Meditating Every Day Doesn't Make You a Better Person

Meditation has been credited with lowering stress, encouraging compassion and generally making us all around better people. “If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation,” says a quote attributed to the Dalai Lama, “the world will be without violence within one generation.”

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European researchers looked into whether these claims about meditation are supported by scientific evidence. Most studies of meditation have focused on its psychological and physical benefits. This time, a group of scientists wanted to know whether the activity could be used to foster compassion, altruism and social connections.

2_6_2017_meditation Mass meditation at a festival in Los Angeles. A new study says the activity does not make you a better person. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

The purpose of the study goes beyond debunking or bolstering claims. As the researchers write in their paper, if widespread meditation really could curb—or end—violence, then the act of meditating could be used to diffuse conflict in schools, prisons and possibly even politics. 

Meditation typically involves focusing on your breathing or thoughts in a quiet location without outside distraction. Researchers at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, Massey University in New Zealand, and Radboud University in the Netherlands, reviewed more than 20 studies that researched whether this practice had any bearing on mindfulness, kindness or positive social sentiments.

They found that meditation did not significantly reduce aggressive or prejudice behaviors. Further, the practice didn’t help make people more socially connected. The team determined that most of the studies had weak methodologies. Specifically they found that studies on which the meditation teacher was a co-author produced more positive results, hinting at biases and weaknesses in the research.

“None of this, of course, invalidates Buddhism or other religions' claims about the moral value and eventually life changing potential of its beliefs and practices,” said study co-author Miguel Farias of Coventry University in a statement. “But our research findings are a far cry from many popular claims made by meditators and some psychologists.”

They note that studies that eliminate researcher bias are needed in order to obtain a true look at the benefits of meditation.

"To understand the true impact of meditation on people's feelings and behavior further we first need to address the methodological weaknesses we uncovered—starting with the high expectations researchers might have about the power of meditation," Farias said in a statement.

While the National Institutes of Health does not advise foregoing traditional medical assistance, the organization does indicate meditation could be used to lower blood pressure and help manage pain. The NIH is currently funding studies on using the practice to deal with headaches, stress reduction and post traumatic stress disorder.