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Meditation Inhibits Aggressive Responses to Provocations

Abstract

Meditation has been advocated as a mental practice designed to reduce suffering and increase virtuous behavior. Although it has been previously linked to altruistic acts, its ability to reduce aggression and related retributive behaviors remains open to question. Here, we report on an experiment in which participants were randomly assigned to a mindfulness meditation or active control condition 3 weeks prior to facing a real-time provocation known to evoke aggression. Participants’ capacities for executive control were also assessed subsequent to training. Results showed that 3 weeks of daily meditation practice substantially reduced aggressive behavior even in the absence of any enhanced executive control capabilities. These results suggest that meditation attenuates aggression through direct reductions in motives to cause harm to others.

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Author information

DD, DL, FD, and PC designed the study. DL and FD executed the study. DD conducted the data analysis in collaboration with DL and FD. DD wrote the manuscript which was edited by DL, FD, and PC.

Correspondence to David DeSteno.

Ethics declarations

Ethical Standards

Ethics approval for the conduct of this experiment was granted by the Northeastern University Institutional Review Board to ensure that procedures were in accord with the standards noted in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. To ensure that individuals taking part in the study were participating voluntarily and that they understood their rights as well as the presence of any potential risks, all participants were offered the opportunity to ask questions prior to signing a statement of informed consent and beginning the experiment.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Use of the Headspace app was made freely available by Headspace, Inc. for this research project. Headspace did not provide any other financial support and none of the authors have any ties, financial or otherwise, to Headspace.

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DeSteno, D., Lim, D., Duong, F. et al. Meditation Inhibits Aggressive Responses to Provocations. Mindfulness 9, 1117–1122 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0847-2

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Keywords

  • Meditation
  • Aggression
  • Executive control