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