareness, or to a particular word, thought
or emotive state, which did not involve any physical activity. is excluded mind-body activities that sometimes
involve meditation, such as yoga and Tai-Chi. We also only included interventions in which meditation was the
predominant technique, which led to the exclusion of techniques such as Acceptance and Commitment erapy.
Data management. Studies were included in the meta-analyses if sucient data were reported to allow
calculation of eect sizes (i.e., pairwise comparison or correlations, sample size, descriptive statistics or p value
for each test of interest). Studies frequently reported multiple assessments for a given measure (e.g., two scales
for compassion). In such cases, eects were averaged across measures, except in cases where a separate entry was
appropriate (e.g., a self-report and a behavioral measure). Sixteen of the 22 studies included in the systematic
review also met the inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis. Social measures used in these sixteen studies were
categorised into ve types of prosocial feelings and behaviors: compassion, connectedness, empathy, aggression
and prejudice. e latter two types are considered prosocial in a reversed way, as the studies under analysis are
looking at their reduction. Categorisation was data driven.
e analyses were conducted following standard procedures (e.g.,27,28). Eect sizes were calculated as Person’s
r using Meta-Calc. For all analyses, individual eect sizes were normalized through a Fisher’s z transformation
and examined with random-eects models, as implemented in MetaWin29. Signicance of the eects was deter-
mined with 95% Condence Intervals (CIs), which should not contain the value 0. e Q statistic was used to
Figure 1. PRISMA 2009 Flow Diagram64.
Inclusion Criteria Exclusion Criteria
Population Healthy adults (>18) Studies of children; studies using clinical populations
Intervention
Any structured meditation program including loving
kindness meditation, mindfulness-based programs
(e.g. MBSR, Zen and other mindfulness-based
programs)
Meditation programs in which the meditation is not the
foundation and most of the intervention (e.g. ACT). Any
mind-body forms of exercise such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong
(chi kung); hypnosis; relaxation; pranayama
Study design Randomized control trial (RCT) Nonrandomised design and studies without a control group
Outcome variables Prosocial variables (e.g. compassionate or empathic
responding, forgiveness, helping behaviour, changes in
anger and aggression) Other variables
Table 1. Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria. Note: ACT, acceptance and commitment therapy; MBCT,
mindfulness-based cognitive therapy; MBSR, mindfulness-based stress reduction; RCT, randomised clinical
trial.
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
www.nature.com/scientificreports/
4
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
assess heterogeneity30, and publication bias was estimated using Rosenthal’s fail-safe number with α = 0.0531. e
fail-safe number provides an approximation of how many unpublished studies reporting null-results are required
to render the eects of the meta-analyses insignicant.
Moderator analyses. e studies assessed used a variety of prosocial measures and were also distinct in
other aspects (e.g., type of measure and control group). Categorical moderator analyses were therefore conducted
to assess whether any of these variables moderated the relationship between meditation and prosocial variables.
e rst moderator had ve levels representing the type of prosociality to assess if the meditation intervention
aected each type dierently. Four further moderators with two levels were included (measure type, control
group, teacher, and intervention duration; see Table2 for details).
Quality of the studies. Methodological quality was assed using the Cochrane Collaboration’s risk-of-bias
tool32,33 which included considering if the study: used random sequence generation; was advertised as a medita-
tion intervention; controlled for confound variables (e.g. demand characteristics); included blinding of outcome
assessment; and showed selective reporting of statistical results. We supplemented this with two further columns
one being ‘intervention teacher’ to control for potential experimenter eects and demand characteristics, the
other the type of control group the study had used (see Supplementary TableS2). When teacher information was
not available in the study, authors were contacted via email and all, except one, answered.
Two researchers read and graded the twenty-two studies based on the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool. To further
reduce bias from researchers undertaking the grading, we asked a third researcher who had no part in planning
the review and meta-analysis, and is not a named author in this article, to also grade the methodological quality
of the studies. e three researchers agreed on 72% of grades. Grades where disagreement arose were discussed
until a consensus was reached. e quality grading resulted in three major outcomes: a score of 1 indicated strong
condence in the validity of the results and in its replicability; a score of 2 indicated moderate condence in the
validity of results, which may change with further studies; a score of 3 indicated weak condence in the validity
of the results and a greater likelihood that further studies might show contradictory evidence. A study would be
graded as strong if it met six of the seven criteria described above, for example, if it showed no selective statistical
reporting, used an active control group, employed a meditation teacher that was not a named co-author, it blinded
outcome variables, and it controlled for confound variables. For a study to be graded as moderate it had to meet a
minimum of three criteria. Studies meeting less than three of the quality criteria were graded as weak.
e datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding
author on reasonable request.
Results
Characteristics of selected studies. e earliest study included was published in 2004 but over two thirds
of the studies (71%) were from 2010–2015, which shows a growing interest in assessing the prosocial eects of
meditation. e techniques most commonly used were mindfulness-based interventions, LKM, and CM. e
length of the interventions varied from 3 minutes to a 3-month meditation retreat, though more than a third of
studies (39%) lasted for 8-weeks. Nine of the twenty-one selected studies included a control condition with an
active task, which varied from watching a nature video to the use of other interventions, such as a time-manage-
ment course. e remainder used wait list control groups. Supplementary TableS1 shows the characteristics of
the selected studies.
Quality of studies. e methodological quality of the studies was generally weak (61%), while one third
(33%) was graded as moderate, and none had a grading of strong (see Supplementary TableS2). Only two studies
assessed confounding factors, such as demand characteristics34,35, and only ve reported the method of rand-
omization3640. All except one of the studies41, where the intervention was taught by a person, used a meditation
Moderator Variable Category Denition
Prosocial Type
Compassion
Measures of pro-social behaviour
Connectedness
Empathy
Aggression
Prejudice
Measure Type Questionnaire Self-report questionnaires
Behavioral Behavioural tests such as IATs
Control Group Active Control groups that engaged in an activity (e.g. watching a video)
Passive Waiting-list control groups
Teacher External/Audio Where the teacher was not a named author in the article or instructions
were given through audio recordings
Author Where the teacher was a named author in the article
Intervention One-o One o intervention sessions lasting from 3 min to 60 min
Duration Multiple Multiple intervention session lasting from 4 days to 3 months (6–8
weeks were most common)
Table 2. Description and denition for categorical moderator variables.
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
www.nature.com/scientificreports/
5
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
teacher that was a named author in the study (information unavailable for two studies24,25). A further eight studies
used written or recorded meditation instructions13,35,39,4246.
Results of the meta-analysis. e mean eect size for the overall analysis, in which the eect sizes were
aggregated across all studies, was r = 0.26 (CI 0.18–0.34; see Table3), showing that there is a moderate increase in
prosociality following a meditation intervention. e non-signicant heterogeneity Q statistic indicated that the
overall sample was homogeneous and Rosenthal’s fail-safe number pointed out that 396 studies with null-results
are needed to make the main eect found in this overall meta-analysis non-signicant. As a rule of thumb, the
fail-safe number is considered substantial when it exceeds 5n + 15, with n representing the number of studies in
the meta-analysis. In the present study, the fail-safe number is 105 which is above the recommended threshold.
e rst set of moderator analyses, conducted using the full data set, showed a moderating eect for prosocial
type only. e results indicated that compassion and empathy where aected by the meditation intervention
(r = 0.37 and r = 0.44, respectively). at is, meditation intervention had a positive eect on levels of empathy and
compassion, relative to baseline. is was not the case for aggression, connectedness, and prejudice (see Table3).
Although the overall analysis indicated that there was homogeneity of eect sizes across studies, this was not the
case once the total sample was divided into subgroups based on the dierent prosocial types, which showed high
heterogeneity. is was probably caused by the considerable variety of outcome measures across studies. Note that
the eect sizes were still homogeneous within each subgroup and that Rosenthal’s fail-safe number was high, thus
supporting the robustness of the results.
We ran an additional set of moderator analyses for compassion data only, as the number of empathy studies
was too low to conduct further analyses. e results indicated that compassion increased following a meditation
intervention (r = 0.36, 95% CI 0.25, 0.48) and we found a moderation eect for type of control group and medi-
tation teacher, but no other moderator (see Table3). e moderator analysis for teacher indicated an increase in
compassion for studies were the meditation teacher was a named author on the study (r = 0.42, 95% CI 0.27, 0.57),
but not when the intervention was taught by someone not listed as an author or through paper/audio instructions
(r = 0.26, 95% CI 0.07, 0.59). e moderator analysis for type of control group indicated that the results for
levels of compassion were more varied when employing an active (r = 0.37, 95% CI 0.04, 0.78) versus a passive
control group (r = 0.36, 95% CI 0.20, 0.79), which led to a non-signicant eect when employing an active control
group. All heterogeneity statistics for the moderators were non-signicant and Rosenthal’s fail-safe numbers were
large for all analyses (see Table3 for details).
General Discussion
We found that the eects of meditation interventions on prosociality were limited. e methodological quality of
61% of the studies was graded as weak. Although there was a moderate increase in prosociality when considering
Category
All Measures Compassion
ES 95% CI Fail-Safe Heterogeneity ES 95% CI Fail-Safe Heterogeneity
Main eect 0.26 0.18, 0.34 396 Q 25.71 0.36 0.25, 0.48 181 Q 8.96
Prosocial Type
Compassion 0.37 0.24, 0.49 580 Qb 15.32
N/A
Connectedness 0.22 0.05, 0.49 Qw 21.38
Empathy 0.44 0.03, 0.84
Aggression 0.11 0.17, 0.48
Prejudice 0.11 0.09, 0.30
Measure Type
Questionnaire 0.24 0.13, 0.35 387 Qb 0.40 0.43 0.27, 0.59 221 Qb 3.004
Behavioural 0.29 0.15, 0.43 Qw 24.78 0.27 0.05, 0.49 Qw 7.96
Control Group
Active 0.27 0.12, 0.43 380 Q b 0.08 0.37 0.04, 0.78 160 Qb 0.006
Passive 0.25 0.14, 0.36 Qw 24.67 0.36 0.20, 0.79 Q w 7.92
Teacher
External/Audio 0.22 0.09, 0.35 394 Qb 0.97 0.26 0.07, 0.59 214 Qb 2.65
Author 0.30 0.18, 0.41 Qw 24.64 0.42 0.27, 0.57 Qw 7.97
Intervent ion Duration
One session 0.28 0.07, 0.48 379 Qb 0.06 Fewer than two cases per category available
Multiple sessions 0.25 0.16, 0.35 Qw 24.67
Table 3. Overall eect sizes and results for the categorical moderator analysis. Note: Signicant results are
highlighted in bold; Mean eect size (ES) reported as Pearson’s r with their corresponding 95% condence
interval (CI); Rosenthal’s fail-safe number, and Q heterogeneity statistic; Qb heterogeneity statistics for
between-group and Qw for within-group eect size dierences. e analysis contained 26 independent samples,
exceeding the N of included studies because more than one outcome measure (e.g. compassion and empathy)
was used in most studies.
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
www.nature.com/scientificreports/
6
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
all studies, further analyses indicated that this eect was qualied by two factors: category of prosociality and
methodological quality. Meditation interventions had an eect on the categories of compassion and empathy, but
not on aggression, connectedness, or prejudice. e low number of empathy studies prevented a more detailed
analysis of moderators. For the category of compassion, we found that methodological quality impacted the out-
comes so that an increase from baseline to post-intervention was moderated by the use of a meditation teacher.
Specically, the moderation results showed that a signicant increase in compassion only occurred if the inter-
vention teacher was a co-author in the published study, but not when the intervention was delivered by other
means (written/audio) or by a teacher that was not a co-author in the publication. e results for compassion
were also moderated by the type of control group; specically, the eect became non-signicant when an active
control group was used. Although the eect size remained similar for active and passive controls, the condence
intervals showed a much wider variation in the results for studies employing an active control group (0.04, 0.78)
indicating that some studies produced results where there were no changes in compassion, or there was a reduc-
tion from baseline to post-intervention. Overall, the weak methodological quality of the studies and the results
for the moderator analysis indicates low condence in the validity and replicability of the examined studies. e
studies used a wide range of prosocial outcome measures, including self-report instruments, implicit association
tasks, and behavioural measures. Not all of these had been previously validated, but the crux of the methodo-
logical shortcomings lies elsewhere, as the quality of studies analysis and moderator analysis reveals. Below we
expand on these shortcomings and how they might be avoided in future studies.
On the whole, there was some evidence favouring the prosocial eects of meditation, but this was limited
by various factors, including: (1) the nding that the initial results were moderated by the meditation eects on
empathy and compassion alone; (2) that the eects on compassion were moderated by the type of control group
used and the role of the teacher; (3) the weak methodological quality of the studies. Concerning point (1), it is
intriguing that we found that the eects of meditation on empathy and compassion were signicantly stronger
than for the other types of prosociality. One explanation could be that the meditation interventions focused on
the development of empathic and compassionate qualities. is is clearly the case for the majority of the compas-
sion studies analysed, where the meditation training (LKM and CM) used statements that explicitly asked partic-
ipants to focus on feelings such as ‘love’ and ‘kindness’ towards oneself and others. Also, these studies used as the
major outcome measure a scale of Self-Compassion that assessed the same emotions that were elicited during the
intervention35,37,38,47. Only one study attempted to extricate the aective element in the intervention by including
two dierent types of meditation11. On the other hand, the studies on aggression, prejudice and connectedness
tended to use a type of mindfulness-based meditation which did not directly mention qualities of reduced aggres-
sion, prejudice or increased connectedness.
Regarding point (2), that the eects of meditation on compassion were only signicant when compared to
passive control groups suggests that other forms of active interventions (like watching a nature video) might
produce similar outcomes to meditation. Another meta-analysis has shown a similar pattern of non-signicant or
weak results concerning the eects of meditation on psychological stress and well-being when compared to active
controls20. e second moderator we found is more controversial, and this seems to be a novel nding. In what
way does the joint status of study co-author and meditation teacher aect the results of the compassion studies?
At best this shows that a motivated meditation teacher will impact to a greater extent one’s students; at worse, it
suggests that experimenter biases are introduced which aect the outcomes of the studies. ese are just one kind
of bias that are likely to be aecting studies in this area and which we review below (point 3), alongside oering
potential solutions to overcoming them.
Our assessment of the quality of the studies identied several methodological weaknesses, which increase the
likelihood that biases were introduced. First, despite Rosenthal’s48 well-known work on experimenter biases and
the importance of using double blind designs in experimental psychology, meditation studies seldom try to avoid
this particular bias. Recent work indicates that experimenter biases are not a thing of the past. When Doyen and
colleagues49 attempted to replicate a previous experiment suggesting that priming participants with age-related
stereotypes had an eect on walking speed50, they failed to nd any signicant results when using a double-blind
procedure (prior studies were not blinded). ey further showed that when making some experimenters believe
that priming participants with age-related stereotypes would slow them down, this indeed had a signicant eect,
but only in those experimenters that were made to believe in the stereotypes. is example illustrates how exper-
imenter beliefs can directly inuence the outcome of a study.
In the context of the studies included in our review, authors provided the training in 48% of the studies. Only
one study stated that the meditation instructor, although being part of the research team, had no part in the data
analysis (Ne and Germer, personal communication) and another study engaged an external instructor who was
not connected to the study in any other way41. Information about the intervention teacher could not be obtained
for 10% of the studies and the remaining 42% used audio recordings or online instructions. In sum, for about
half of the studies we reviewed, unintentional experimenter biases could have been introduced by researchers/
teachers with a personal interest in the intervention (e.g., by giving preferential treatment or being particularly
enthusiastic to participants in the experimental group).
But the prevalence of experimenter eects is only one side of the coin. e media portrayal of meditation as a
cure for a range of mental health problems or to improve well-being51 is very likely to feedback into participants
who will have a high expectation of the benets of a meditation intervention. Despite potential to introduce unin-
tentional expectation bias in participants, only one of the studies we examined controlled for expectation eects
and this methodological concern is generally absent in the meditation literature. e exception was a study by
Creswell and colleagues22, which included a four item scale assessing beliefs about the ecacy and relevance of
the intervention (meditation versus analytical training) and found that the meditation group had substantially
higher expectations of a positive eect for the intervention, even though participants were not explicitly told that
they were engaging in meditation.
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
www.nature.com/scientificreports/
7
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
What is the solution to unintentional experimenter and expectation eects? Acknowledging them is a good
starting point and supplementing this with short scales that try to measure participants’ expectations can only
improve the validity of studies — for an example from the anxiety treatment literature, see the Credibility and
Expectancy Questionnaire52. But more can be done. Importantly, larger gains can be made by introducing at
least some aspect of blinding procedures in randomized controlled studies. en, the challenge is to nd suitable
interventions that can function as active control conditions. An interesting solution was developed by Smith53,
who developed a 71-page manual describing the rationale and benets of a made-up meditation technique. He
gave the manual to a research assistant, who was unaware that it was a placebo, and who then proceeded to give
a lecture to participants in the control group about the merits of the technique (very much like in the experi-
mental group that used Transcendental Meditation). When it came to the actual placebo technique, participants
were instructed to sit quietly for 20 minutes twice per day in a dark room, and to think of anything they wanted.
Although this was an innovative approach, we acknowledge that it may create other problems such as the elimi-
nation of intentional positive expectancy.
In sum, the negative impact of experimenter and expectation biases should not be overlooked in modern
meditation studies, especially given the lack of double-blind designs in this eld. Planning double-blind studies
that use a placebo is possible and desirable in meditation research, particularly when dealing with the elicitation
of positive emotions, such as compassion or empathy. Having a meditation teacher who knows nothing about the
hypotheses of the study and has no part in designing, analysing and writing the results, would also reduce the
likelihood of methodological biases.
Methodological aws allow for many other biases, such as those concerning data analysis and reporting.
Interpreting statistical results and choosing what to highlight is challenging. Kaptchuk54 has summarised a num-
ber of potential interpretative biases that have become widespread in science reporting, including a conrmation
bias, where one tends to evaluate evidence that supports one’s beliefs more favourably than evidence that chal-
lenges it.
A conrmation bias was particularly prevalent in the studies we reviewed in the form of an over-reporting of
‘marginally signicant’ results. In addition to statistically signicant results (p < 0.05), 48% of studies reported
marginally signicant results (p > 0.05), which varied considerably — p-values ranged from 0.06 to 0.14. Further,
the majority of studies failed to urge caution in the interpretation of these marginally signicant results and, in
some cases, discussed them a par with other statistically signicant eects. is over-reliance on marginally sig-
nicant results to generate theoretical interpretations naturally increases the chances of a Type I error55. Just to
illustrate this bias, let us take an example from one of the studies we reviewed and meta-analysed. On p. 461, the
authors reported a marginally signicant dierence (p = 0.069) in favour of the meditation intervention relative
to the control group. However, on the following page, when the authors reported a dierent set of results that did
not favour the meditation intervention they claimed the exact same p-level as non-signicant: “e results con-
rmed our hypotheses for intergroup anxiety. Contrast 1 was not signicant, t(75) = 1.85, p = 0.069” (p. 462,44).
Another potential instance of a conrmation bias we identied was the inconsistency of reported results in
the way that meditation intervention eects were assessed. Some studies reported within-subjects eects from
pre- to post-test, whereas others reported changes from post-testing to follow up, yet others only compared
between-subject eects at post-test. It is unclear what exactly underpins this inconsistency, but it is likely to be the
result of a bias to report signicant results and neglect non-signicant ones.
Potential suggestions to ameliorate confirmation biases include: a full disclosure of results, including
all non-signicant ones; a clear treatment of p-values as either signicant or non-signicant; and to run two
dierent families of statistical tests, such as traditional null-hypothesis testing and non-parametric tests (e.g.
bootstrapping), or Bayesian tests, and see if the ndings converge. Meditation studies would benet from being
pre-registered to prevent ad-hoc analysis and reduce the experimental degrees of freedom during analysis. Finally,
the presence of a conrmation bias has an impact on the interpretation of the results by biasing the generation of
theoretical assumptions about their meaning.
e majority of studies we reviewed presented very tenuous and unclear justications for why a meditation
intervention ought to improve prosocial outcomes. e research literature tends to swily reference the health
benets of meditation and/or mention the alleged prosocial eects of meditation in the Buddhist tradition36,38,41.
Further, this literature generally conveys the impression that Buddhism is particularly concerned with the pro-
motion of prosociality and that meditation is the means to achieve it. is is a rather inaccurate understanding
of a rich and plural religious tradition. Leading academics of South Asian religions have highlighted the Western
misreading and reconstruction of Buddhism as a rational form of inquiry focused on meditation, which has been
uncritically accepted by psychology researchers56. For example, such authors highlight that for most forms of
Buddhism, it is not meditation but the study of sacred scriptures that is the most valued means to achieve deep
personal transformation. Other scholars have also cast a critical light upon the denition of mindfulness as a
process of paying attention, in the present moment and non-judgmentally57, regarding it as something dierent
from what the Buddha scriptures describe – less than a form of attention or awareness to one’s thoughts, feelings
and sensations, but rather a reection upon the impermanence of all things, starting with ones body58.
is is not the place to dwell upon the lack of agreement between psychology and the Eastern spiritual tradi-
tions on what meditation is and its precise role in eecting personal change. We simply wish to point out the con-
ceptual mist which comes across in the reports we examined, either in the lack of an overall coherent theoretical
framework, or even the lack of an attempt to theorise about how meditation works. Most of the reports focus on
meditation as a tool that can be used for various purposes, such as the cure of social isolation13. Only rarely do
studies try to look at underpinning mechanisms, such as the role of meditation in increasing empathic accuracy43
or in decreasing psychological stress41. However, the results either failed to show that the mechanism in question
played any signicant role or it only worked partially (reducing psychological distress when dealing with preju-
dice regarding homeless but not Black people)41.
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
www.nature.com/scientificreports/
8
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
e lack of a clear attempt to address underpinning mechanisms of meditation makes the literature more
vulnerable to implicit magical beliefs about the power of Eastern contemplative techniques, even when adapted
into medical and mental health settings. Previous systematic reviews and meta-analyses have voiced parallel
concerns. For example, a recent review of LKM and CM found these techniques ill-dened and lacking stand-
ardised protocols19. Also, the majority of meta-analyses on the benets of meditation acknowledge the perva-
sive methodological shortcomings of the studies analysed, but still suggest that such results are ‘encouraging’ or
‘promising’20,21,26,5962. Unfortunately, such note of optimism is premature in what concerns the literature on the
prosocial eects of meditation. We need new studies that take seriously the potential biases and methodological
limitations we highlight above, as well as providing a clear theoretical grounding, including the role of potential
psychological processes underpinning the prosocial eects of meditation.
Conclusion: Can Meditation Make the World a Better Place? All world religions promise that the
world would change for the better if only people were to follow its rules and practices. e popularisation of
meditation techniques in a secular format is oering the hope of a better self and a better world to many. In the
early 1970s, Transcendental Meditation conveyed this message openly, announcing that the rising number of
individuals practising this technique would lead to world peace in the short term63. Psychologists using mind-
fulness or other Buddhism-derived meditation techniques are now advancing similar ideas about the prosocial
eects of meditation. In the foreword to the Mindfulness Initiative UK (2015) report launched at the British
Parliament, Kabat-Zinn wrote of the profound potential of meditation to bring about societal changes. Despite
these high hopes, our analysis suggests that meditating is likely to have a positive, but still relatively limited eect
in making individuals feel or act in a substantially more socially connected, or less aggressive and prejudiced way.
Compared to doing no new emotionally engaging activity, it might make one feel moderately more compassion-
ate or empathic, but our ndings suggest that these eects may be, at least in part, the result of methodological
frailties, such as biases introduced by the meditation teacher, the type of control group used and the beliefs and
expectations of participants about the power of meditation.
is, of course, does not invalidate Buddhist or other religions’ claims about the moral value and eventually
life changing potential of its beliefs and practices. However, the adaptation of spiritual practices into the lab suf-
fers from methodological weaknesses and is partly immersed in theoretical mist. Before good research can be
conducted on the prosocial eects of meditation, these problems need to be addressed.
References
1. Williamson, M. No title. at https://mobile.twitter.com/marwilliamson/status/269092321100972032 (2012).
2. Bainbridge, W. & Jacson, D. In e social impact of new religious movements (ed. Wilson, B.) (e Unication eological Seminary, 1981).
3. Harris, S. Waing up: searching for spirituality without religion. (Penguin/andom House, 2014).
4. abat-Zinn, J. An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness
meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results. Gen. Hosp. Psychiatry 4, 33–47 (1982).
5. Teasdale, J. D. et al. Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. J. Consult. Clin.
Psychol. 68, 615–623 (2000).
6. Tan, C. M. Search inside yourself: The unexpected path to achieving success, happiness (and world peace). (Harper Collins
Publishers, 2012).
7. Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., iyonaga, A., Wong, L. & Gelfand, L. Examining the protective eects of mindfulness training on woring
memory capacity and aective experience. Emotion 10, 54–64 (2010).
8. Monteiro, L. M., Musten, . F. & Compson, J. Traditional and contemporary mindfulness: Finding the middle path in the tangle of
concerns. Mindfulness (N. Y). 6, 1–13 (2015).
9. icard, M. A sniper’s mindfulness. at http://www.matthieuricard.org/en/blog/posts/a-sniper-s-mindfulness (2009).
10. Haegelin, J. et al. Eects of group practice of the Transcendental Meditation program on preventing violent crime in Washington,
D.C.: esults of the National Demonstration Project, June–July 1993. Soc. Indic. Res. 47, 153–201 (1999).
11. Condon, P., Desbordes, G., Miller, W. B. & DeSteno, D. Meditation increases compassionate responses to suering. Psychol. Sci. 24,
2125–7 (2013).
12. Jazaieri, H. et al. Enhancing compassion: A randomized controlled trial of a compassion cultivation training program. J. Happine ss
Stud. 14, 1113–1126 (2013).
13. Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M. & Gross, J. J. Loving-indness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion 8, 720–724 (2008).
14. Weng, H. Y. et al . Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suering. Psychol. Sci. 24, 1171–80 (2013).
15. Wisner, B. L., Jones, B. & Gwin, D. School-based meditation practices for adolescents: A resource for strengthening self-regulation,
emotional coping, and self-esteem. Child. Sch. 32, 150–159 (2010).
16. Perelman, A. M. et al. Meditation in a deep south prison: A longitudinal study of the eects of Vipassana. J. Oender Rehabil. 51,
176–198 (2012).
17. Ga lante, J., Galante, I., Beers, M. & Gallacher, J. Eect of indness-based meditation on health and well-being: a systematic review
and meta-analysis. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 82, 1101–1114 (2014).
18. Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P. & Hinton, D. E. Loving- indness and compassion meditation: Potential for psy- chological
interventions. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 31, 1126–1132 (2011).
19. Shonin, E., Gordon, W. V & Compare, A. Buddhist-derived loving-indness and compassion meditation for the treatment of
psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness (N . Y). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-014-0368-1 (2014).
20. Goyal, M. et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern.
Med. 174, 357–68 (2014).
21. Sedlmeier, P. et al. e psychological eects of meditation: A meta-analysis. Psychol. Bull. 138, 1139–1171 (2012).
22. Creswell, J. D., Pacilio, L. E., Lindsay, E. . & Brown, . W. Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and
neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology 44, 1–12 (2014).
23. Capsi, O. & Burleson, . O. Methodological challenges in meditation research. Adv. Mind Body Med. 21, 4–11 (2005).
24. Oman, D., Thoresen, C. E. & Hedberg, J. Does passage meditation foster compassionate love among health professionals?: a
randomised trial. Ment. Health. Relig. Cult. 13, 129–154 (2010).
25. Oman, D., Shapiro, S. L., oresen, C. E., Plante, T. G. & Flinders, T. Meditation lowers stress and supports forgiveness among
college students: a randomized controlled trial. J Am. Coll. Health 56, 569–578 (2008).
26. Chiesa, A. & Serretti, A. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-analysis.
J. Altern. Complement. Med. 15, 593–600 (2009).
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
www.nature.com/scientificreports/
9
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
27. essel, . P. C. & Haan, E. H. F. Implicit learning in memory rehabilitation: A meta-analysis on errorless learning and vanishing cues
methods. J. Clin. Exeperimental Neuropsychol. 25, 805–814 (2003).
28. Hoppenbrouwers, S. S., Bulten, B. H. & Brazil, I. A. Psychological bulletin parsing fear: A reassessment of the evidence for fear decits
in psychopathy parsing fear: A reassessment of the evidence for fear decits in psychopathy. Psychol. Bull. Avance onl, 1–29 (2016).
29. osenberg, M. S., Adams, D. C. & Gurevitch, J. MetaWin: Statistical soware for meta-analysis. (Sinauer Associates, 2000).
30. Hedges, L. V & Olin, I. Statistical methods for meta-analysis. (Academic Press, 1985).
31. osenthal, . e ‘le drawer problem’ and tolerance for null results. Psychol. Bull. 638–641 (1979).
32. Higgins, J. P. T. et al. e Cochrane Collaboration’s tool for assessing ris of bias in randomised trials. Bmj 343, d5928–d5928 (2011).
33. Owens, D. . et al. AHQ series paper 5: Grading the strength of a body of evidence when comparing medical interventions -
Agency for Healthcare esearch and Quality and the Eective Health-Care Program. J. Clin. Epidemiol. 63, 513–523 (2010).
34. obins, C., eng, S.-L., Eblad, A. & Brantley, J. Eects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on emotional experience and
expression: A randomized controlled trial. J. Clin. Psychol. 68, 117–31 (2012).
35. Arch, J. J. et al. Self-compassion training modulates alpha-amylase, heart rate variablity, and subjective responses to social evaluative
threat in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology 42, 49–58 (2014).
36. emeny, M. E. et al. Contemplative/emotion training reduces negative emotional behavior and promotes prosocial responses.
Emotion 12, 338–350 (2012).
37. Smeets, E., Ne, ., Alberts, H. & Peters, M. Meeting suering with indness: Eects of a brief self-compassion intervention for
female college students. J. Clin. Psychol. 70, 794–807 (2014).
38. Wallmar, E., Safarzadeh, ., Dauantaite, D. & Maddux, . E. Promoting altruism through meditation: An 8-wee randomized
controlled pilot study. Mindfulness (N. Y). 4, 223–234 (2013).
39. Yusainy, C. & Lawrence, C. Brief mindfulness induction could reduce aggression aer depletion. Conscious. Cogn. 33C, 125–134
(2015).
40. osenberg, E. L. et al. Intensive meditation training inuences emotional responses to suering. Emotion 15, 775–90 (2015).
41. ang, Y., Gray, J. . & Dovidio, J. F. e nondiscriminating heart: lovingindness meditation training decreases implicit intergroup
bias. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 143, 1306–13 (2014).
42. Heppner, W. L. et al. Mindfulness as a means of reducing aggressive behavior: Dispositional and situational evidence. Aggress. Behav.
34, 486–496 (2008).
43. Lim, D., Condon, P. & Desteno, D. Mindfulness and compassion: An examination of mechanism and scalability. PLoS One 10, 1–9
(2015).
44. Pars, S., Birtel, M. D. & Crisp, . J. Evidence that a brief meditation exercise can reduce prejudice toward homeless people. Soc.
Psychol. (Gott). https://doi.org/10.1027/1864-9335/a000212 (2014).
45. amsey, A. T. & Jones, E. E. Minding the interpersonal gap: Mindfulness-based interventions in the prevention of ostracism.
Conscious. Cogn. 31, 24–34 (2015).
46. Tan, L. B. G., Lo, B. C. Y. & Macrae, C. N. Brief mindfulness meditation improves mental state attribution and empathizing. PLoS
One 9, e110510 (2014).
47. Ne, . D. & Germer, C. . A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self-compassion program. J. Clin. Psychol.
69, 28–44 (2013).
48. osenthal, . e eect of the experimenter on the results of psychological research. J. Marit. Psychol. Assoc. 13, 1–39 (1964).
49. Doyen, S., lein, O., Pichon, C.-L. & Cleermans, A. Behavioural priming: It’s all in the mind, but whose mind? PLoS One 7, e28081
(2012).
50. Bargh, J. A., Chen, M. & Burrows, L. Automaticity of social behaviour: direct eects of trait construct and stereotype-activation on
action. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 71, 230–244 (1996).
51. Bunting, M. Why we will come to see mindfulness as mandatory. The Guardian. at http://www.theguardian.com/
commentisfree/2014/may/06/mindfulness-hospitals-schools (2014).
52. Devilly, G. J. & Borovec, T. D. Psychometric properties of the credibility/expectancy questionnaire. J. Behav. Exp. Psychiatry 31,
73–86 (2000).
53. Smith, J. Psychotherapeutic eects of Transcendental Meditation with controls for expectation of relief and daily sitting. J. Consult.
Clin. Psychol. 44, 630–637 (1976).
54. aptchu, T. J. Eect of interpretive bias on research evidence. BMJ Br. Med. J. 326, 1453–1455 (2003).
55. Colquhoun, D. An investigation of the false discovery rate and the misinterpretation of P values. R. Soc. Open Sci. 1, 140261 (2014).
56. Lopez, D. Buddhism and science: A guide for the perplexed. (University of Chicago Press, 2008).
57. abat-Zinn, J. Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. (Hyperion Press, 1994).
58. Brazier, D. A popular misconception. Self Soc. 43, 21–29 (2015).
59. Cavanagh, ., Strauss, C., Forder, L. & Jones, F. Can mindfulness and acceptance be learnt by self-help?: A systematic review and
meta-analysis of mindfulness and acceptance-based self-help interventions. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 34, 118–129 (2014).
60. Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S. & Walach, H. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benets: A meta-analysis. J.
Psychosom. Res. 57, 35–43 (2004).
61. Fjorbac, L. O. & Walach, H. Meditation based therapies—A systematic review and some critical observations. Religions 3, 1–18
(2012).
62. Mars, T. S. & Abbey, H. Mindfulness meditation practise as a healthcare intervention: A systematic review. Int. J. Osteopath. Med. 13,
56–66 (2010).
63. Farias, M. & Wiholm, C. e buddha pill. (Watins Publishing, 2015).
64. Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzla, J., Altman, D. G. & e PISMA Group. Preferred eporting Items for Systematic eviews and
Meta-Analyses: e PISMA Statement. PLoS Med 6(6), e1000097, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed1000097 (2009).
Acknowledgements
e authors are grateful to Mathilde Hernu and Karolina Rokita for their assistance with the literature search and
review, and to Mansur Lalljee for his insightful comments on a dra of this manuscript.
Author Contributions
M.F. wrote the introduction and discussion. U.K. and I.B. conducted the analysis. U.K. prepared the gure and
tables, and wrote the methods, results and discussion. All authors reviewed the manuscript.
Additional Information
Supplementary information accompanies this paper at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z.
Competing Interests: e authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and
institutional aliations.
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
www.nature.com/scientificreports/
10
SCIENTIFIC REPORts | (2018) 8:2403 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or
format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Cre-
ative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. e images or other third party material in this
article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the
material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not per-
mitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the
copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
© e Author(s) 2018
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Terms and Conditions
Springer Nature journal content, brought to you courtesy of Springer Nature Customer Service Center GmbH (“Springer Nature”).
Springer Nature supports a reasonable amount of sharing of research papers by authors, subscribers and authorised users (“Users”), for small-
scale personal, non-commercial use provided that all copyright, trade and service marks and other proprietary notices are maintained. By
accessing, sharing, receiving or otherwise using the Springer Nature journal content you agree to these terms of use (“Terms”). For these
purposes, Springer Nature considers academic use (by researchers and students) to be non-commercial.
These Terms are supplementary and will apply in addition to any applicable website terms and conditions, a relevant site licence or a personal
subscription. These Terms will prevail over any conflict or ambiguity with regards to the relevant terms, a site licence or a personal subscription
(to the extent of the conflict or ambiguity only). For Creative Commons-licensed articles, the terms of the Creative Commons license used will
apply.
We collect and use personal data to provide access to the Springer Nature journal content. We may also use these personal data internally within
ResearchGate and Springer Nature and as agreed share it, in an anonymised way, for purposes of tracking, analysis and reporting. We will not
otherwise disclose your personal data outside the ResearchGate or the Springer Nature group of companies unless we have your permission as
detailed in the Privacy Policy.
While Users may use the Springer Nature journal content for small scale, personal non-commercial use, it is important to note that Users may
not:
use such content for the purpose of providing other users with access on a regular or large scale basis or as a means to circumvent access
control;
use such content where to do so would be considered a criminal or statutory offence in any jurisdiction, or gives rise to civil liability, or is
otherwise unlawful;
falsely or misleadingly imply or suggest endorsement, approval , sponsorship, or association unless explicitly agreed to by Springer Nature in
writing;
use bots or other automated methods to access the content or redirect messages
override any security feature or exclusionary protocol; or
share the content in order to create substitute for Springer Nature products or services or a systematic database of Springer Nature journal
content.
In line with the restriction against commercial use, Springer Nature does not permit the creation of a product or service that creates revenue,
royalties, rent or income from our content or its inclusion as part of a paid for service or for other commercial gain. Springer Nature journal
content cannot be used for inter-library loans and librarians may not upload Springer Nature journal content on a large scale into their, or any
other, institutional repository.
These terms of use are reviewed regularly and may be amended at any time. Springer Nature is not obligated to publish any information or
content on this website and may remove it or features or functionality at our sole discretion, at any time with or without notice. Springer Nature
may revoke this licence to you at any time and remove access to any copies of the Springer Nature journal content which have been saved.
To the fullest extent permitted by law, Springer Nature makes no warranties, representations or guarantees to Users, either express or implied
with respect to the Springer nature journal content and all parties disclaim and waive any implied warranties or warranties imposed by law,
including merchantability or fitness for any particular purpose.
Please note that these rights do not automatically extend to content, data or other material published by Springer Nature that may be licensed
from third parties.
If you would like to use or distribute our Springer Nature journal content to a wider audience or on a regular basis or in any other manner not
expressly permitted by these Terms, please contact Springer Nature at
onlineservice@springernature.com

Supplementary resource (1)

... Meta-analytical evidence on the link between mindfulness and prosocial behavior reported mixed findings (Kreplin et al., 2018;Luberto et al., 2018;Donald et al., 2019;Berry et al., 2020). Luberto et al. (2018) showed that MM-based interventions ...
... This last pattern was corroborated by another meta-analysis, which highlighted that MM without explicit ethics-based instructions promoted compassionate (but not instrumental or generous) helping behavior (Berry et al., 2020). Despite these positive findings, Kreplin et al. (2018) showed that the effects of MM on prosocial behavior were limited, also highlighting the weak methodological quality of most of the reviewed studies (61%). The authors found a moderate increase in compassion and empathic behavior following MM, but no effects on the other considered behaviors (aggression, connectedness, and prejudice) (Kreplin et al., 2018). ...
... Despite these positive findings, Kreplin et al. (2018) showed that the effects of MM on prosocial behavior were limited, also highlighting the weak methodological quality of most of the reviewed studies (61%). The authors found a moderate increase in compassion and empathic behavior following MM, but no effects on the other considered behaviors (aggression, connectedness, and prejudice) (Kreplin et al., 2018). Furthermore, other studies found evidence of a negative impact of mindfulness on prosociality (Chen and Jordan, 2020;Guo et al., 2021;Hafenbrack et al., 2021;Poulin et al., 2021). ...
Full-text available
Article
This perspective article provides an overview of the impact of mindfulness meditation (MM) on social and moral behavior. In mindfulness research, prosocial behavior has been operationalized as helping behavior, altruistic redistribution of funds, reparative behavior, or monetary donation. Studies concerning moral behavior are still scarce. Despite inconsistent evidence, several studies found a beneficial effect of mindfulness on prosocial outcomes (i.e., a higher propensity to spend or give away money for the sake of other individuals). However, since the employed tasks were reward-based, participants' decisions also directly affected their own payoff by reducing it. Crucially, MM also affects self-control circuitry and reduces reward-seeking behaviors and reward salience by making rewards less tempting. We have discussed evidence suggesting how challenging it may be to dissociate the specific weight of enhanced other-oriented motivation from one of the decreased monetary reward salience in explaining meditators' behavior. Future higher-quality studies are needed to address this open issue.
... The results imply that not only do we need to continue to be cautious in relying on self-report measures of mindfulness, as previously warned (Baer, 2018;Baer, et al. 2019;Grossman, 2011;Kim et al., 2016), including concern for expectancy effects (Doyen et al., 2012;Goyal et al., 2014;Kreplin et al., 2018), but we also need to be aware that such effects can be large and extend from self-reports of mindfulness to self-reports of stress and occur with the mere mention of "mindfulness" in the context of one brief session. Going forward, research involving mindfulness interventions, especially brief ones, could be improved by the following: (1) the inclusion of expectations assessment (e.g., a specific measure of expectations could be created for MBPs), (2) the provision of objective measures alongside self-report measures (e.g., cognitive tasks of attentions and/or emotional habituation), and (3) systematic reviews and meta-analyses of mindfulness interventions should bear the prior two points in mind when evaluating mindfulness research. ...
... For example, the experimenter's mood and knowledge of the hypothesis might have been picked up on by the different groups, especially with Study 2 and the positive and negative information. Experimenter bias is even more important to consider if the research is led by a researcher who desires a positive outcome due to their own beliefs in the intervention, for example if a researcher who practices mindfulness also designs the study, delivers the intervention, collects and analyses the data (Kreplin et al., 2018). Gilder and Heerey (2018) specifically found that a person's prior beliefs can shape and influence behaviour in the interaction partner. ...
Full-text available
Article
The increasing popularity of mindfulness practices has seen an accompanying growth in research that includes the development of several self‐report mindfulness measures. However, while caution has been recommended in the use of these self‐reports, there has been little direct assessment of their susceptibility to expectancy effects. This research aimed at understanding whether expectancy effects exist for self‐reported mindfulness measures (Study 1; n = 60), and how expectancy effects might manifest in relation to positive and negative expectancy (Study 2; n = 60). The first study manipulated whether (i) the task (jigsaws) was labelled as “mindfulness,” and (ii) whether “authentic” mindfulness instructions were given. Given any increases in self‐reported mindfulness might potentially occur due to engaging in the mindful and attentionally demanding task, the second study manipulated whether the introduction placed mindfulness in a positive or negative context. A pre‐/post‐test design was employed using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire and Applied Mindfulness Process Scale self‐report measures for mindfulness and the Perceived Stress Scale for well‐being. The findings revealed expectancy effects for simply using the term mindfulness and that the direction of effects could be manipulated. This research suggests that researchers need to be cautious in evaluating self‐reports of mindfulness practice due to expectancy effects, especially in the context of brief interventions without objective measures.
... The results identified were compared with the blank control or wait-list group, and improvements of empathy, compassion, and prosocial behaviors after meditation intervention are small to moderate. Another research by Kreplin et al. (2018) examining meditation interventions on prosociality in healthy adults has shown that the effect of meditation intervention on compassion and empathy is significant. Mindfulnessbased interventions (MBIs) are important part of meditation. ...
... First, meta-analysis was performed on all MBI studies applied to increasing empathy in healthy populations. Compared with the control group, MBIs had a significant improvement in empathy in healthy adults, consistent with the results of Kreplin et al. (2018) and Luberto et al. (2018). Second, the results of the subgroup analysis showed that the intervention dose affects the effectiveness of the treatment, with better outcomes for interventions over 24 h. ...
Full-text available
Article
Empathy is essential for human survival and social interaction. Although mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been used to improve empathy in healthy populations, its therapeutic efficacy remains unknown. This study aims to investigate the therapeutic effects of MBIs on empathy in a healthy population and the potential factors affecting the efficacy of MBIs. The literature search focused on PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, and CNKI from inception to September 2022. Randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental studies reporting the effects of using MBIs on empathy in healthy populations were included. A total of 13 studies were included in this review. Results of the meta-analysis showed that MBIs improved empathy (SMD, 0.372, 95% CI, 0.164–0.579, p = 0.001) in the healthy population compared with that in the control group. Moreover, results of the subgroup analysis showed that intervention dose (over 24 h vs. under 24 h), format (online vs. offline), and types (different types) were important factors affecting treatment outcomes. This comprehensive review suggests that MBIs are effective treatment for empathy in healthy population. Future research should markedly focus on large-sample, rigorously designed experiments to explore the long-term effects of MBIs on empathy and to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of MBIs. This study provides a reference for the daily application of MBIs.
... However, there is also a growing recognition of the limits of mindfulness, which suggests that authors might be over-claiming early successes, with effect sizes no higher than other traditional behavioural or cognitive-behavioural therapies (Kersemaekers et al., 2018, p. 2). Others have pointed to the use of inadequate methodological approaches in mindfulness research (e.g., Goldberg et al., 2017;Van Dam et al., 2018) and a propensity to over-state positive effects on pro-social and pro-environmental behaviours (Geiger et al., 2018;Kreplin et al., 2018). In relation to our focus in this paper, there also appears to be an evidence gap in the study of workplace mindfulness, which needs addressing through new forms of intervention and the testing of more specific, targeted and contextualised programmes . ...
Full-text available
Article
This paper explores the impacts of the Mindfulness-Based Behavioural Insights and Decision-Making (MBBI) programme. Combining mindfulness with behavioural insights instruction, the authors have developed the MBBI programme through a series of iterative trials over the last ten years. In addition to fusing mindfulness and behavioural insights, this programme also draws on the theories of autopoiesis, anticipatory systems, the predictive brain and constructed emotions, which all challenge the common assumption that behavioural and emotional responses are automatic (triggered by given stimuli and not open to change through self-reflection). The paper explores the use of the MBBI in the Welsh Civil Service. Employing evidence from in-depth interviews with participants and a SenseMaker analysis, it rethinks the role of mindfulness at work, repurposes the application of behavioural insights training toward a more ethical and systemic direction, and develops a reflective approach to capability building amongst public servants.
... Second, a meta-analysis found that the length of intervention and time spent on practice did not influence the emotions felt (Zeng et al., 2015), so we would not expect a distortion in emotional outcomes due to the short length of practice. Finally, brief interventions have been defended as more adequate settings to test moderating mechanisms (Heppner & Shirk, 2018;Kreplin et al., 2018). ...
Full-text available
Article
Our understanding of the emotions elicited by loving-kindness meditation (LKM) at early stages of practice is limited, despite the influence that these emotions may have on later engagement. Past work suggests that LKM may elicit emotional ambivalence at early stages of the practice, but it is still unclear whether the content of LKM activates this ambivalence and who is more likely to experience it. Given the specific content of LKM, we defend that this meditation is likely to elicit empathetic emotions, both positive (compassion and gratitude) and negative (guilt), to a greater extent than an active control. Guilt is likely to be elicited by memories of incidents where naïve meditators were not able to experience compassion and/or by the difficulties in sending compassionate love to disliked others during the meditation. Furthermore, individuals with greater self-discrepancy and lower self-esteem are more likely to experience guilt. These hypotheses were tested in two experimental studies with community and student samples (n = 55 and n = 33, respectively) and This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
... Recent years have seen an increase in popular interest in the benefits of mindfulness. As a personality trait, mindfulness refers to attending to the present moment experience without judging occurring feelings or thoughts (Bishop et al., 2006), and has been associated with prosocial behaviors and traits (Donald et al., 2019): Multiple psychometric studies have shown that trait mindfulness is correlated with agreeableness (Thompson and Waltz, 2007), empathy (Dekeyser et al., 2008), and conscientiousness (Thompson and Waltz, 2007;Giluk, 2009); and mindfulness-based interventions and training programs are found to effectively enhance compassion and empathy (Kreplin et al., 2018;Campos et al., 2019). ...
Full-text available
Article
In recent years, the possible benefits of mindfulness meditation have sparked much public and academic interest. Mindfulness emphasizes cultivating awareness of our immediate experience and has been associated with compassion, empathy, and various other prosocial traits. However, neurobiological evidence pertaining to the prosocial benefits of mindfulness in social settings is sparse. In this study, we investigate neural correlates of trait mindful awareness during naturalistic dyadic interactions, using both intra-brain and inter-brain measures. We used the Muse headset, a portable electroencephalogram (EEG) device often used to support mindfulness meditation, to record brain activity from dyads as they engaged in naturalistic face-to-face interactions in a museum setting. While we did not replicate prior laboratory-based findings linking trait mindfulness to individual brain responses (N = 379 individuals), self-reported mindful awareness did predict dyadic inter-brain synchrony, in theta (~5–8 Hz) and beta frequencies (~26-27 Hz; N = 62 dyads). These findings underscore the importance of conducting social neuroscience research in ecological settings to enrich our understanding of how (multi-brain) neural correlates of social traits such as mindful awareness manifest during social interaction, while raising critical practical considerations regarding the viability of commercially available EEG systems.
Chapter
Several noninvasive neurostimulation brain interventions have been proposed for the treatment of anxiety disorders. The chapter surveys neurostimulation interventions such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), deep brain stimulation (DBS), vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), trigeminal nerve stimulation (TNS), electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and others. Evidence-based talk therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance-based therapy (ACT) are evaluated. Evidence for therapeutic components such as mindfulness and exposure are also assessed.
Full-text available
Article
This article aims to address the possible problems of the polysemy of the term “spirituality” as it has been used in the health area. To this end, we divide this study into three parts. In the first part, we present the definitions of “spirituality” in the human sciences, its historical relationship with Christian theology, and its recent re-signification by the New Age movement. Next, we demonstrate how most of the productions in the health area adopt a reified and essentialized conception of spirituality. In the third section, we discuss the main weaknesses identified in the study. The term spirituality is being used in the medical sciences to allow religion to enter its spaces, including public policies, although secularized. We draw a parallel with the phenomenology of religion to demonstrate the consequences of a misconceived category in the long run. Finally, we identified an overvaluation of the psychological dimension of spirituality to the detriment of the moral and ritual dimensions.
Full-text available
Article
Positive education has gained increased interest and attention in the last decade. Born as an applied movement within positive psychology, positive education aims to introduce a positive approach to education to aid schools in promoting happiness , improving learning and performance, and reducing mental health problems among children and adolescents. Whereas relatively new, positive education has made notable progress and bears enormous potential. However, the movement still presents vulnerabilities and limitations that need addressing. With a focus on critical and supporting literature, this integrative review explores and brings together some of the most pressing challenges that positive education faces today. Tackling these vulnerabilities would positively contribute to the ongoing advancement of the movement.
Full-text available
Article
Meditation practices purportedly help people develop focused and sustained attention, cultivate feelings of compassionate concern for self and others, and strengthen motivation to help others who are in need. We examined the impact of 3 months of intensive meditative training on emotional responses to scenes of human suffering. Sixty participants were assigned randomly to either a 3-month intensive meditation retreat or a wait-list control group. Training consisted of daily practice in techniques designed to improve attention and enhance compassionate regard for others. Participants viewed film scenes depicting human suffering at pre- and posttraining laboratory assessments, during which both facial and subjective measures of emotion were collected. At postassessment, training group participants were more likely than controls to show facial displays of sadness. Trainees also showed fewer facial displays of rejection emotions (anger, contempt, disgust). The groups did not differ on the likelihood or frequency of showing these emotions prior to training. Self-reported sympathy-but not sadness or distress-predicted sad behavior and inversely predicted displays of rejection emotions in trainees only. These results suggest that intensive meditation training encourages emotional responses to suffering characterized by enhanced sympathetic concern for, and reduced aversion to, the suffering of others. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
Article
Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by interpersonal manipulation and callousness, and reckless and impulsive antisocial behavior. It is often seen as a disorder in which profound emotional disturbances lead to antisocial behavior. A lack of fear in particular has been proposed as an etiologically salient factor. In this review, we employ a conceptual model in which fear is parsed into separate subcomponents. Important historical conceptualizations of psychopathy, the neuroscientific and empirical evidence for fear deficits in psychopathy are compared against this model. The empirical evidence is also subjected to a meta-analysis. We conclude that most studies have used the term "fear" generically, amassing different methods and levels of measurement under the umbrella term "fear." Unlike earlier claims that psychopathy is related to general fearlessness, we show there is evidence that psychopathic individuals have deficits in threat detection and responsivity, but that the evidence for reduced subjective experience of fear in psychopathy is far less compelling. (PsycINFO Database Record
Article
Recent research has shown that integrating social and clinical psychological perspectives can be effective when designing prejudice-interventions, with psychotherapeutic techniques successful at tackling anxiety in intergroup contexts. This research tests whether a single, brief loving-kindness meditation intervention, without containing any reference to the intergroup context, could reduce prejudice. This exercise was selected for its proven positive effects on mental and physical health. We observed that participants who took part in two variations of this meditation exercise (one involving a stranger, the other a homeless person) reported reduced intergroup anxiety, as well as more positive explicit attitudes, and enhanced future contact intentions. We conclude that combining approaches in intergroup relations and psychotherapy could be beneficial to design new interventions to combat prejudice and discrimination.
Article
In this critical article, mindfulness as understood in contemporary psychological dialogue and mindfulness in Buddhism are distinguished. Mindfulness is distinct from awareness and from consciousness, these latter not being factors of enlightenment. Their role in Buddhist faith and practice is explained. The this-worldly, hedonistic, here-and-now spirit of our times is contrasted with the transcendental, renunciant, eternity-oriented perspective of Buddhism. Such a spiritual refuge, once established, does not require ceaseless awareness or endless consciousness. The idea of dwelling in the here-and-now is examined and put in context. The value of the there-and-then, the unconscious, and longer-term perspectives is also reasserted.