Meditation Benefits and Drawbacks: Empirical Codebook and Implications for Teaching

  • Thomas AndersonEmail author
  • Mallika Suresh
  • Norman AS Farb
Original Research


Meditation has become a cultural phenomenon, and modern scientific research on the topic has exploded. Thousands of scientific articles report various benefits of meditation including clinical, physiological and well-being outcomes. Despite these benefits, drop-out rates in mindfulness-based interventions remain a problem and little work has studied the drawbacks of meditation. Reports of adverse reactions to meditation have emerged and critical voices have begun advocating caution, rather than enthusiasm, for meditation training. Furthermore, the experiences of meditators outside interventions and conventional lab studies are not well understood. Here we develop an empirical codebook of and framework for meditation benefits and drawbacks (MBDs), discussing the actionable implications for meditation training in the real world. These data reveal the major drawbacks hindering real-world meditators, including several less intuitive drawbacks. We also report the major benefits of meditation and generate a structural framework from which they can be understood in parallel with drawbacks. We investigate whether meditation styles affect MBDs and report comparisons between current and former meditators. These results bring cogent structure to the variety of meditation outcomes laypeople experience. As the number of meditators continues to increase, we need such structures to inform how meditation is taught, ensuring ethically informed consent and optimizing practice-fit. Mixed-methods research such as this study allows a greater practical understanding of how meditation is experienced in situ. This work complements the literature on the clinical benefits and neurophysiological mechanisms of meditation and this framework will inform clinicians, researchers and meditation teachers as best practices are reviewed in the coming years.


Meditation Mindfulness MBI Negative outcomes Attention training Qualitative Online Open science 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

All research was conducted under informed consent in accord with the Declaration of Helsinki. Participated volunteered their responses without financial compensation.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Toronto MississaugaMississaugaCanada

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