Randomized Control Trials, Mindfulness, and Meditation

The gold standard for evaluative research is the randomized control trial (RCT).  In RCTs subjects are assigned randomly to different experimental conditions.   Typically untreated control groups and placebo control groups are included.  Absent this random assignment, biases could be introduced into the study.  Statistical tests are administered on the data after it has been collected to estimate the likelihood that any differences are due to chance.

Conclusions are based on the populations from which the sample groups were drawn.  The conclusions are made to the populations from which these samples were drawn.  So if you are not  a member of this population, you cannot conclude that the conclusions are relevant to you.  You should also realize that the conclusions are not for you personally.   So even if you belong to a population it is possible that your responses to the treatment would have differed due to some genetic or experiential factor unique to you.

You will come across studies that conclude that mindfulness or certain types of meditation do not work or produce certain results.  You need to be skeptical regarding these conclusions.  First of all, it is quite likely that individuals can be found for whom these practices work.  But when reading about experiments you need to consider what was the length of the training period.  It is quite possible that the training period was insufficient.  It is also possible that the training was inadequate or wrong.  Then, there is also a matter of individual commitment.  Unlike a medical trial where some substance is provided, mindfulness practices require the commitment of the participant to the practice of mindfulness.  Half-hearted or skeptical participants are unlikely to participate.

So be skeptical of research on mindfulness or particular types of meditation that address the general question of whether it works.  That is a meaningless question.  However research into the specific benefits, physiological, brain activity or brain changes is informative.  What is especially informative is research into specific regimens of training and practice along with the resulting benefits.  And always be cognizant that you are an individual and that your results might very well differ.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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