Thursday, February 9, 2017

Suffering May Lead to Extreme Political Beliefs

By Tom Jacobs 

According to a new study, experiencing adversity may contribute to politically polarized attitudes.

Many reasons have been offered for the increasing polarization of political attitudes. Now, a new study uncovers a different, more personal catalyst for moving to the far left or right.
It finds people who have experienced significant adversity in their lives are more likely to gravitate toward an extreme spot on the ideological spectrum.
This appears to be an example of “compensatory affirmation” — the widely reported tendency of people to respond to uncertainty or fear by clinging more closely to the belief systems that give their lives meaning. It appears that need to believe moves many to a more extreme position.
A demonstrator throws stones at riot police during an anti-government protest in eastern Caracas, Venezuela, on February 27th, 2014.A demonstrator throws stones at riot police during an anti-government protest in eastern Caracas, Venezuela, on February 27th, 2014.Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
A research team led by Daniel Randles of the University of Toronto and Roxane Cohen Silver of the University of California–Irvine presents its findings in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. The researchers used data from the Societal Implications Study, whose 1,613 participants were a nationally representative sample of Americans.
Participants were interviewed annually for three years, from 2006 through early 2009. On each occasion, they were asked their opinion on a series of questions referring to intergroup hostility and aggression, such as “The U.S. is justified in using torture to protect national security.”
“Cumulative lifetime adversity was measured by asking respondents whether they ever experienced each of 37 negative events, and the ages at which they occurred,” the researchers write. These included an illness or injury, physical violence, the death of a loved one, and experiencing a disaster such as a major earthquake or flood.
In their initial questionnaire, participants reported which of these they had experienced, how often, and when. As part of the two follow-ups, they updated the list to include more recent experiences.
The researchers found that, “regardless of direction, everyone is moved by adversity to become more polarized in their beliefs.” What’s more, experiencing a greater number of painful events nudges people “to holding ever more extreme positions.”
This shift “appears to be more strongly related to the experience of past, rather than recent, adversity,” the researchers add. They speculate that “once a person begins to show a tendency toward polarized thinking, the process becomes self-reinforcing and permanent.”
These findings come with several cautionary notes. The researchers point out that hardening one’s political beliefs as a “coping strategy” may be restricted to individualistic cultures such as our own. They add that adversity “is only one contributing factor behind a person’s motivation to take extreme or polar opinions.”
Still, it’s instructive to understand that certain psychological needs drive many people to the faux certainty of extreme beliefs. Rather than argue with your politically rigid neighbor, it might be more productive to get them to talk about the difficulties they have endured.

Inspirational Quote – February 9, 2017

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

I don’t think this means to literally scare you but more that you should do something that gets the blood pumping through your veins. Something along the lines of perhaps joining a group that you’ve wanted to join for a while but getting to know a bunch of new people scares you. Or just getting on a bus or train to somewhere you’ve never been before but have always wanted to explore, etc. You get the picture? We all put off or dismiss things we’d like to do but are too scared or nervous about the reaction of others. Why put it off any longer, make a resolution to do something every day that scares you. Even if you only do it for a week, a month, won’t it be fun and, who knows, what it could lead to in the future. Exciting times.

Welcome to Canada: A Refugee's Story

"I think that facing death changes people. Which is what happened with me." Mohammed Alsaleh was a young medical student in Syria, dreaming of one day treating patients with cancer. Under the Assad regime he was arrested three times, held in 5 different detention centers, and tortured for 120 days before being released. In 2014 he was granted asylum in Canada where he began to rebuild his life. Now, the former medical student counsels newly-arrived Syrian refugee families with the same Vancouver-based NGO that helped his own resettlement. Like him, these families have left beloved ones behind and struggle with the pain and uncertainty of separation even as they try to rebuild their lives. Mohammed lives in hope that his family will one day be reunited in Canada. This short film captures not just his story, but through it, the story of thousands of displaced Syrians whose strength and humanity in the face of unspeakable horrors, has moved hearts all over the world.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What’s Good about Lying?

By Jeremy Adam Smith

New research reveals how we learn to lie for the benefit of other people.

Do you teach children to lie?
I do. All the time. And you do, too! If you’re like most American parents, you point to presents under the Christmas tree and claim that a man named Santa Claus put them there. Or, you insinuate that a creature called the Tooth Fairy swapped out your child’s fallen tooth for a dollar. Those are false statements, deliberately made to people who trust us adults.
But your lying probably goes beyond these benign deceptions. How many of us tell our kids (or students) that everything is fine when, in fact, everything is totally wrong, in order to preserve their sense of security? Have you been honest about everything having to do with, say, your love life, or what happens at work? We don’t just lie to protect our kids from hard truths, either; we actually coach them to lie, as when we ask them to express delight at tube socks from Aunt Judy or Uncle Bob’s not-so-delicious beef stew.
These are what scientists call “prosocial lies”—falsehoods told for someone else’s benefit, as opposed to “antisocial lies” that are told strictly for your own personal gain.
Most research suggests that children develop the ability to lie at about age three. By age five, almost all children can (and will) lie to avoid punishment or chores—and a minority will sporadically tell prosocial lies. From ages seven to eleven, they begin to reliably lie to protect other people or to make them feel better—and they’ll start to consider prosocial lies to be justified. They’re not just telling white lies to please adults. The research to date suggests that they are motivated by strong feelings of empathy and compassion.
Why should that be the case? What is going on in children’s minds and bodies that allows this capacity to develop? What does this developmental arc reveal about human beings—and how we take care of each other? That’s what a recent wave of studies has started to uncover.
Taken together, this research points to one message: Sometimes, lying can reveal what’s best in people.

How we learn to lie

At first, the ability to lie reflects a developmental milestone: Young children are acquiring a “theory of mind,” which is psychology’s way of describing our ability to distinguish our own beliefs, intents, desires, and knowledge from what might be in the minds of other people. That’s why children who start lying earlier than average are ahead of other children on the developmental curve. They have come to understand that not everyone shares the same thoughts, feelings, or facts.
Antisocial lying appears earlier than prosocial lying in children because it’s much simpler, developmentally; it mainly requires an understanding that adults can’t read your mind. But prosocial lying needs more than just theory of mind. It requires the ability to identify suffering in another person (empathy) and the desire to alleviate that suffering (compassion).
More than that, even, it involves anticipation that our words or actions might cause suffering in a hypothetical future. Thus, prosocial lying involves at least four distinct human capacities: theory of mind, empathy, compassion, and the combination of memory and imagination that allows us to foresee the consequences of our words.
How do we know that kids have all of these capacities? How do we know that they aren’t just lying to get out of the negative consequences of telling the truth? Or perhaps they’re just lazy; is it easier to lie than be honest?
For a paper published in 2015, Harvard psychologist Felix Warneken had adults show elementary-aged children two pictures they drew—one pretty good, one terrible. If the adults didn’t show any particular pride in the picture, the kids were truthful in saying whether it was good or bad. If the grown-up acted sad about being a bad artist, most of the kids would rush to reassure her that it wasn’t too awful. In other words, they told a white lie; the older they were, they more likely the kids were to say a bad drawing was good. There were no negative consequences for telling the truth to these bad artists; the kids just wanted these strangers to feel better about themselves.
In other words, says Warneken, it’s a feeling of empathic connection that drives children to tell white lies. In fact, children are trying to resolve two conflicting norms—honesty vs. kindness—and by about age seven, his studies suggest, they start consistently coming down on the side of kindness. This reflects increasingly sophisticated moral and emotional reasoning.
“When is it right to prioritize another person’s feelings over truth?” says Warneken. “Say, if someone cooks something for you, and it just doesn’t taste good. Well, if they’re applying for cooking school somewhere, the prosocial thing is to be honest, so that they can improve. But if they just cooked it on their own just for you, then perhaps it’s better to lie and say it tastes good.”
It’s a good sign, developmentally, when kids show the ability to make that kind of calculation. Indeed, there is a great deal of evidence that we tend to see prosocial lies as the more moral choice. People tend to behave more prosocially—more grateful, more generous, more compassionate—in the presence of images depicting eyes. When Japanese researchers gave students an opportunity to make someone feel good with a lie, they were much more likely to do so with a pair of eyes looking down on them.

How lies change as we grow

This moral self-consciousness appears to grow in tandem with the child’s self-control and cognitive ability.
Another study published last year in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that “children who told prosocial lies had higher performance on measures of working memory and inhibitory control.” This especially helped them to control “leakage”—a psychologist’s term for inconsistencies in a fake story.
To tell a prosocial lie, a child’s brain needs to juggle many balls—drop one, and the lie will be discovered. Some children are simply better truth-jugglers than others. Far from reflecting laziness, prosocial lying seems to entail a great deal more cognitive and emotional effort than truth-telling. In fact, one 2014 paper found tired adults are much less likely to engage in prosocial lying.
Studies by other researchers show that as kids grow older, the relationship between theory of mind and dishonesty starts to shift. Young children with high theory of mind will tell more antisocial lies than peers. This pattern flips as we age: Older children who have a stronger theory of mind start telling fewer antisocial lies—and more prosocial ones.
Kids also gradually become more likely to tell “blue lies” as they advance through adolescence: altruistic falsehoods, sometimes told at a cost to the liar, that are intended to protect a group, like family or classmates. (Think: lying about a crime committed by a sibling, or deceiving a teacher about someone else’s misbehavior.)
Though adults can (and do) teach children to tell polite lies—and in a lab context, kids can be primed by adults to tell them—Warneken says it’s more likely that successful prosocial lying is a byproduct of developing other capacities, like empathy and self-control. When kids acquire those skills, they gain the ability to start telling white and blue lies.
But how do other people feel if these lies are found out?

The lies that bind

As they grow older, kids are also developing the ability to detect lies—and to distinguish selfish from selfless ones. The distinction comes down to intent, which studies show can be discerned through recognition of telltale signs in the face and voice of the liar.
In a study published last year, researchers used the Facial Action Coding System, developed by Paul Ekman, to map children’s faces as they told lies that served either themselves or others. The team, based at the University of Toronto and UC San Diego, found that the two different kinds of lies produced markedly different facial expressions.
Prosocial lies (which in this case involved delight in a disappointing gift) were betrayed by expressions that resembled joy—a “lip raise on the right side” that hinted at a barely concealed smile, and a blinking pattern associated with happiness. The faces of children lying to conceal a misdeed showed signs of contempt, mainly a slight lip pucker that stops short of being a smirk.
It’s almost certainly the case that we are subconsciously picking up on these signs (along with tells in the liar’s voice) when we catch someone in a lie. But research finds that the consequences of catching someone in a prosocial lie are often very different from those of an antisocial lie, or “black lie,” as they’re sometimes called. In fact, detecting a prosocial lie can increase trust and social bonds.
A series of four 2015 studies from the Wharton School had participants play economic games that involved different kinds of trust and deception. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that black lies hurt trust. But if participants saw that the deception was altruistic in nature, trust between game-players actually increased. A complex mathematical 2014 study compared the impact of black and white lies on social networks. Again, black lies drove wedges into social networks. But white lies had precisely the opposite effect, tightening social bonds. Several studies have found that people are quick to forgive white lies, and even to appreciate them.
These differences show up in brain scans—and how different types of lies affect the brain can actually influence behavior down the road. A research team led by Neil Garrett at Princeton University assigned 80 people a financial task that allowed them to gain money at another person’s expense if they kept on lying.

Neil Garrett describes his team’s experiment.
“We found that people started with small lies, but slowly, over the course of the experiment, lied more and more,” they write. When they scanned the brains of participants, they found that activity lessened (mainly in the amygdala) with each new lie.
Not everyone lied or lied to their own advantage. One variation in the experiment allowed participants to lie so that another participant would gain more money—and the behavior and the brain scans of those people looked very different. Dishonesty for the benefit of others did not escalate in the same way selfish lies did; while people did lie for others, the lies did not get bigger or more frequent, as with black lies. And it did not trigger the same pattern of activity in the amygdala, which previous research has found lights up when we contemplate immoral acts.
In short, the brain’s resistance to deception remained steady after participants told prosocial lies—while self-serving lies seemed to decrease it, making black lies a slippery slope.
The upshot of all this research? Not all lies are the same, a fact we seem to recognize deep in our minds and bodies. We may indeed teach children to lie, both implicitly with our behavior and explicitly with our words; but some of those lies help to bind our families and friends together and to create feelings of trust. Other kinds of lies destroy those bonds.
This all might seem overly complex, more so than the simple prescription to not tell a lie. The trouble with simple do-not-lie prohibitions is that kids can plainly see lying is ubiquitous, and as they grow, they discover that not all lies have the same motivation or impact. How are we supposed to understand these nuances, and communicate them to our children?
In fact, the argument for prosocial lies is the same one against black lies: other people’s feelings matter—and empathy and kindness should be our guide.

Inspirational Quote – February 8, 2017

“Some people are going to reject you, simply because you shine too brightly for them, and that’s okay, keep shining."

If you are reading this quote you are probably a very spiritual, sensitive soul and, as such, possess your own “inner light.” You may be on your own spiritual journey and therefore constantly learning and growing in knowledge and becoming comfortable in your own power. In a perfect world everybody you know would be encouraging you and proud of what you are accomplishing. However, in our less than perfect world, this is often not the case as one person or several people around you can become envious of your newfound wisdom and focus in your life and may gradually distance themselves or indeed may attempt to deter you from staying on your spiritual path. Stay focused and do not allow anybody, no matter who they are, to have the power to dim your precious “light.”

To Heal the Human Heart

The science of empathy is now one of the most celebrated subjects of psychological and neuro-psychological enquiry and it has the potential to transform human society in spectacular ways. For instance, if a human being's central nervous system carries blueprints for empathy, and if the health and vitality of one's empathy circuits depend on one's environment from conception through adulthood, what does that mean about our moralistic judgments of good and evil, and of punishment and reward? This well-written piece on the latest findings on empathy and on its limitations offers some surprising and heartening answers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Annoying Aches and Pains and How to Fix Them

Sprains and Strains

People who play sports or are physically active are familiar with stretched or torn ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Both cause swelling and inflammation. Sprains can give you bruises. Strains may trigger muscle spasms. Use RICE for early treatment -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. See a doctor if it's numb or tingles, you can’t move a joint, or it doesn't get better within a week.

Tension Headache

This common type of headache feels like a band is squeezing your head. OTC painkillers, rest, and drinking water will often do the trick. Your headache should go away within hours, but it could last a couple of days. Plenty of rest, proper posture, less stress, and lots of fluids (without caffeine) may help you avoid one.


Throbbing pain in the front or side of your head can put a hold on your daily activities. You might feel sick to your stomach, be sensitive to light, or have other symptoms. Find somewhere dark and quiet to rest. An ice pack may numb pain; a heating pad can relax tense muscles. An OTC pain reliever with a bit of caffeine may help if you catch a migraine early. Some people need a prescription to treat or prevent them.


Tooth decay, cracked teeth, broken fillings, and gum disease are likely causes. You might not be a fan of the dentist, but if your toothache lasts more than a couple of days, you should go. If you don't take care of it, an inflamed area could become infected, leading to bigger problems. Tooth pain can also signal a sinus infection, a problem with the joint where your jaw meets your skull (TMJ), or grinding your teeth at night.

Neck Pain

Your neck is less protected than the rest of your spine, so it's vulnerable to sprains and strains. Those pains are usually temporary, and often, you won't need a doctor. Regular wear and tear, such as the disks breaking down, can also hurt. Good posture helps prevent pain. You might feel more serious neck injuries in other parts of your body, such as the upper back, arms, and legs, too.

Back Pain

As you age, it becomes more common. Back pain can be dull or sharp and last months at a time. Being overweight and lifting something the wrong way can cause it. Diseases including arthritis and cancer can affect your back and spine, and your genes can play a role, too. Treatments for most types of back pain include OTC medications and muscle relaxants, hot and cold packs, and exercise.

Frozen Shoulder

The pain is usually worse at night, when you lie on that side. Simple, everyday tasks can be hard to do. Your shoulder becomes stiff to the point where you can’t move it. Exercises and physical therapy can improve your range of motion. Untreated, it could take 2-3 years to "thaw." It mostly happens to people between 40 and 60. Women and people with diabetes are more likely to have this problem.

Tendinitis and Bursitis

These are swelling around a muscle or bone, usually brought on by the overuse or injury of a joint, like your ankle, elbow, knee, hip, shoulder, or wrist. Treat these with RICE, too. Call your doctor if the pain and swelling are bad, get worse, or if there's any redness.


The leading cause of disability in America is a group of more than 100 diseases that cause joint pain. Symptoms, which may come and go, often include swelling, pain, stiffness, and limited motion. They could be the result of wear and tear or of inflammation triggered by your immune system. Arthritis usually can't be cured, but you can often ease pain and manage the condition with your doctor's help.


It could be for a number of reasons, including indigestion, gas, and constipation, but generally it won't last for more than a few hours and isn't serious. OTC medicines may help a tummy ache or upset stomach feel better until it passes. Call your doctor if the pain is sudden and severe, lasts for days, or if you're vomiting blood, have bloody stool, or notice any other unusual symptoms.


This shooting pain can make either sitting or standing uncomfortable. You might feel weak, numb, and a burning or tingling in your leg, but it's not a cramp. It's a pinched nerve or slipped disk in your lower back. Sneezing and coughing can sharpen the pain. Sciatica usually goes away in a few weeks with rest and gentle exercise, but you should see your doctor. Most people who get it are between 30 and 50.

Nerve Pain

Tingling, burning, numbness, and weakness can all signal a problem with your nerves. People with uncontrolled diabetes tend to get nerve damage in their feet, hands, arms, and legs. Shingles, a painful rash caused by the chickenpox virus traveling down nerves, can lead to ongoing pain. When your organs are affected, you could have trouble with digestion or peeing. Medications, physical therapy, and eating well can help.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There's little evidence that keyboard overuse is at fault for one of the leading nerve disorders. Pecking at the computer could make the tingling and numbness in your fingers worse though, if you already have a pinched nerve. Rest first; avoid bending or twisting your wrist for a couple of weeks. Then try yoga or physical therapy. Sometimes medicines that reduce swelling can ease symptoms.

Sore, Swollen Feet

Rest and put your feet up! Ice them for 15-20 minutes at a time. If you must stand on a hard surface all day, try compression stockings, wear shoes with good support, and take breaks off your feet when you can. Women and people who have flat feet or high arches are more prone to plantar fasciitis, which makes the bottom of your heel hurt. Stretching is good for that.

Call your doctor when the pain is bad or if you don't know why your feet ache.

What We Still Don’t Know about Mindfulness Meditation

By Hooria Jazaieri

Despite the hype, researchers are still exploring the benefits of meditation and how much practice we need to achieve them.

During the past two decades, we’ve discovered a lot about mindfulness—and specifically meditation, which is one of the best ways to cultivate moment-to-moment awareness of ourselves and our environment. 
Research has suggested that in a few short weeks, mindfulness meditation practice can bring about physiological, psychological, and social benefits in our lives. From increases in gray matter in the brain to alleviating physical ailments such as migraines and fibromyalgia, the benefits of mindfulness and meditation practice more generally have been touted for everyone ranging from executives to schoolchildren.
While some have been critical of the science behind mindfulness meditation due to poor study designs and small effect sizes, this hasn’t curbed mainstream interest. A recently published study sought to examine the print media coverage of meditation between 1979 and 2014 and discovered that there’s a “near ubiquitous positive coverage of meditation.”
With so many positive claims about mindfulness meditation, it can be difficult to decipher which claims have the most research behind them and which are still preliminary or speculative. In fact, there is a great deal we don’t yet understand about mindfulness and meditation. Here’s a rundown of questions that we’re still exploring, with some tips for thoughtfully consuming news and research.

What are the actual benefits of mindfulness meditation?

Just recently, I’ve seen headlines promoting how mindfulness and meditation practices may “decrease your risk of cancer,” “reduce holiday excess,” and help athletes rise to the top. Are these claims true?
Rather than relying on single studies, when possible, it’s useful to turn to “meta-analyses”: statistical reviews of a number of studies in a particular domain. For example, a recent meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine caused a bit of a stir in the meditation community. This meta-analysis examined 47 randomized controlled trials of mindfulness meditation programs, which included a total of 3,515 participants. They found that meditation programs resulted only in small to moderate reductions in anxiety, depression, and pain. The authors note that although these effects are small, they are “comparable with what would be expected from the use of an antidepressant in a primary care population but without the associated toxicities.”
Surprisingly, this review showed low evidence of improvements in stress, distress, and quality of life. Furthermore, there was also low, insufficient, or no evidence of meditation programs’ effect on positive mood and feelings, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight. According to the authors, meditation programs were not shown to be more beneficial than active treatments—such as exercise, therapy, or taking prescription drugs—on any outcomes of interest. Meditation did not seem to be harmful, however.
While it’s possible that the benefits of mindfulness practice and meditation more generally may be more modest than originally assumed, several important barriers to the study of contemplative practices influence the quality of research being conducted. Most notable are the lack of funding (which influences number of participants, study length, and design) and poor measurement tools (which have been limited primarily to questionnaires of varying quality, an issue also likely tied to the lack of funding). While private and federal research grants are indeed awarded to the study of contemplative practices, these grants are typically much smaller than those awarded to more traditional research (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy or pharmacology trials).
Nevertheless, the consensus from this meta-analysis is that while there are some benefits, mindfulness meditation programs are not a cure-all to every modern-day ailment.

How much practice is enough?

As someone who teaches meditation (mindfulness- and compassion-based), the question I get asked time and time again is “How much meditation practice is enough?” Most people are looking for a CDC type of response (e.g., 3 times a week for 45-60 minutes), but I will often quote an old Zen saying: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” More typically, though, I give the unsatisfactory answer of “it depends.” To date, empirical research has yet to arrive at a consensus about how much is “enough.”
Many meditation programs suggest that participants practice formal meditation (the “on the cushion” practice) anywhere from 15-30 minutes per day, 5-7 days per week. Many research studies, including some of our published research at Stanford University on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Compassion Cultivation Training, have found that some (not all) of the benefits from these programs are “dose dependent”—meaning that the participants who report the greatest amount of meditation practice are the ones who show the greatest gains. This is not universally true; there are some outcomes that do not seem to be influenced by minutes of practice, and there are many published studies that do not show any “dose” effects at all. As is often the case, the research is mixed.
Aside from the raw number of minutes, other factors may interact to influence the benefits of mindfulness practice: the type (e.g., formal sitting meditation practice vs. informal meditation practices, mindfulness vs. compassion, etc.), the frequency (e.g., multiple times a day, multiple times a week), and the quality (e.g., sitting and actually doing the practice vs. doing the practice “on the go”). I often use the analogy of going to the gym: It’s not enough to simply think about going to the gym, or talk about going to the gym, or wear gym clothes around town, or go to the gym and sit on the gym equipment and check your email, or only do cardio or weights exclusively, or only go to the gym for a few weeks after making New Year’s resolutions. In order to gain the most benefits out of going to the gym, one has to really show up and do the exercises on a regular basis.
While it’s possible that in the next 10-15 years we will see a CDC-style recommendation regarding meditation practice, to date, the empirical data on the topic are still inconclusive. So my recommendations (for the time being) are to try out different durations, types, and frequencies of meditation and jot down how you feel before and after the practice. It’s even important to experiment with different times of the day (I recommend that you do the practice before you “need it”). Making time to intentionally reflect on your experiences with the practices is key. For some people, meditating for 20-30 minutes a day is not fitting—the only way to find out what’s right for you is to experiment. So take it with a grain of salt the next time you see a recommendation on how much meditation is “enough.”

Is there a dark side to meditation?

One of the big misconceptions about mindfulness practice and meditation more generally is that they will induce a sense of peace, calm, and stress reduction. While this can be the experience for some, it is not the experience for all. At times, sitting quietly with oneself can be a difficult—even painful—experience. For individuals who have experienced some sort of trauma, sitting and meditating can at times bring up recent or sometimes decades-old painful memories and experiences that they may not be prepared to confront.

We don’t know much about these adverse effects yet. A few years ago, Willoughby Britton at Brown University launched “The Varieties of Contemplative Experience” project in an effort to examine, document, analyze, and ultimately publicize any accounts of adverse effects of meditation and contemplative practices. While data collection is ongoing, we will likely soon have some preliminary data on the adverse effects for certain individuals.
At times, it may be appropriate to seek outside support when practicing meditation, such as short-term psychotherapy, support groups, or meditation sangha groups. It’s also possible that some practices are more “difficult” than others. For example, practices where you visualize yourself as a small child might be particularly difficult if you experienced some sort of abuse as a young child. Rather than powering through the practices, be willing to gauge whether a particular type of meditation is suitable for you at this time in your life.

How to consume research with a critical eye

In the journal-to-journalism cycle, there is often a disconnect between what scientific research actually finds and what the media ends up reporting. We will no doubt continue to be inundated with glossy magazine covers, catchy headlines, and social media posts on the latest and greatest findings on mindfulness and meditation more generally. Aside from reading news from reputable outlets, as a savvy consumer of mindfulness meditation research, you may consider doing the following.
1. Read the original research paper. Track down the original research paper that is being cited and read it in its entirety. Pay particular attention to the Methods section: Who are the participants? How many were there? How was mindfulness measured or manipulated? If there were differences found, how large are these differences?
2. Ask how this fits in with the larger literature. The latest mindfulness meditation research will surely make splashy headlines, but it’s important to consider how findings fit in with the larger literature: Does this study support or contradict other studies? Have these findings been replicated? Opt to read meta-analyses when possible.
3. Remember that publications are biased. Academic journals are historically biased towards publishing new and novel research that finds some link or effect, rather than none. Therefore, most of the news articles and research papers you read will say that there are indeed some changes or improvements. While this is slowly changing, studies where there were no differences or improvements are still unlikely to be published. It’s important to remember that what is being published is a fraction of all the research that actually gets conducted.
4. Revisit Stats 101. Remember that research is probabilistic; averages are getting reported in studies and there are always people who fall above and below the average (sometimes so much so that they’re referred to as outliers). Remember that you may be an outlier—just because the literature says something “works” for most people doesn’t mean it will “work” for you. We have to be willing to be our own laboratory and try things out on ourselves, collect data, and determine whether they “work” for us.
5. Proceed with caution. Remember to interpret everything you read with caution—researchers and journalists have biases, too! Researchers are incentivized to publish findings that tell a neat and coherent story and fit in with mainstream research. Journalists are incentivized to come up with catchy headlines to get you to click on their articles, and are often constrained by word count limits and tight deadlines—all of which may influence the end product that you read. As sophisticated consumers of mindfulness research, we must be willing to do our own homework and carefully consider what, if any, implications the latest research findings have for us in our lives.