Episode 23 :: Katherine MacLean :: Meditation Effects on Concentration

| July 30, 2010 | 1 Comment

Katherine MacLean

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.

:: Discuss this episode ::



“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.


Web Links

Music for This Episode

Hon Shirabe

Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The tracks used in this episode are:

  • Shikantaza

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Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

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