Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Immediate and long-tern effects of meditation on acute stress reactivity, cognitive functions, and intelligence.

In this article the authors examine how people react when in stressful situations followed by a period of meditation.  They wanted to look at how physiological parameters, cognitive functions, intelligence, and emotional quotients changed over time under these conditions.  The authors selected 34 male volunteers between the ages of 18-30 for this experiment. They excluded anyone who was involved with drugs or tobacco, prior daily use of meditation, and anyone with a medical condition.  Females were excluded based on the grounds their menstrual cycle affects their stress levels.

The first phase involved the participants learning which computer game stressed them the most of the ones provided, and then being assigned to that computer game.  The in between stage had the participants learn basic meditation and then were given tapes to listen to.  They were instructed to listen to the tape while meditating daily for one month, or without it if that was their preference.  Each meditation was supposed to last about 15 minutes.  The last phase included a period of time playing the stressful computer game followed immediately by mediation.  The participants were monitored for changes in the various levels mentioned earlier. 

One results was a significant improvements of general intelligence (IQ) for memory and the Sternberg memory (for short-term memory) and Stroop test scores (cognitive flexibility).  Additionally, baseline GSR (galvanic skin response) and AS (acute stress) scores within stage 2 were lower.  Emotional intelligence, chronic stress levels, basal cortisol, and heart rates did not change.  The authors conclude that young adult males could reverse some of the stress effects with meditation.

I may be biased, but excluding women because they have a menstrual cycle is ridiculous.  I understand that stress levels can vary for genders, but they also greatly vary for professions, life situations, age, etc.  I personally don't feel that justifying the exclusion of women based on perceived different stress levels is acceptable.  In fairness, this study was done in India, and I'm not sure if the cultural perception of women is significantly different in India. 

Additionally, the authors are unclear whether they did Phase 1 computer game then instruction on meditation and then Phase 2 the same thing, or that meditation wasn't introduced until Phase 2.  Or perhaps they meant 1 month of computer games and stress, followed by one month of just meditation, and then one month of computer games and stress again.  In the end, only Table 1 explained it clearly to me- the first phase involved no meditation, the in between stage involved just meditation, and the second phase combined the computer game followed by meditation.  Personally, it would have just been easier to make three phases. 

I had a major issue with the authors not including a control group that had no experience with meditation throughout the experiment.  They stated the participants were their own control group (through not having done meditation for the first phase).  While this is true, I feel that including a base group throughout the study would give it more credibility.  

Lastly, meditation could be useful to the intelligence community if there is indisputable evidence that it helps improve stress reduction.  I remain skeptical as some studies showed some improvement, while others showed no improvement.  The results don't seem consistent enough to warrant requiring this in the workplace.

Singh, Y., Sharma, R., & Talwar, A. (2012). Immediate and long-tern effects of meditation on acute stress reactivity, cognitive functions, and intelligence. Alternative Therapies18(6), Retrieved from http://www.kimberlypitrelli.com/userfiles/3095684/file/Immediate & Long Term Effects Of Meditation_2012.pdf


  1. Cori -- I agree with all of your critiques. It seems particularly odd that there were so many limitations placed on the experimental group, and that the experiment lacked a solid control group. IT would have been interesting to have a mixed gender approach, since that would allow for a level of the analysis to incorporate the differences between gender. To say that the study is ineffective, is a harsh statement, but it would have been much stronger if it included both a control group and females.

  2. I find it interesting that the study excluded solely females while the study I read only used females. However, I do agree that they should not have been excluded as stress from the menstrual cycle is not a valid reason. Although there were many significant limitations, I do like the aspect of this study that gave the participants a selection of games to choose from to identify the one that stressed them the most rather than giving everyone the same game. This somewhat personalizes the study for the individual as everyone is affected by stress factors differently.

  3. I also wondered how they came to the conclusion that women during their menstrual cycle are more stressed out than women who are not. Like you mentioned, stresses can be induced due a number of reasons. I think this is a weakness in the methodology that they failed to include females in the population. Also the authors should have explain the methodology section more thoroughly. This study is somewhat similar to the study I summarized this week in that the researchers concluded the young adults are likely to benefit from meditation.