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).