Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Summary of Findings: Meditation (4 out of 5 Stars)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the articles read in advance (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst University, in October 2018 regarding Meditation as an Analytic Modifier, specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.

Meditation is an analytic modifier that allows one to focus attention on a particular object, thought, or breath to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.  It is a technique used to reduce stress and exercise mental awareness. There are multiple techniques and belief systems that can be tied to meditation. Some research has shown that it can improve resistance to sunk-cost bias. To the best of our knowledge, we have not found any studies that show meditation has an effect on forecasting accuracy. Future studies should address this shortcoming in the academic literature, especially if there is any future for meditation as a useful modifier for analysis.  

  • Reduce stress, anxiety, depression
  • Increase ability to parse reality
  • Increase focus
  • Decrease projection and rumination

  • Requires consistency
  • Lacks immediate results
  • Requires open-minded practitioners
  • Difficult to apply specifically to intelligence problems

Below are specific steps to Vipassana or Mindfulness:
  1. Sit up straight and close your eyes
  2. Notice your breath. Pick a spot where you feel it most and focus your full attention on that spot
  3. Notice when you get lost and start over

Application of Technique:
The class was presented with an introduction to the practice of Vipassana in terms of its origins and current practice today. Students then conducted their own Vipassana exercise according to the video guide below:
The 8 minute exercise guided the class through the steps listed above, asking one to sit up straight with the eyes closed, breath naturally, and simply notice the breath.  The trick to vipassana is to notice when one gets lost in thought and re-focus on the breath. 

A class discussion followed the exercise and covered a range of topics including meditation’s ability to mediate cognitive biases, establish an internal locus of control, and serve as a modifier to complement other analytic techniques.

Vipassana is commonly referred to as mindfulness, which has a growing range of literature supporting its psychological benefits.  Although not explicitly stated in the exercise, it has quality of mind has been shown to control pain, mitigate anxiety and depression, improve cognitive function, and even produce changes regulating emotions, and self awareness.

For Further Information:

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Calm and smart? A selective review of meditation effects on decision making

By Sai Sun, Ziging Yao, Jaixin Wei, and Rongjun Yu
Summary and critique by Jillian J
Sun et al. present a collection of empirical findings on the observed effects of mediation on decision making, empathy, and prosocial behavior. They begin by giving a general definition of meditation-- a broad variety of practices designed to cultivate emotional balance and psychological well-being, including relaxation, the observation of one's own inner or out experiences, and the intentional self-regulation of attention (Lutz et al., 2008; Slagter et al., 2001; Awasthi, 2012, as cited by Sun et al., 2015).

Sun et al. divide their collection into non-social decision making and social decision making categories. They explain that non-social decision-making research centers on individual decision that are made based on the decision maker's own beliefs. In contrast, research on social decision making focuses on interactive decisions that are made based on group choices and the preferences of others (FEhr and Camerer, 2007; Sanfey, 2007; Rilling and Sanfey, 2011, as cited by Sun et al., 2015).

The authors thoroughly outline the specific brain activity researchers have observed in subjects who meditate vs those who do not, ultimately concluding that meditation-related experience can reduce impulsivity, pathological gambling, and decision biases in non-social decision-making (Sun et al., 2015). Meditation helps to control risky responses, habitual actions, temporal focus, and negative emotions.

A few weeks ago, our class participated in a game-theoretical exercise that involved imaginary monetary payoffs and two actors who could either share or steal the money. This article referenced a similar scenario wherein researchers found meditators are more likely to accept unfair offers than non-meditators because the meditation helps regulate negative emotions or cultivates compassion during social decision making.

For non-social decision making, the authors assert that mediation may lead to better decision making by promoting better emotion regulation. The studies they collected found that decision-makers who meditated were able to reach conclusion that were more reflective of their values and objectives which allowed them to better differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information, maintain goal awareness, and mitigate irrational behaviors.

The authors presented an inclusive and informative collection of studies on the effects of meditation on decision making. I'm skeptical of any research that finds loads of support, but decidedly less, if any, contradicting evidence. Maybe meditation really does consistently produce desirable effects for those who practice it. This article certainly leads me to believe that. But I wonder if the emotionally regulated, non-biased, thoughtful person meditation supposedly creates is always what we want. If you think your adversary is of the non-meditating variety, perhaps you'd want to have a non-meditator on your side who can provide a more accurate insight into what action the adversary is likely considering.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision making

Authors: Shauna L. Shapiro, Hooria Jazaieri and Philippe R. Goldin
Institution: Santa Clara University
Publication: Journal of Positive Psychology
Year: 2012

In this article, the authors want to understand whether mindfulness training influences the development of moral reasoning, and therefore better and ethical decision-making abilities.

The authors cite Shapiro and Carlson’s (2009) definition of mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through intentionally paying attention in an open, kind and discerning way.” The authors state that “mindfulness practices are designed to enhance awareness of thoughts, feelings, somatic sensations, intention/motivations, and behaviors. The authors follow by citing the available research showing that mindfulness has pronounced psychological and physiological effects on both clinical and non-clinical populations.

The authors believe there is a link between moral reasoning and mindfulness. This is due to moral reasoning having a foundation in awareness. The core principle behind mindfulness practices is that it makes the practitioner more aware and attentive to himself, his surroundings, and the present moment. If moral reasoning has a basis in awareness, then mindfulness showed have a deeper impact on the other factors involved in moral reasoning.

The believed effect that mindfulness should have on ethical decision-making is due to the deconstruction of the ego involved in mindfulness training. By creating a more objective frame of reference, the mindfulness practitioner will have a broader awareness and understanding of not just himself but also others.

The authors hypothesize that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction would result in improved moral reasoning and decision-making in the immediate period following the study as well as a two-month follow-up.

25 adult females were involved in the study. The study consisted of an eight-week training in MBSR, which included 20 hours of meditation practice. Participants were required to record their experience in a daily journal. The participants were taught several mindfulness techniques.

The immediate results of the study found that there was no difference from the baseline in moral reasoning. The study did find that participants showed significant improvements in all measures of mindfulness.

The two-month follow-up showed continued improvements in mindfulness. In contrast to the immediate results of the study, participants showed improvement in all domains of moral reasoning in the follow-up. The authors believe that could be associated with more practice in MBSR which they posit would yield even greater positive changes in moral reasoning. The authors found that the amount of MBSR practiced by the participants was not associated with moral reasoning and other tested domains. Only mindfulness was enhanced through an increase in the weekly time devoted to practicing MBSR. Additionally, changes in mindfulness between the immediate post-study survey and two-month follow-up were not related to changes in moral reasoning.


It’s clear that consistent mindfulness training has an impact on thinking parameters. While the authors tested their domains using cognitive and psychological scales, they did not do so decision-making scenarios. Therefore, there are significant limitations on the applicability of their findings. The authors note that their study represents a starting off point for further research in the area. Their study indicates that there is some noticeable benefit towards continued practice of MBSR techniques, no matter how much time spent on a weekly basis. Given that there were improvements at the two-month mark in moral reasoning, based on scales used, it would be safe to say that there may be some benefit for analysts to practice MBSR. If moral reasoning and mindfulness can be thought as a proxy for unbiased or balanced analytic thought, then regular practice of MBSR should have noticeable, consistent, and long-term effect and potentially substantial positive benefit in estimates and analytic judgement. An additional limitation to this study was that it included only a small sample size and the sample subjects consisted only of women. The authors assess that women and men may internalize and respond to MBSR training differently. Given that the ranks of the Intelligence Community has predominantly been made up of men, this has implications on whether meditation is only useful on both genders. Given a brief review of other literature it is highly likely that MBSR is useful for men and women, therefore meditation could be explored as a practical method to improve analysis. 

 Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2012.723732