Monday, May 6, 2013

Transcendental Meditation and Concentration Ability

Barnhard Sabel conducted a study to determine whether transcendental meditation lead to an improvement in concentration ability.

The study used 60 practitioners of transcendental meditation in a double-blind study.  The experimental group meditated for 20 minutes while the control group read text. Their concentration was tested before and after the experiment. The study found that meditation had no measurable short-term effects on concentration. Moreover, the subjects that were more experienced in meditation did not have a higher concentration score than subjects who were less experienced.

The study used the same number of males and females. The subjects' experience in transcendental meditation varied from a few days to 99 months. The concentration test called d2 was used for both groups. The tests had subjects cross out 'd's that had two marks around the letter (example of test in picture). They were measured on both speed and accuracy.

The authors acknowledge that the main issue with this study is that the test used to measure concentration, the d2 test, may not be the best way to measure the supposed benefits of transcendental meditation. Even so, the results of this study shows that the claimed benefits of transcendental meditation should be met with skepticism.

Transcendental meditation could still be a useful practice though. As discussed in last week's post about brain training. there is a possible placebo effect with transcendental meditation. Though the study did not show an improvement, it is possible that by believing meditation works while practicing it, the subject's concentration could increase. if this is the case for some, than meditation could have benefits. 

I am hesitant to say that the possible placebo effects could still make meditation useful for the intelligence community, as members of the IC tend to be fairly skeptical. which would greatly reduce any placebo effect.


 Sabel, B (1980). Transcendental meditation and concentration ability, Perceptual and Motor Skills. 50:3, 799-802. Retrieved from 


  1. A major critique I have with this study is the amount of experience in meditation that the participants had, with some with a few days to others with 99 months of experience. If there was more participants who had relatively less experience in mediation it is likely that this was the reason why transcendental meditation proved ineffective within this study. Moreover, the concentration test seemed to be a horrible way to measure the effects of transcendental meditation. It seemed more of a visual test identifying correct answers. Moreover, this way of testing the effects of transcendental mediation would be ineffective if participants were better visually than other participants. Overall, I feel that this study has many inherent errors within the experimental design that make me extremely skeptical of the results.

  2. The test used is certainly an interesting test for concentration. Without having read the original research, I assume the author chose this test for a reason, such as its use to test concentration in previous research. Because this research only tested one area of cognitive performance, it is unwise, as you point out, to rule transcendental meditation useless as a whole.

  3. I'm not sure how much I buy into the 'crossing off d's with two marks' test as a form of concentration. People concentrate differently on different things and situations, so finding a test that measures this accurately would be very difficult. I also agree with you that the IC community would have a hard time accepting transcendental meditation, on average, based on skepticism.

  4. I also saw an issue with the high variance in terms of the degree of experience the participants had. I think this is an area of the study that has a high potential to skew the results. While the article found it did not have an effect, it made me question the credibility of the study overall. I think it is odd that the researchers were sure to use the same number of males and females but were fine with using individuals with such different levels of experience.

  5. how does one do a double-blind study on meditation?

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