There are a lot of scientific studies on the effects of meditation. Today we speak with Katherine MacLean about one of the good ones — and why it’s good.
We’ve all seen the claims of the amazing benefits of meditation. Some of these are legitimate studies, others are simply disingenuous hooks to a hefty price tag. One of the traits of our modern culture is a desire to validate our practice or ideological view with the support of science. Often this can lend credence to impressions we already have, as anecdotes become empirical evidence, leading eventually to hard evidence from repeatable, properly controlled scientific studies.
But not all of us are scientists. Our experience with the scientific method as a way of discerning fact from fiction, truth from misperception, ends with high school biology. So, how do we do a little bit of diligence in discerning the harmful claims of pseudo-science, from the effective realities of what actually works? Today we speak with Katherine MacLean about a recent study on meditation’s effects on concentration, and some of the earmarks of what makes this a valid study.
Katherine MacLean grew up in Connecticut and received her bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth College in the woods of New Hampshire. After a two-year stint recording brain activity in rhesus monkeys, she transitioned to studying primates who could talk about their subjective experiences: humans.
During her graduate studies at the University of California, Davis, she worked with Ron Mangun on studies of visual attention and with Clifford Saron on the Shamatha Project – a longitudinal study of changes in behavior and brain function during intensive meditation training. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology in the fall of 2009 and subsequently joined the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit within the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as a postdoctoral fellow.
She is currently working with Roland Griffiths and Matthew Johnson on a study looking at the combined effects of daily meditation and psilocybin (a classic hallucinogen) on changes in behavior, cognition, psychological function, and spirituality.
“People may think meditation is something that makes you feel good and going on a meditation retreat is like going on vacation and you get to be at peace with yourself. That’s what people think until they try it. Then you realize how challenging it is to just sit and observe something without being distracted.” — Katherine MacLean
Check out the ABC2 news’ segment on the study.
- UC Davis — Center for Mind and Brain
- UC Davis — Cliff Saron
- Tricycle Editors’ Blog on this study
- Association for Psychological Science press release
- Sage Journals Online — abstract and link to full study
- Physorg.com article
- Medicine.net article
- Shamatha Project
- B. Alan Wallace
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Simon Singh vs. British Chiropractice Association
- Skeptic’s Dictionary — Homeopathy
- TAM — The Amazing Meeting
- The Lancet retracts Andrew Wakefield’s article (vaccine / autism)
- Texas School Board Revisionist History
- Center for Mindfulness
- Kasina — meditation object
Music for This Episode
The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The tracks used in this episode are:
Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast