Meditation and prosocial behaviors (review & meta-analysis)

Kreplin, U., Farias, M., & Brazil, I. A. (2018). The limited prosocial* effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific reports, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 2403, DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-20299-z. Full text.

 Abstract. Many individuals believe that meditation has the capacity to not only alleviate mental-illness but to improve prosociality. This article systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the effects of meditation interventions on prosociality in randomized controlled trials of healthy adults.

Five types of social behaviours were identified: compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. Although we found a moderate increase in prosociality following meditation, further analysis indicated that this effect was qualified by two factors: type of prosociality and methodological quality.

Meditation interventions had an effect on compassion and empathy, but not on aggression, connectedness or prejudice. We further found that compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one.

Contrary to popular beliefs that meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the effects of meditation on prosociality were qualified by the type of prosociality and methodological quality of the study. We conclude by highlighting a number of biases and theoretical problems that need addressing to improve quality of research in this area.

* Prosocial behavior, or “voluntary behavior intended to benefit another”, is a social behavior that “benefit[s] other people or society as a whole”, “such as helping, sharing, donating, co-operating, and volunteering” (Wikipedia).


Is meditation associated with altered brain structure?

Fox, K. C., et al. (2014). Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, no. 43, pp. 48-73, Full text.

From the Abstract. Numerous studies have begun to address how the brain’s gray and white matter may be shaped by meditation. This research is yet to be integrated, however, and two fundamental questions remain: Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? If so, what is the magnitude of these differences?

To address these questions, we reviewed and meta-analyzed 123 brain morphology differences from 21 neuroimaging studies examining ∼300 meditation practitioners. Anatomical likelihood estimation meta-analysis found eight brain regions consistently altered in meditators, including areas key to meta-awareness (frontopolar cortex/BA 10), exteroceptive and interoceptive body awareness (sensory cortices and insula), memory consolidation and reconsolidation (hippocampus), self and emotion regulation (anterior and mid cingulate; orbitofrontal cortex), and intra- and interhemispheric communication (superior longitudinal fasciculus; corpus callosum). 

Publication bias and methodological limitations are strong concerns, however. Further research using rigorous methods is required to definitively link meditation practice to altered brain morphology.

For an update by the same authors, see “Alterations in the structure of the brain — review & implications.” 

Mindfulness and insomnia (zzzzz)

Ong, Jason C., and Christine E. Smith. Current Sleep Medicine Reports, first online 2017, pp. 1-9, doi:10.1007/s40675-017-0068-1. [See also:

Abstract. The goal of this review is to provide an update on the use of mindfulness meditation for the treatment of insomnia, including conceptual models and empirical evidence from randomized controlled trials.

A metacognitive model of insomnia has been proposed as a conceptual model to explain the application of mindfulness principles for reducing insomnia-related arousal. Furthermore, the evidence base for mindfulness-based therapies has grown with the results of several randomized controlled trials published in the past 3 years. Treatment effects appear to be strongest on self-report measures compared to objective measures of sleep.

Treatment programs featuring mindfulness meditation appear to be viable treatment options for people with insomnia. Further research is needed to determine who is likely to benefit from mindfulness-based therapies and how these interventions work. Additionally, further work is needed to resolve issues related to the delivery and implementation of mindfulness-based therapies.

Youth with anxiety (review & meta-analysis)

Borquist-Conlon, Debra S., et al. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Youth With Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Research on Social Work Practice, 2017, pp. 1-11, DOI 10.1177/1049731516684961. Full text.

Purpose: To examine the effects on anxiety of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) among youth with anxiety disorders.

Method: Systematic review and meta-analytic procedures were employed to synthesize experimental and quasi-experimental studies authored between 1980 and 2015.

Results: The search yielded five studies from five countries reporting results for a total of 188 youth between the ages of 5 and 18 (mean age 13.26) who met criteria for an anxiety disorder.

Discussion: The findings of this review suggest that MBIs for the treatment of anxiety in youth with anxiety disorders are effective.

Mindfulness-based interventions in schools (review & analysis)

Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools-A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 603. Full text.

From the Abstract. Mindfulness programs for schools are popular. We systematically reviewed the evidence regarding the effects of school-based mindfulness interventions on psychological outcomes, using a comprehensive search strategy designed to locate both published and unpublished studies.

Systematic searches in 12 databases were performed in August 2012. Further studies were identified via hand search and contact with experts. Two reviewers independently extracted the data, also selecting information about intervention programs (elements, structure etc.), feasibility, and acceptance. Twenty-four studies were identified, of which 13 were published. Nineteen studies used a controlled design. In total, 1348 students were instructed in mindfulness, with 876 serving as controls, ranging from grade 1 to 12.

All in all, mindfulness-based interventions in children and youths hold promise, particularly in relation to improving cognitive performance and resilience to stress. However, the diversity of study samples, variety in implementation and exercises, and wide range of instruments used require a careful and differentiated examination of data. There is great heterogeneity, many studies are underpowered, and measuring effects of Mindfulness in this setting is challenging. The field is nascent and recommendations will be provided as to how interventions and research of these interventions may proceed.

Does mindfulness reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Tobin, J. (2014). Effect of mindfulness-based interventions on symptoms of fibromyalgia: A meta-analysis (Doctoral dissertation, California State University, Fullerton). 

From the Abstract. Mindfulness provides an alternative or supplement to traditional pharmacological treatment of fibromyalgia, but it is not yet clear how effective it is in reducing symptoms. The purpose of this meta-analysis was to explore the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions on fibromyalgia impact, pain severity, and psychological distress in adults diagnosed with fibromyalgia. A total of 11 randomized controlled trials were included in the analysis, all of which measured at least one of the designated outcomes.

Studies’ data was pooled and standardized mean differences were calculated. Results showed a moderate to large intervention effect for each outcome. Subgroup analyses were conducted for each outcome based on control group type (active versus wait list), and for each outcome, all subgroups’ SMD significantly favored the experimental condition, with the exception of the active controls for psychological distress.

… While this analysis yielded results suggesting the efficacy of mindfulness in reducing symptoms of fibromyalgia, future meta-analyses may consider including studies of more diverse methodological quality to create more robust and powerful effect sizes, while exploring methodology as a potential moderator.