The effects of short-term meditation on anxiety, locus of control, and self-actualization

Recent studies have suggested that the regular practice of a form of meditation known as Transcendental Meditation has a positive effect upon the psychological functioning of the individual. Unfortunately, these studies have not controlled for both motivational factors, and placebo/expectation of relief effect, and therefore these findings must be viewed as equivocal. This study examined the short term effects of a self-taught meditation technique developed by Benson (1974) on anxiety, locus of control, and self-actualization. An experimental design which controlled for motivational factors and placebo/expectation of relief effect was used. Using a post-test only control group design, 132 subjects were matched on sex and age, and randomly assigned to one of six groups: (a) an Experimental Group which practiced the full Benson technique for a six week period; (b) one of three Placebo-Treatment Groups which practiced a modified form of the Benson technique which excluded one major instructional component; (c) a High Expectation Group which, in addition to practicing the full Benson technique, received information aimed at increasing the expectation of positive psychological change as the result of regular meditation; or (d) a waiting-list Control Group. Following the six week experimental period the subjects were administered the IPAT Anxiety Scale, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (A-Trait Scale only), Rotter's Internal-External Locus of Control Scale, and Shostrom's Personal Orientation Inventory. Only the two major scales of the POI, Time Competence/Incompetence and Inner-Directed/Other-Directed, were analyzed. The results indicated that (a) short-term meditators were significantly less anxious, and more time-competent than were non-meditators; (b) the instructional components of the meditation technique which deal with the use of a mantra, and the progressive relaxation of the muscle system were central to the meditation process; (c) the instructional component dealing with the maintenance of a passive attitude during the meditation did not contribute significantly to the observed positive changes in psychological functioning; and (d) the introduction of a high expectation set resulted in the negation of the positive psychological changes otherwise derived from the regular practice of the meditation technique.