Now there may finally be some scientific grounds for the “hippie liberal” label slung at us yogis by non-practitioners. Hooray? In the never ending search to make sense of our gray noodle bowl, a new research study found that people actually became more liberally minded after meditation or another spiritually oriented exercise. That’s spiritual, not religious. How’s that difference go again?
As part of the study, researchers at the University of Toronto found that “religious individuals tend to be more conservative and spiritual people tend to be more liberal,” said one of the study leaders, Jordan Peterson of U of T’s Department of Psychology.
However, Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a psychologist and the Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC disagrees with the “religious” vs. “spiritual” orientations, “spirituality” being defined in terms of going beyond yourself and the feeling that we’re all connected, with “religiousness” defined as a clinging to a code of traditions. Many people might agree they’re not mutually exclusive.
Nevertheless, the key finding is a fascinating one indeed, LaBier says via Psychology Today:
When participants in the study meditated they subsequently reported significantly higher levels of spirituality, and they expressed more liberal political attitudes. That is, meditation led both liberals and conservatives to endorse more liberal political positions.
Study lead author Jacob Hirsch explains why this is:
“Spiritual experiences seem to make people feel more of a connection with others,” he said. “The boundaries we normally maintain between ourselves and the world tend to dissolve during spiritual experiences. These feelings of self-transcendence make it easier to recognize that we are all part of the same system, promoting an inclusive and egalitarian mindset.”
One love, y’all! OK, maybe not so fast.
Dr. LaBier continues the meditative peace appreciation and offers further explanation for the liberal liberation:
Nevertheless, to the extent that movement towards politically liberal ideas does occur from meditation, I think that’s best understood as one possible manifestation of a broader and deeper phenomena: Meditation triggers awakening. It expands and elevates your overall perspective — about the relationship of your being to the whole; the “oneness” of life and the universe. You awaken to the flow of ongoing change and impermanence that characterizes life. Self-transcendence tunes you in to the reality that we’re particles of stardust, literally, traveling together on this planet at this moment of time.
Not only that, meditation helps reduce the “me”ness and allows for greater capacity for empathy, tolerance and compassion. Does it mean religious people are any less so? Not entirely. And the study may have some holes. Don’t go counting your gay marriage rights just yet. But it does suggest that meditators are more likely to be more open minded no matter what side of the political arena they set their zafu on. You tell us, could that be a bad thing? Filthy hippies, all of you! Love.
Expect Bill O’Reilly’s “War on traditional meditation” in 3..2…
[Science Daily via Psychology Today]
image via upenn.edu
Have you read the actual study? It’s silly actually that people can publish and claim that “meditation makes people liberal” after one study that is filled with problems.
The “meditation” – was a 4-minute streaming video guided meditation. That’s it. Then a few people in a certain cultural/social context answered some questions. The study doesn’t even give one example of what those questions were. But now we can claim that meditation makes people liberal? What kind of reasoning is that?
This is a profoundly complex question that can’t be solved with by having people meditate via video for 4 minutes.
Reads like one of the junk posts you would find Elephant Journal.
Really? We wouldn’t know.
A timeless practice of existing unimpeded momentarily makes you more apt to receive a societal label?
I believe almost nothing I read, and even less of what I write.
Hmmm…I was in a 6 year-long relationship with somebody whose parents had meditated several times a day for the previous 30 years and who are members of the Self Realization Fellowship. They are very politically conservative.
I know anecdotes are just anecdotes, and so mine proves nothing, but still it gives me pause…I think a more plausible explanation for the link between liberal political views and meditation is that people who are more liberal are more likely to try meditation than social conservatives.
I wonder how scientific this study really was. I mean I think in general there is a bias amongst people who are liberally minded to try meditation. If they hear about it, then they are more likely to do it. Whereas, conservatives are likely to be set in their way and not even try it. Since people are usually on a journey that goes in one direction unless a shock occurs in their life, one would expect one to become more liberally minded as they begin to take up yoga. They literally would need to find random people off the street and make them do yoga to really prove it scientifically.
I have a big problem with this, in part because the quotes from the authors make it pretty clear they feel “Liberal” is synonymous with “Good”. I think the creators of this study could use their perspectives expanded a bit.
Here’s the actual article http://spp.sagepub.com/search/results?fulltext=%22Spiritual+Liberals+and+Religious+Conservatives%22&x=-929&y=-208&submit=yes&journal_set=spspp&src=selected&andorexactfulltext=and
It’s found in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. You either subscribe or pay per article.
The University of Toronto’s summary says:
“In three studies, the researchers – Hirsh, Peterson and Megan Walberg, examined their participants’ political views in relation to their religiousness and spirituality. In the first study, they asked 590 American participants whether they identified as Democrat or Republican. In the second study, they measured 703 participants’ political orientations and support for the major American and Canadian political parties. The researchers confirmed that religiousness was associated with political conservatism, while spirituality was associated with political liberalism. These associations were in turn due to the common values underlying these orientations: conservatism and religiousness both emphasize the importance of tradition, while liberalism and spirituality both emphasize the importance of equality and social harmony.
In the third study, the researchers recruited 317 participants from the U.S. and asked half to complete a spiritual exercise consisting of a guided meditation video. Those who watched the video were asked to close their eyes and breathe deeply, imagining themselves in a natural setting and feeling connected to the environment. They were then asked about their political orientation and to rate how spiritual they felt. The researchers reported that, compared to those in the control group, participants who meditated felt significantly higher levels of spirituality and expressed more liberal political attitudes, including a reduced support for “tough on crime” policies and a preference for liberal political candidates.
“Spiritual experiences seem to make people feel more of a connection with others,” says Hirsh. “The boundaries we normally maintain between ourselves and the world tend to dissolve during spiritual experiences. These feelings of self-transcendence make it easier to recognize that we are all part of the same system, promoting an inclusive and egalitarian mindset.”
The researchers hope that these findings can not only advance our understanding of spirituality, but also help future political dialogue.
“The conservative part of religious belief has played an important role in holding cultures together and establishing common rules. The spiritual part, on the other hand, helps cultures renew themselves by adapting to changing circumstances,” says Peterson. “Both right and left are necessary; it’s not that either is correct, it’s that the dialogue between them produces the best chance we have at getting the balance right. If people could understand that both sides have an important role to play in society, some of the unnecessary tension might be eliminated.””
As with most science stories, news media pieces are rarely good indications of how rigorous or nuanced studies are, and often present a very over-simplified summary. The news media is dreadful at presenting science stories as a rule.
The sample sizes of this study are too small to make it truly representative.
However, I do think that if more people meditated there would be a lot less stress and war in this world. But, hey what do I know.
As the wise one said – truth is what you experience with your own eyes.
This was interesting read, particularly due to the fact that I started noticing my own open-mindedness when I started practicing yoga. I feel that people’s decisions to do whatever it is they want to do doesn’t really affect me emotionally as much as it used to, so the emotional detachedness is something I credit yoga for.