Critique of studies alleging that Transcendental Meditation technique has no effect
ISSUE: DOES THE TRANCENDENTAL MEDITATION PROGRAM HAVE NO EFFECT?
Below are short summaries of studies reporting that the Transcendental Meditation has no effect, followed by more detailed analyses.
1. Desiraju, T. (1990) The Yoga and Consciousness Project. National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience. Bangalore, India: Omni magazine, November, pp. 84-88.
Dr. Desiraju’s EEG study is one that claims that Transcendental Meditation has no special effects. It in no way shows or implies that the Transcendental Meditation technique has negative effects. His results appear to be due to a lack of understanding that the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique is a dynamic process, not a single state. It has different phases: thoughts, inner silence (transcendental consciousness), sometimes sleep and dream states. When these different phases are averaged, no special effects might be seen. However, many researchers that have discriminated between the different phases of Transcendental Meditation practice have found unique effects, particularly during the transcendental consciousness phase.
2. Holmes, D.S. (1984). Meditation and Somatic Arousal Reduction: A Review of the Experimental Evidence. American Psychologist 39, no. 1 (1984): 1-10.
The Holmes study was a qualitative review of several meditation techniques combined together, claiming that meditation did not reduce somatic arousal any more than ordinary rest. The review was flawed by mixing the results of different techniques, which used different methods and had different goals. A meta-analysis specifically on the Transcendental Meditation technique found that the technique differed significantly from ordinary rest on a number of physiological parameters (Dillbeck & Orme-Johnson, 1987).
3. Smith, J.C. (1976). Psychotherapeutic Effects of Transcendental Meditation with Controls for Expectation of Relief and Daily Sitting. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 630-637.
The Smith study claims that the Transcendental Meditation program does not have any special ability to reduce trait anxiety, and that if there are effects, they are due to the subjects’ expectations. However, a meta-analysis of all studies on trait anxiety, including Smith’s, have shown that Transcendental Meditation practice is more effective than other relaxation and meditation techniques, controlling for expectation and a wide range of other variables.
4. Kaia, T. E. & Huddleston, S. (1999)The use of psychological skills by female collegiate swimmers. Journal of Sports Behavior, Dec., 22(4), 602-610.
This study did not actually measure the effects of the TM technique on swimming skill, as the TranceNet Web site implies. It did not even suggest that any of the swimmers even knew what the Transcendental Meditation technique was, much less whether they ever actually practiced it. Therefore, the TranceNet statement that “Transcendental Meditation had no significant effect” is a completely wrong and misleading description of what the study actually did and said.
5. Canter, P. H. and Ernst, E. (2003). The cumulative effects of Transcendental Meditation on cognitive function. Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift 115/21–22: 758–766.
This paper reviewed 10 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on cognitive performance, from which it concluded that the studies showing positive effects were a result of expectation. However, the positive effects were on objective measures of cognitive performance, which could not be influenced by expectation. The review also contained mistakes, counting one no-effect study twice, and not including an important RCT showing positive benefits. Of the three no-effect studies, all were very small and covered a short time period. One studied learning-disabled children who might not be expected to change over a short period of time (three months). A second was on a measure that was not really cognitive (pistol shooting), and in the third the subjects did not practice the TM technique regularly. On the other hand larger, longer studies, in which the subjects were known to meditate regularly, found clear evidence of global cognitive development. Two studies which the Canter and Ernst review classified as “largely negative” report largely positive results, not largely negative results. In addition, a wide range of confirming evidence, which was not included in the review, supports the conclusion that TM practice does improve cognitive performance.
6. Seer, P., & Raeburn, J. (1980). Meditation training and essential hypertension: a methodological study. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1, 59-71.
This study is sometimes included in reviews as a TM study, but the intervention was not Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation program, and therefore the study cannot be consider as evidence for or against the TM technique. The intervention, though modeled after TM, differed from TM in a number of different ways. The technique was referred to as 'self-relaxation’ instead of TM and no initiation ceremony was performed. The name 'Transcendental Meditation' was never used. One standard mantra was used for all subjects. The lectures were transcribed and given out as a 23 page manual. No fee was charged. The control group was instructed in the same way but no mantra was given.
The study found that both the placebo and treatment groups showed reduced DBP compared to non-treatment controls. There were no significant results for SBP, and for DBP the differences between groups and the session x treatment interaction also failed reach significance.
Also see Rebuttal of the National Research Council (NRC) Report on Meditation and Rebuttal of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Report on Meditation.
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1. Desiraju, T. (1990) The Yoga and Consciousness Project. National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience. Bangalore, India: Omni magazine, November, pp. 84-88.
Evidence that The Transcendental Meditation Technique Has Special EEG and Other Physiologic Effects. Desiraju’s EEG study reports that it “has been unable to identify any physiological standard for so-called enlightenment; even meditation per se has been hard to define.” This may be partly due to the fact that the physiological effects of any technique of meditation depend on the condition of the practitioner at the time, whether stressed or relaxed, alert or drowsy, etc. When the results of these different states are averaged together, unique effects tend to be obscured. When specific periods of the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique are distinguished, such as the inward vs. the outward strokes, or isolated periods of transcendental consciousness, then the physiological processes involved become clear. Moreover, when subjects who are having clear traditional experiences of enlightenment are singled out for study, clear markers of enlightenment become evident.
For example, Dr. Fred Travis has empirically shown where the physiology of the Transcendental Meditation technique fits in the spectrum of waking/sleeping/dreaming. He showed that physiological characteristics of the technique, especially those during the transcendental consciousness experience, are similar to those of the junction point between waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. This was presaged forty years ago in Maharishi’s 1966 book The Science of Being an Art of Living, in which he stated that "through the practice of Transcendental Meditation the nervous system... receives a new status. This status can be located at the junction of any two of the three states of consciousness [waking, dreaming, and sleep]”, p.134. In 1972 Maharishi devoted Lesson 22 of the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) to the junction point. "A definite change in physiology will bear witness to a style of functioning of the nervous system that corresponds to none of the three commonly experienced states. There is a state of functioning of the nervous system that is transitional. This is the junction point.” p. 22-5.
Travis, F. T. (1990). An empirical test of Maharishi's junction point model of states of consciousness. Modern Science and Vedic Science, 4(1), 42-55.
Travis, F. T. (1994). The junction point model: A field model of waking, sleeping, and dreaming relating dream witnessing, the waking/sleeping transition, and Transcendental Meditation in terms of a common psychophysiologic state. Dreaming, 4(2), 91-104.
The early research averaged the physiological changes during the entire meditation period, which obscured the dynamics of the process. More recent research has found that specific periods of self-reported transcendental consciousness, the “junction point”, during the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique are correlated with periods of respiratory suspension and increases in EEG coherence across all frequencies and cortical areas, compared to the periods immediately before and after (Badawi, Wallace, Orme-Johnson, & Rouzeré, 1984; Farrow & Hebert, 1982; Travis, 2001). Such patterns do not occur in resting controls during deliberate breath holding. There are over 20 psychophysiological dimensions that distinguish transcendental consciousness from ordinary waking, dreaming, and sleep (Alexander, Cranson, Boyer, & Orme-Johnson, 1987). Research on transcendental consciousness continues to be an active area and has confirmed and extended these initial findings (Travis & Miskov, 1994; Travis & Pearson, 2000; Travis, Tecce, & Guttman, 2001; Travis & Wallace, 1997; Travis & Wallace, 1999).
Alexander, C. N.; Cranson, R. W.; Boyer, R. W.; and Orme-Johnson, D. W. (1987) Transcendental consciousness: a fourth state of consciousness beyond sleep, dreaming, and waking. In J. Gackenbach (ed.), Sleep and Dreams: A Sourcebook, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 282–315.
Badawi, K.; Wallace, R. K.; Orme-Johnson, D.; and Rouzere, A.-M. (1984) Electrophysiologic characteristics of respiratory suspension periods occurring during the practice of the Transcendental Meditation program. Psychosomatic Medicine 46(3): 267–276.
Banquet, J. P. Spectral analysis of the EEG in meditation. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology 35: 143–151, 1973.
Banquet, J. P., and LeSevre, N. (1980) Event-related potentials in altered states of consciousness. Motivation, Motor and Sensory Processes of the Brain, Progress in Brain Research 54: 447–453.
Banquet, J. P., and Sailhan, M. EEG analysis of spontaneous and induced states of consciousness. Revue d'électroencéphalographie et de neurophysiologie clinique 4: 445–453, 1974.
Dillbeck, M. C., and Orme-Johnson, D. W. (1987) Physiological differences between Transcendental Meditation and rest. American Psychologist 42: 879–881.
Farrow, J. T., and, Hebert J. R. (1982) Breath suspension during the Transcendental Meditation technique. Psychosomatic Medicine 44(2):133–153.
Goddard, P. H. (1989) Reduced age-related declines of P300 latency in elderly practicing Transcendental Meditation. Psychophysiology 26: S29.
Hebert, R., and Lehmann, D. (1977) Theta bursts: An EEG pattern in normal subjects practising the Transcendental Meditation technique. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology 42: 397–405.
Jevning, R., Anand, R., Beidebach, M., & Fernanco, G. (1996). Effects on regional cerebral blood flow of Transcendental Meditation. Physiology & Behavior, 59, 399-402.
Jevning, R.; Smith, R.; Wilson A. F.; and Morton, M. E. (1976) Alterations in blood flow during Transcendental Meditation. Psychophysiology 13: 168 (SPR Abstract # 20).
Jevning, R.; Wilson, A. F.; Smith, W. R.; and Morton, M. E. (1978) Redistribution of blood flow in acute hypometabolic behavior. American Journal of Physiology 235(1): R89–R92.
Levine, P. (1976). The coherence spectral array (COSPAR) and its applicationto the study of spatial ordering in the EEG. Proceedings of the San Diego Biomedical Symposium, 15, 237–247.
Levine, P. H.; Hebert, J. R.; Haynes, C. T.; and Strobel, U. (1977) EEG coherence during the Transcendental Meditation technique, in ORME-JOHNSON, D. W., and FARROW, J. T., eds. 1977. Scientific research on the Transcendental Meditation program: Collected papers, vol. 1. Rheinweiler, W. Germany: MERU Press.
O’Halloran, J. P.; Jevning, R.; Wilson, A. F.; Skowsky, R.; Walsh, R. N.; and Alexander, C. (1985) Hormonal control in a state of decreased activation: potentiation of arginine vasopressin secretion. Physiology and Behavior 35: 591–595.
Travis, F. T. (2001). Autonomic and EEG patterns distinguish transcending from other experiences during Transcendental Meditation practice. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 42, 1-9.
Travis, F. T., Arenander, A. & DuBois, D. (2004). Psychological and physiological characteristics of proposed object-referral/self-referral continuum of self-awareness. Consciousness and Cognition, 13, 401-420.
Travis, F. T., & Miskov, S. (1994). P300 latency and amplitude after eyes-closed rest and after Transcendental Meditation practice. Psychophysiology, 31, S98.
Travis, F. T., & Pearson, C. (2000). Pure consciousness: Distinct phenomenological and physiological correlates of ‘Consciousness Itself’. International Journal of Neuroscience, 100, 77-89.
Travis, F. T., Tecce, J. J., & Guttman, J. (2001). Cortical plasticity, contingent negative variation, and transcendent experiences during practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Biological Psychology, 55, 41-55.
Travis, F. T., & Wallace, R. K. (1997). Autonomic patterns during respiratory suspensions: possible markers of Transcendental Consciousness. Psychophysiology, 34, 39-46.
Travis, F. T., & Wallace, R. K. (1999). Autonomic and EEG patterns during eyes-closed rest and Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice: The basis for a neural model of TM practice. Consciousness and Cognition, 8, 302-318.
Wallace, R. K. (1970a) The physiological effects of Transcendental Meditation: A proposed fourth major state of consciousness. Doctoral thesis, Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Wallace, R. K. (1970b) Physiological effects of Transcendental Meditation. Science 167: 1751–1754.
Yamamoto, S., Kitamura, Y., Yamada, N. Nakashima, Y, Kuroda, S. Media prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex in the generation of alpha activity induced by Transcendental Meditation: A magnetoencephalographic study. Acta Medica Okayama, 60, 51-58.
Enlightenment. The classical experience of “witnessing” during enlightenment, documented in many traditions, is the result of a very high level of psychophysiological integration and mind-body coordination. It arises from the stabilization of transcendental consciousness along with waking, dreaming, and sleeping. Research has verified that people experiencing “witnessing” have the EEG signature of transcendental consciousness (theta-alpha waves) coexisting with EEG signature of deep sleep (delta waves).
Mason, L. I., Alexander, C. N., Travis, F. T., Marsh, G., Orme-Johnson, D. W., Gackenbach, J., et al. (1997). Electrophysiological correlates of higher states of consciousness during sleep in long-term practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation program. Sleep, 20(2), 102-110.
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2. Holmes, D.S. (1984). Meditation and Somatic Arousal Reduction: A Review of the Experimental Evidence. American Psychologist 39, no. 1: 1-10.
Meta-analysis on the TM technique shows that it has different physiological effects from rest. The Holmes study was a qualitative review of several meditation techniques combined together, claiming that meditation did not reduce somatic arousal any more than ordinary rest. A published reply (Dillbeck & Orme-Johnson, 1987) argued that Holmes’ study was flawed by mixing the results of different techniques, which used different methods and had different goals. The reply also pointed out that the quantitative review used by Holmes was a statistically flawed way of combining outcomes. These deficiencies were addressed by a quantitative meta-analysis of the technique for which there were the most studies (the Transcendental Meditation technique), and this meta-analysis included several studies overlooked in the Holmes review. Dillbeck and Orme-Johnson’s reply was published in the prestigious American Psychologist, a peer-reviewed journal, which is the official journal of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the most widely read APA journal.
This meta-analysis of a total of 32 studies found that the Transcendental Meditation technique decreases heart rate, respiratory rate, plasma lactate, and basal skin conductance to a significantly greater degree than occurs during resting in a seated position with eyes closed (the same position used in the practice of the technique). This indicates a state of deep physiological relaxation is gained during the practice.
This meta-analysis also found that, even outside of the meditation session, practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation technique have lower heart rates, respiratory rates, plasma lactate levels, and spontaneous skin resistance responses. When combined with supporting data from longitudinal studies, this finding indicates that the effects of regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique are cumulative. The practitioner’s physiological systems become habituated to respond to challenges from a more rested and more integrated state. This research indicates that the Transcendental Meditation program practitioner has more energy reserves with which to respond, and is able to respond in a more orderly, coherent manner.
Dillbeck, M.C., & Orme-Johnson, D.W. (1987). Physiological differences between Transcendental Meditation and rest. American Psychologist, 42, 879–881.
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3. Smith, J.C. (1976). Psychotherapeutic Effects of Transcendental Meditation with Controls for Expectation of Relief and Daily Sitting. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 44, 630-637.
Evidence that the Transcendental Meditation Program Reduces Anxiety. The Smith study reported that the technique did not have any special effects on reducing trait anxiety. He suggested that the person’s expectation of reduced anxiety, plus sitting with eyes closed reduced anxiety. However, a meta-analysis of over 149 studies by Eppley et al, 1989, which included the Smith study, and controlled for expectation and demand characteristics, found that the Transcendental Meditation program had more than twice the effect size in reducing anxiety as Progressive Relaxation, Benson's technique, concentration meditation, Sanskrit mantra meditation with permissive attitude, EMG biofeedback, and placebo techniques. This study also controlled for a number of other possible confounding variables, including amount of time meditating, regularity of meditation, population, age, sex, experimental design, duration and hours of treatment, pretest anxiety, experimenter attitude, type of publication, and attrition. These controls did not alter the overall conclusions. The difference in effect size between the Transcendental Meditation program and other treatments was maintained both when only published studies were included and when only studies with the strongest design were included.
Eppley K, Abrams AI, Shear J. (1989). Differential effects of relaxation techniques on trait anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology; 45:957–974.
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4. T. E. Kaia and S. Huddleston. The use of psychological skills by female collegiate swimmers. Journal of Sports Behavior, Dec99, 22(4), 602-610.
This study did not actually measure the effects of the TM technique on swimming skill, nor even suggest that any of the swimmers even knew what the Transcendental Meditation technique was. What the study did was give swimmers a questionnaire with a list of 17 techniques the authors thought the swimmers might know about and use, and asked them to rate which ones they used in preparation for competition. The most common techniques used were “goal setting,” “positive self-talk,” “music for psych-up,” “focusing internally,” “imagery/visualization,” and “music for relaxation.”
Eight of the skills were rated as “never used,” which included “autohypnosis,” “autogenic training,” “blank meditation,” “bracing,” “color,” “cue words,” “mantra meditation,” and “Transcendental Meditation.” The web site erroneously lists these particular skills as ones that were used by “approximately 50% of the swimmers.” The authors of the paper state that “The possibility that some of these eight skills were completely unknown to subjects cannot be dismissed since subjects were instructed to indicate a use of “never” for any psychological skill that they did not recognize.” Although the study is ambiguous on this point, the implication is that the techniques which were "never use" were ones that the swimmers knew nothing about. However, they recommend that coaches tell their athletes about these techniques: “It is to the advantage of every coach to educate athletes regarding the availability, use, and performance effects of a broad range of psychological skills.”
In summary, none of the swimmers in this study were taught the Transcendental Meditation technique to see its effects on swimming, nor was it ascertained whether any of the swimmers even knew about the TM technique, much less whether they actually practiced it. There was no evaluation of the possible effects of the technique on swimming. On the other hand, randomized controlled trials have shown that TM practice has a significant effect on increasing neuromuscular integration, running speed, agility, and standing broad jump, so it might well be effective for swimmers too.
Reddy, M. K.; Bai, A. J. L.; and Rao, V. R. (1977). The effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on athletic performance. A.P. Sports Council, Lal Bahadar Stadium, and Nilouffer Hospital Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India, 1974. In Scientific Research on the Transcendental Meditation program, Collected Papers, Vol. 1, 346-358.
Reddy, M. K. (1989). The role of the Transcendental Meditation program in the promotion of athletic excellence: Long- and short-term effects and their relation to activation theory. In Scientific Research on the Transcendental Meditation program, Collected Papers, Vol. 2, 907-948.
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5. Canter, P. H. and Ernst, E. (2003). The cumulative effects of Transcendental Meditation on cognitive function. Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift, 115/21–22: 758–766.
This review took the approach of eliminating all research except for randomized controlled trials (RCTs). The rationale for this approach is that RCTs provide the strongest support for causality, because the randomization of subjects to treatment conditions eliminates the possibility that some unknown factor other than the treatment may cause the outcome. This rationale has been challenged by studies which have shown that the survival of medical knowledge gained from RCTs is no better than that of research based on controlled before and after studies, in which the subjects are not randomized to treatment groups (Poynard, et al. 2002).
Moreover, RCTs are not the only way to gain knowledge in medicine. A famous example is smoking. There is a strong consensus in the medical community that smoking has adverse effects on health. Yet no study has randomly assigned subjects to smoking and non-smoking groups. The consensus that smoking has ill effects is based on a wide variety of different types of converging evidence, ranging from basic molecular biology research to large epidemiological studies. By only examining RCTs, Cantor and Ernst ignored dozens of studies of cognitive-related physiological parameters, controlled before and after studies, and studies of the performance of students where the Transcendental Meditation program has been implemented.
Nevertheless, even within the context of looking at only RCTs, there are errors in the review. It counted the dissertation by Sereda (1978) twice, once as the dissertation, and the second time as a paper on the same study in a published version (Yuille & Sereda, 1980). This was verified by an email from Dr. Yuille. Also it didn’t include an important RCT by Dillbeck (1982).
No-effect studies. Of the 10 RCT’s that it reviewed, Canter and Ernst concluded that four were positive, four reported no effect, and two had mixed results. Let us first consider the no-effect studies. With the correction for duplication, there are three of them.
1. Mengel GE (1979)The effects of Transcendental Meditation on the reading achievement of learning disabled youngsters. Dissertation Abstracts International, 39: 6699.
Mengel (1978) reported that TM practice did not improve reading achievement in learning-disabled 10-15 year-old boys over a three-month period. This was a very small study (14 subjects practicing the TM technique) so it had very little power to detect a change if there were to be one (low statistical power). It is also not clear now regularly the students practiced TM. Also, three months is a very short time to expect change on such a higher order cognitive task as reading achievement, especially in learning disabled subjects, whose nervous systems may not have the flexibility to change quickly. The authors actually state that more time may be needed to see a result. They conclude: “As a result of a trend discerned from the data, extension in future studies beyond twelve weeks’ duration was recommended to further clarify and distill any potential effects which TM might have on reading achievements.”
2. Hall EG, Hardy CJ (1991) Ready, aim, fire ... relaxation strategies for enhancing pistol marksmanship. Perceptual Motor Skills, 72: 775–786.
Hall and Hardy (1991) report that TM practice did not improve pistol shooting in ten 18-23 year old students over a four-month period. One could question whether pistol shooting qualifies as a “cognitive” measure. It usually would be classified as a perceptual-motor task. In any event, the small number of subjects gives the study very little statistical power, and it is not clear how regular the subjects were in their meditation practice. On a personal note, my rifle marksmanship improved markedly after learning to meditate, but was only “post-tested” after a few years of regular practice.
3. Yuille JC, Sereda L (1980) Positive effects of meditation: A limited generalization? Journal of Applied Psychology, 65: 333–340.
Yuille and Sereda (1980) did not find significant change on a variety of cognitive measures after three months of TM practice in 37 university student, compared to controls. However, there was a high drop out from the study. 43% of the TM subjects dropped out, leaving 21 remaining in the study, and of these only 61.9% were classified as “good” meditators, leaving only 13 good TM subjects. In addition, “good” was defined as practicing meditation only 60% or more of the time. Because of the small number of subjects who actually practiced the TM technique with any regularity, the study had very low chances of finding a result, if there had been one.
Thus, we conclude that of the three no-effect studies, all were very small and over a short time period, one was on mentally disabled subjects who might not be expected to change over a short period of time, a second was on a measure that was not really cognitive (pistol shooting), and in the third the subjects did not practice the TM technique regularly.
Positive studies. In contrast, the studies reporting positive effects tended to be larger, over longer periods of time, and the subjects tended to be regular in their meditation practice.
4. Pelletier KR (1974) Influence of Transcendental Meditation upon autokinetic perception. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 39: 1031–1034.
Pelletier randomized 40 volunteers at a TM introductory meeting to either meditation or a sitting quietly control group. All subjects wanted to start TM and the controls agreed to delay learning the technique for three months. The Autokinetic Test measures the apparent (illusory) movement in a small point of light which subjects view through a tube, and which they are required to draw. The Embedded Figures Test requires subjects to discriminate a simple figure embedded in a more complex one. The Rod and Frame test measures the ability to orientate a rod to the vertical when viewed in a tilted square frame, in a darkened room. The three tests are designed to place subjects on the continuum of field independence – field dependence, a measure of cognitive style. Field independence is characterized as an analytic style of perception, associated with greater cognitive clarity and a greater ability to structure experience. After 3 months of practice, meditators showed increased field independence on all three tests. This effect on field independence was replicated by So and Orme-Johnson (2001).
It is interesting to note that Canter and Ernst consider the version of Pelletier’s published in the Collected Papers to be "more conservative, and methodologically correct" than the journal publication of the study.
5. So, K.T., & Orme-Johnson, D.W. (2001). Three randomized experiments on the
holistic longitudinal effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on
cognition. Intelligence, 29, 419–440.
Experiment 1 randomly allocated 154 (not 114, as reported by Canter and Ernst) Chinese high school students who had attended an introductory lecture and showed an interest in learning the TM technique to either learn and practice the technique for 6 months or spend an equivalent time napping. The TM group improved significantly compared to napping controls in tests of field independence, speed of information processing and creativity. There was no significant difference between TM and napping in IQ scores on the Culture Fair intelligence Test. Not mentioned by Canter and Ernst was that the TM group also improve significantly compared to the napping group on practical intelligence, and decreased more on state and trait anxiety. These measures definitely impact on cognitive performance, and should not be ignored.
In addition, Experiment 1 also found that the TM group improved significantly on all measures compared to a no-treatment control group, who were not interested in learning to meditate. This included a significant increase in IQ, unlike to comparison of the TM technique with napping controls. The napping group, by contrast, did not improve on any measure compared to the not-interested group. This is an important piece of evidence, which a fair review would report.
Canter and Ernst also eliminated Experiments 2 and 3 studying high schools students in Taiwan from their review on the basis that the subjects were randomized by class, rather than by individual. Arguably, randomization by class controls for self-selection to treatment. Although there could conceivably be systematic difference between the classes that could confound the results, the fact that a true RCT in Experiment 1 found positive results makes this highly unlikely. Experiments 2 and 3 were both large studies (N = 118, and 99, respectively) over longer periods of time (six months and one year, respectively), and are important replications that should be considered.
In these three studies, the meditators were known to practice the technique regularly.
6. Reddy, MK, Lakshmi AJ, Rao VR (1974) The effects of the TM program on athletic performance. In: Orme-Johnson DW, Farrow JT (eds) Scientific research on Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program. Collected papers, vol 1 (1976, pp 346–358). Maharishi European Research University, MVU Press, Netherlands.
Reddy’s RCT was with young Indian athletes during pre-season training at a coaching center. From 34 athletes who attended an introductory lecture and showed an interest in learning TM, 15 were randomized to the experimental group who learned and practiced TM twice daily for 6 weeks, and 15 to a control group who spent a daily equivalent time in eyes-closed or supine rest according to their own preference. The meditators improved significantly on intelligence compared to controls (p < .001). They also improved significantly compared to controls on agility, running speed, standing broad jump, reaction time, cardiovascular efficiency, respiratory efficiency, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and hemoglobin count. His pistol shooting can be considered a cognitive task, so could such measures as agility and reaction time.
In this study, the meditators were known to practice the TM technique regularly.
7. Miskiman DE (1973) The effect of the TM program on the organization of thinking and recall (secondary organization). In: Orme-Johnson DW, Farrow JT (eds) Scientific research on Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program. Collected papers, vol 1 (1976, pp385–392). Maharishi European Research University, MVU Press, Netherlands.
Miskiman randomly assigned 120 students present at a TM introductory lecture to either learn and practice the TM technique or practice eyes-closed rest for 40 days. Groups were compared pre- and post- treatment for their ability to conceptually organize words (metals, professions, fruits, animals) during free recall, after an intervening period spent doing arithmetic. A greater degree of secondary organization was assumed if related items were recalled sequentially, i.e. were clustered. Each of the 2 groups was further subdivided to have items presented in either a clustered or random order, and with 2, 4 or 6 minute delays before recall. The assessor was blinded to list type and group assignment of the subjects. There were no significant differences between groups at pre-test but after 40 days of practice, the TM group showed significantly higher clustering in recalled items, and better performance in the intervening arithmetic tasks. The mean Index of Clustering over the 6 test conditions increased by 45% from pre-test to post-test in the TM group compared to 9% in controls. The difference between groups was more marked for the randomly presented lists and with longer delays. Mean scores for the arithmetic filler task increased by 12% in meditators compared to 1% in controls.
8. Dillbeck, M. C. Meditation and flexibility of visual perception and verbal problem- solving. Memory and Cognition 10(3): 207–215, 1982.
This RCT study by Dillbeck was not included in Canter and Ernst review, even though it was published in a prominent journal, and was reprinted in the Collected Papers, which Canter and Ernst included in their literature search.
The study investigated the effects of regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique on habitual patterns of visual perception and problem solving. The study was on 69 college students who were randomly assigned to two groups, one that waited two weeks before learning TM, and one that practiced passive relaxation twice daily for two weeks before beginning the TM technique. The third group, which was not randomly assigned, consisted of subjects from a psychology course who neither relaxed nor practice the TM technique. This group served as a control for practice effects due to repeated measures of the task.
It was specifically hypothesized that the TM technique involves a reduction of habitual patterns of perception and conceptual activation, resulting in (1) more effective application of schemata to new information and (2) less distracting mental activity during performance. This was predicted to result in improved task performance on task conditions in which either (1) habitual patterns of performance hinder or do not aid performance, or (2) habitual patterns aid performance.
Subjects began the TM technique, relaxed, or added nothing to their daily schedules for a two-week period. The general hypothesis was supported for tasks of tachistoscopic identification of card and letter sequence stimuli, but not for the verbal problem-solving task of analog solutions. The results overall are consistent with the hypothesis that a reduction of conceptually driven mental activity during the TM technique results in improvement both on task conditions in which habitual perceptual schemata aid performance and on task conditions in which they either do not aid or actually hinder performance. Evidence was found for this effect both immediately after meditation and over a two-week period for the perceptual tasks.
Mixed-results studies. A strong case can be made that the two studies which Canter and Ernst classified as "largely negative" are actually largely positive.
9. Alexander CN, Newman RI, Langer EJ, Chandler HM, Davies JL (1989) Transcendental meditation, mindfulness, and longevity: an experimental study with the elderly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57: 950–964.
Alexander et al. randomly allocated 73 elderly volunteers from residential homes, a nursing home and a housing complex for the elderly to four treatment groups using stratification by Dementia Screening Test (DST) scores. For 3 months volunteers practiced TM, mindfulness training (MF) comprising structured and creative mental activities, mental relaxation (MR) involving sitting with eyes closed and repeating a self chosen syllable, or no treatment waiting-list controls. Planned comparisons indicated that the TM group improved the most, followed by MF, in contrast to relaxation and no treatment groups, on paired associate learning; two measures of cognitive flexibility; mental health; systolic blood pressure; and ratings of behavioral flexibility, aging, and treatment efficacy. The MF group improved the most followed by TM, on perceived control and Word fluency. After three years, survival rate was 100% for TM and 87.5% for MF in contrast to lower rates for other groups.
The Canter and Ernst review classified this study as being "largely negative in outcome" based on non-significant pair-wise comparisons between TM and the MR or MF groups. However, planned comparisons are statistically more powerful then pair-wise comparisons, because they predict a specific pattern of outcomes, and use all of the data in a holistic way. The fact that planned comparisons showed a highly consistent, positive effects for the TM group on cognitive measures, as well as in health-related measures, indicates that far from being "largely negative," this study was largely positive. In the very least, a fair review would have reported the outcomes from the planned comparisons.
10. Kember P (1985) The TM technique and academic performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 55, 164-166. (Canter and Ernst reference a version in Vol. 5 of the Collected Papers rather than the published version.)
Canter and Ernst also classified the study by Kember is being "largely negative." Let us see. Kember randomly assigned 20 first year postgraduate engineering students to either a TM or a no-treatment control group and compared exam results before and after 6 months of practicing the technique. At pretest, the mean score of the experimental group was greater than the control group in four of nine subjects (44.4%), while at posttest the experimental group attained a higher average on 10 of the 12 subjects (83.3%). The posttest difference was statistically significant (p < .02).
When standard scores were considered, there were no significant differences between groups at pretest, but at posttest significantly more standard scores for the experimental group were greater than two standard deviations above the mean; five scores of the experimental group, compared with none for the control group; p = .03.
Although this is small study, these are significant results, not “largely negative”.
In conclusion, on the whole, the RCTs indicate very favorable effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on cognitive ability.
Replication with Before and After studies. Before and after studies replicate the findings of RCTs. They indicate that the Transcendental Meditation program increases IQ by approximately two points per year (Aron, Orme-Johnson, & Brubaker, 1981; Dillbeck, Assimakis, Raimondi, Orme-Johnson, & Rowe, 1986; Tjoa, 1975; Tjoa,1978). This finding has been extended by a more recent study of 100 college students that found that participants who practiced the TM technique over a two-year period improved significantly on fluid intelligence compared with non-meditating control students, statistically controlling for participant’s age, education level, level of interest in meditation, father’s education level, and father’s annual income (Cranson, 1989; Cranson, Orme-Johnson, Gackenbach, Dillbeck, Jones, & Alexander, 1991).
IQ related measures. Cranson et al. (1991) also found that TM participants improved significantly over the two-year study period compared to controls on two IQ-related measures: choice reaction time and standard deviation of choice reaction time. Choice reaction time is a measure of speed of processing and decision making in reaction to being presented with complex information.
Decreased variability of choice reaction time indicates a more consistent, stable response time from one trial to the next. It has been interpreted in the literature as indicating a reduction of noise in the functioning of the central nervous system (Jensen, 1987, pp. 134–136; Eysenck, 1987, p. 38). This and a variety of other evidence suggests that meditation does reduce noise in the nervous system by dissolving stress during the deep
state of restful alertness that it produces.
Other performance studies in real-life situations of school indicate improved academic achievement on standardized tests, which are highly correlated with intelligence (Nidich & Nidich, 1989; Nidich, Nidich, & Rainforth, 1986).
Increased self-actualization. Perhaps the most well-researched construct of optimal cognitive/emotional development is “self-actualization” as described by Abraham Maslow (1968). Self-actualized people are said to be characterized by a high level of creativity, as well as high moral vision, self-esteem, capacity for intimate relations with others, and an integrated perspective on self and the world. An exhaustive statistical meta-analysis of the effects of meditation and relaxation techniques on self-actualization identified 42 independent outcomes. The effect of the TM technique on self-actualization was significantly larger than that produced by other forms of meditation and relaxation, controlling for duration of intervention and strength of experimental design (Alexander et al., 1991). Only TM studies showed a significant positive correlation between length of practice and self-actualization. This suggests a causal relation between practice of the TM technique and improvement in self-actualization.
Increased ego development. The Loevinger ego development scale is a relatively non-fakeable projective measure of overall developmental attainment, which includes broad cognitive as well as emotional development. It is considered to be a measure of "wisdom." A ten-year longitudinal study showed markedly increased ego development in participants who had graduated from Maharishi University of Management (MUM) and continued to meditate. No change in ego development over the same period was found in non-meditating alumni of three control university samples matched for gender and age. At posttest, 38% of the MUM sample scored at the highest “Autonomous” and “Integrated” levels. This was the highest percentage to achieve these two final stages in more than 40 adult samples reported in the literature (Chandler, Alexander, & Heaton, 2005). Autonomous people have been shown to have a distinctive awareness of and confidence in their own inner identity, integrity, and moral vision. They are highly stable and self reliant, and not easily overshadowed by stress from their environment. On the other hand, they are capable of great intimacy with others because they know who they are and are not threatened by being different from others.
The Maharishi's School of the Age of Enlightenment is a primary and secondary school associated with Maharishi University of Management. It has won more awards in the arts and sciences than any other school in Iowa or the United States. This record of excellence in real-life cognitive outcomes is further evidence that the Transcendental Meditation program improves general cognitive ability (Deans, 2005).
Disclosure. Cantor and Ernst sit on the editorial board of Focus on Alternative and ComplementaryTherapies (FACT), a journal that is published by the Pharmaceutical Press and associated with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
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6. Seer, P., & Raeburn, J. (1980). Meditation training and essential hypertension: a methodological study. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1, 59-71.
Meditation training appears to be a promising psychological approach to the control of hypertension. However, most studies to date have had serious deficiencies. This study attempted to correct many of these deficiencies. Forty-one unmedicated hypertensives referred by general practitioners were randomly allocated to three groups. The treatment group (SRELAX) underwent training procedures based on Transcendental Meditation; a placebo control group (NSRELAX) underwent identical training but without a mantra. Both procedures were compared with a no-treatment control group. The results showed modest reductions in blood pressure in both SRELAX and NSRELAX groups, compared with the no-treatment controls, with diastolic percentage reductions reaching significance (p < 0.05). There was considerable subject variation in response, with overall a mean decline i diastolic blood pressure of 8-10% on 3-month follow-up. Possible indicators to predict the response of subjects are considered and reasons for the similarity in the effectiveness of the SRELAX and NSRELAX conditions are discussed.
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