rowyourboat wrote:Hello Michael,
Thanks for that. Incidentally wanted to ask you how you feel this research differs from what has been done in this field before?
Thank you for this question. I am more than happy to answer =)
The basis of this research (and basically any research) are the gaps and limitations in the literature to date.
Firstly, the absence of a clear and consistent definition of meditation has critically restricted prior research and the interpretation of results. Past research has either neglected to operationalise meditation practice into key measurable components, or has considered just one of these components in isolation (e.g., either length or frequency of practice). Conceptually, the term meditation in its typical use refers to an extremely wide range of practices (Lutz et al., 2007) and thus, it is difficult to make general conclusions about the effects or processes of meditation practice when specific techniques vary widely. However, to date, very little research has attempted to compare meditation practices to explore differential impacts on outcome variables. Therefore, one of the key strengths of the present research is the measurement of multiple components of meditation practice (including style or form of practice) and the investigation of each component’s unique role in predicting various outcome variables. As a behaviour, several basic behavioural measurements will be used to index meditation practice: frequency, intensity, proficiency, and duration as well as the nominal assessment of the participants’ style/form of meditation practice (Martin & Bateson, 1993). In exploring differences between the various styles/forms of practice, the current approach is to begin at the broadest level assuming meditation practices share certain core elements and then measure practice in purely behavioural terms, and finally, explore differences between different styles/forms of meditation and their relationship with predicted outcome variables as well as potential mediators.
Prior research has also tended to neglect the outcomes of meditation practice that are proposed by the contemplative teachings in which meditation practices have their origin; and this is particularly the case concerning positive outcomes. As a result, research has largely focused on the effect of meditation on negative psychological outcomes reflecting clinical symptomatology (i.e., anxiety and stress). This reflects a broader issue in meditation research in which researchers have attempted to remove meditation from its original contexts and traditions. As a result, the majority of research has not been guided by or established in theoretical formulations of mediation. Therefore, the philosophical bases of meditation have not been well linked with outcome measures and, thus, research to date has not been theory-driven and has consequently neglected important outcomes proposed by meditation teachings as central intended effects of practice. For example, outcomes such as happiness, life satisfaction, and personal maturity have not been investigated in prior research; and only one or two studies to date have included variables measuring emotional stability/equanimity and self-actualisation. The present research overcomes this by reviewing primary meditation teachings and recent theoretical formulations to determine intended effects and examining these as outcome variables.
In addition, almost no research to date has investigated potential mechanisms of the observed/proposed outcomes of meditation practice. Therefore, it is still unclear what processes are responsible for the proposed relationship between meditation practices and positive outcomes. The present research will overcome this limitation by examining the role of several theoretically derived variables in mediating the relationship between meditation practice and potential outcomes. To do this, structural equation modelling will be used to test mindfulness, transcendence, and insight as meditational mechanisms for the proposed outcomes.
Finally, in exploring effects of meditation, prior research has often compared a group of novel participants taught to practice a particular meditation technique over a limited time (often a period of weeks) with a comparison or control group. However, this approach has resulted in small sample sizes and, more importantly, does not represent an authentic or even optimum method of meditation training. In fact, many meditation techniques take months or even years of training to master and success is almost always achieved “through great effort” (The Upanishads: A New Translation, 1986, p. 84). Therefore, there may exist a long ‘learning period’ in meditation where the practice itself is mastered before any positive effects emerge (Compton & Becker, 1983). Furthermore, even if the technique can be mastered relatively quickly, there is little basis, if any, for expecting positive effects in the short term. In fact, there are almost no claims of short-term positive benefits anywhere in original meditation teachings and some teachings even warn newcomers to expect great difficulties when they begin meditation training (Ming Zhen Shakya, 2004). To overcome these limitations, the present research will seek to recruit a large sample of participants with established meditation practices from a variety of sources attempting to sample across all levels of proficiency to capture the full spectrum of meditation experience and expertise.