Meditation: An Exploration of Practice Dimensions, Processes, and Psychological Health and Functioning Outcomes

Michael Ireland (2012). Meditation: An Exploration of Practice Dimensions, Processes, and Psychological Health and Functioning Outcomes PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Michael Ireland
Thesis Title Meditation: An Exploration of Practice Dimensions, Processes, and Psychological Health and Functioning Outcomes
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2012-02
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor John McLean
Total pages 205
Total black and white pages 205
Language eng
Subjects 170106 Health, Clinical and Counselling Psychology
110499 Complementary and Alternative Medicine not elsewhere classified
Abstract/Summary This thesis attempts to contribute to the ongoing investigation of the relationship between meditation practice and improvements in psychological health and functioning. The proposition and promise of meditation is deceptively simple: the aspirant devotes effort to training their mind and subsequently experiences improvements in psychological health and functioning. However, not enough is known (at least from a psychological standpoint) about the specific active components of meditation and the mechanisms and pathways by which changes occur. Therefore, three research studies were conducted to shed light on these questions and the three principle sections that make up the body of this thesis are devoted to presenting each study in the form of self-contained research articles. The first study attempts to take a snapshot of what is currently known about meditation from half a century of scientific research. The approach is a systematic critical review which documents, summarises, and critically evaluates the results of over 250 empirical research studies. This review provides a critical snapshot of the state of the literature and outlines issues in methodology and conceptualizations that serve to limit the usefulness of the extant data. This review also provides strong recommendations for moving the scientific endeavour forward and, in light of the largely atheoretical nature of research, highlights the need for embedding conceptualizations and research designs within substantive theoretical frameworks. A case is made for the traditional meditation philosophies as a starting point for achieving this. The subsequent sections of the thesis attempt a kind of test case for the recommended approaches. The second study attempts the very difficult task of introducing Buddhist insight (the development of an experiential understanding of impermanence, suffering, and nonself) to the empirical research agenda by proposing and psychometrically assessing a short self-report measure. The overarching aims of this study are to demonstrate that an understanding of the mechanisms by which meditation exerts its effects is enhanced by drawing from the philosophical roots of the practices. This study also aims to demonstrate that individual differences in these processes can be captured by self-report and that doing so is an important step in achieving a more complete understanding of meditation and how it operates. The third study takes this work further and applies statistical latent variable modelling techniques to assessing multiple theoretical principles relating to meditation practices and how they operate. Based on a review of various theoretical work (traditional Buddhist and Hindu literatures and contemporary transpersonal, humanistic, and clinical psychologies), this section very briefly outlines several guiding philosophical principles relating to the nature of meditation, what its expected outcomes are, and the nature of processes by which these outcomes are achieved. Once again, measurement issues are at the forefront. Individual differences in meditation practice are decomposed into primary dimensions and, through multiple indicators, a comprehensive measurement profile of meditation is proposed. This profile is then tested and modelled as a predictor of positive and negative psychological health and functioning indicators. The role of several theoretically-derived mediators of this relationship is also simultaneously tested. Across these three studies reported, the following general conclusions are supported: 1. Existing evidence provides consistent, though methodologically weak, support for a positive effect of meditation practice on a range of psychological health and functioning outcomes, and this has been reported across a range of populations; 2. Constructs and processes conceptualised within traditional meditation philosophies as central to how the techniques are understood and how they operate can be measured using self-report instruments; 3. Individual differences in meditation are likely to involve both behavioural aspects accounting for the degree of engagement, and psychological aspects incorporating the intensity or depth of this engagement; 4. Individual differences in these aspects predict large proportions of variance in a range of positive health and functioning outcomes including reductions in suffering and distress, positive emotional states, character strengths, and psychological development; 5. Several factors incorporating attention refinement (mindfulness), changes in self-perception and outlook (transcendence), and worldview (insight) represent plausible mechanisms serving to transmit the effects of meditation on psychological health and functioning. Additionally, it is important to consider a range of theoretical perspectives in delineating the nature and role of these processes; 6. Traditional meditation philosophies have an important role in informing the development of explanatory frameworks outlining what meditation is, what effects it might have, and how these occur. The culmination of background theoretical and empirical work (including studies one and two) resulted in the formulation of a multivariate model expressing the structure of variance in meditation practice as well as its hypothesised outcomes and intermediary factors. The model and the specific hypotheses it represented received support from two large and independent samples of meditation practitioners. In closing, this thesis has succeeded in conducting preliminary studies that are theoretically-grounded and methodologically sophisticated. It does not claim to provide definitive answers to the questions that it explores but rather a starting point for testing out new and potentially useful ways of addressing the questions themselves. I believe the data presented here provides important new insights that enhance our understanding of meditation and serve as building blocks for new areas of research.
Keyword meditation
Positive Psychology
Additional Notes 68 pages are landscape

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Created: Wed, 13 Jun 2012, 12:19:17 EST by Michael Ireland on behalf of Library - Information Access Service