Meditation does not make you a better person according to a new study despite widespread claims that meditation can make you calmer and more compassionate towards other people.
Researchers have found that despite popular beliefs that meditation can make people more compassionate and less aggressive the evidence for this is limited.
The research by scientists at Coventry University in the UK, Massey University in New Zealand, and Radboud University in the Netherlands, reviewed 22 studies involving 1685 people to investigate the effect of various types of meditation.
The practice, incorporating a range of spiritual or religious beliefs in a bid to boost the mind, body and spirit, has been touted as being able to make the world a better place.
Initially research found that meditation did have an overall positive impact, however further analysis revealed a core methodological flaw that greater levels of compassion only increased if the meditation teacher was also the author of the study, suggesting bias.
Dr Miguel Farias, from Coventry University's Centre for Advances in Behavioural Science, said: “The popularisation of meditation techniques, like mindfulness, despite being taught without religious beliefs, still seem to offer the hope of a better self and a better world to many.
"We did not find that meditation had any negative effects, however the good impacts can be compared to a placebo effect.
“A person may have the expectation of becoming a better person through meditating, and may believe that to be the case - but in fact this has not been proven.”
Initial analysis carried out indicated that positive effects were seen by making people feel moderately more compassionate or empathetic, compared to if they had done no other new emotionally-engaging activity.
However further analysis revealed it played no significant role in reducing aggression or prejudice or improving how socially-connected someone was.
Unexpectedly the study, published in Scientific Reports, also revealed that the more positive results found for compassion had important methodological flaws.
Namely compassion levels in some studies only increased if the meditation teacher was also an author of the published report.
Overall the results suggested the moderate improvements reported by psychologists in previous studies may be the result of methodological weaknesses and biases.
Dr Farias added: “When we first looked at the data set together we had what looked like positive effects. However, it appeared that people only became more compassionate when there was bias in the data set.
"None of this, of course, invalidates Buddhism or other religions' claims about the moral value and eventually life changing potential of its beliefs and practices.
If you want to be more compassionate go and volunteer at a charity
Dr Miguel Farias
"But our research findings are a far cry from many popular claims made by meditators and some psychologists.”
The lack of a positive change in compassion he said was not surprising as in most instances to improve compassion or empathy this would involve spending more time interacting with others.
“Why would people get compassion from meditating alone. There is a belief that Buddhists meditate for 12 hours a day, but this is not true. They spend a large amount of time interacting with one another,” he said.
“If you want to meditate because you want some quiet time and time to relax, I see no issues, but the benefits it can have on a person's character are limited, if you want to be more compassionate go and volunteer at a charity."