After two weeks, the spiritual meditation group reported lower anxiety, more positive mood, and greater spirituality than the secular meditation and control groups. Moreover, the spiritual group participants were able to withstand holding their hand in icy water (a measure of pain tolerance) for twice as long as the other participants. “The current study suggested that spiritual therapeutic techniques may be more effective than secular techniques”, the authors said.
"...the spiritual group participants were able to withstand holding their hand in icy water for twice as long as the other participants"Elizabeth Valentine at Royal Holloway, University of London told New Scientist magazine the finding could be explained by a placebo effect. “Participants in the spiritual group might simply have expected benefits because they were practicing 'real' meditation", she said. But lead author Amy Wachholtz rejected this argument. She told the Digest: “It is unlikely that the effects were simply due to placebo because of the inclusion of the secular meditation condition. It is interesting that Professor Valentine described the spiritual meditation practice as the ‘real’ meditation practice, given that all participants received the exact same training in meditation. There are a number of meditation practices in both the popular culture and in use by psychologists that are described as secular forms of meditation. Therefore assignment to a secular meditation practice would not necessarily be deemed a lesser or unusual meditation practice by participants”.
Wachholtz, A.B. & Pargament, K.I. (2005). Is spirituality a critical ingredient of meditation? Comparing the effects of spiritual meditation, secular meditation, and relaxation on spiritual, psychological, cardiac, and pain outcomes. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, In Press. DOI: 10.1007/s10865-005-9008-5.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.