The research on TM doesn’t only show exceptional results, but it also has an exceptionally high degree of reliability.
There is a saying stating that spectacular statements require spectacular evidence. There are surely enough spectacular statements on this site. For many areas of mental and physical health, research even shows that the experience of transcending could be the most effective remedy ever investigated. But how exceptional is the evidence? The purpose of scientific research is to give a degree of reliability to something that is claimed. How much confidence the research can give will depend on the quality of the research itself. If one wants, one can indeed prove anything. Is the research itself reliable?
Well, the research on the Transcendental Meditation technique does not only show exceptional results, but it also scores exceptionally high on the 4 major criteria that determine the quality and the reliability of scientific research: independent replication, quality standard of the research, probability of coincidence, and publication in scientific journals.
1. Independent replication
If one reputable university or research institution comes to a particular conclusion, one can say with a fairly high degree of certainty that this result is reliable. If, however, this result is confirmed by 15 different universities, all off which are operating independently, one can say with much more certainty that the result is universally reliable, and that it will work regardless of the cultural background.
With 600 studies Transcendental Meditation could well be one of the most examined phenomena in the history of science.
During the last 40 years, more than 600 studies (list of studies) have been conducted at over 200 universities and research institutions in 35 countries all over the world (list of universities) which confirm the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on all aspects of life. This could well make Transcendental Meditation one of the most studied scientific phenomena. The reason why there is so much research is because this technique has a holistic effect. It affects so many different areas of life simultaneously, that there are always new research topics to be found. Many benefits have been investigated not once or twice, but dozens of times, and confirmed by several independent research institutions. You can usually find several different studies conducted on a particular research topic.
Scientific research brings more reliability to a result, because it is speaking about averages. Different researchers present different results; some will show better results than others.
But with the research on Transcendental Meditation, in many cases we can present the results through meta-analyses of different studies. A meta-analysis calculates the effect size of each individual study, and then makes an average of those results. So it is an average of averages. So they give a result that is even more reliable. Meta-analyses have been conducted for the effect of TM on blood pressure, anxiety, addictions (tobacco, alcohol, and drug), self-actualization and others.
2. Probability of coincidence (p-value)
The probability of coincidence is a statistical calculation that specifies how likely it is that a certain result is obtained by chance and not by the cause that is investigated. For a scientist, the probability of coincidence of a result is generally at least as important, if not more important, than the obtained result itself. The consensus is that one can only speak of a result as being “significant” if the probability of coincidence is less than 5 per 100. This is usually indicated by p<.05. (p stands for probability) This is like saying that that there is a 95% certainty that that the result is achieved by the cause that has been proposed. The smaller the p value, the greater the certainty, so p<.01 is a better result than p<.05 and p<.001 is a better result than p<.01.
A simple example may make this clearer. Suppose a pharmaceutical company creates a new pill, claiming that it will make people happier. They give this pill to one person and measure his happiness on the day before and the day after he takes the pill, and then they notice that the person feels happier after he has taken the pill. Can the company now say “Yay, it works, let’s go and make a few billion dollars”? No, of course not, because the result could be pure coincidence. Suppose that the test person, on the day he took the pill, just got a promotion at his work or he fell in love with someone. But, now suppose that the person, after taking the pill, felt happier than ever before (greater effect) and that this person feels happier continuously over a long period of time (such as a month) while he is taking the pill. Then, the probability of coincidence drops dramatically. The probability that it is indeed the pill that is causing this effect is much greater. And now suppose that 100 people take the pill, and they all feel happier than ever before? Then, the probability that this is caused by coincidence becomes really small.
The p-values of TM research are often extremely small, which demonstrates an exceptional result with a high consistency.
The Probability or the p value of the study is very important for research into Transcendental Meditation, because p-values are often exceptionally small, sometimes up to 500 times smaller than the standard. (p<.0001 compared to p<.05) This can be because there is an exceptionally large effect (a strong improvement), or that the effect is very consistent over a large group of people. One can, in other words, with a very high degree of reliability suggest that Transcendental Meditation can bring about a significant improvement.
3. Publication in a scientific journal
Scientific journals play a very important role in science. They act as a filter to protect science from low quality studies. A study is generally only taken seriously by the scientific world if it is published in a journal generally regarded as “reputable”.
Before a journal accepts a research report for publication, the research project goes through a process of “peer reviewing”. This means it is carefully reviewed by other experts from the same specialty, who then give their opinion whether the research meets all the standards of good scientific research. The more prestigious the journal, the more penetrating this process is, because these scientists are linking their reputation to the articles they are publishing. The article will only be published if the research is accepted as being of a very high standard.
TM research has been published in over 350 articles in professional journals.
Research into the Transcendental Meditation technique has been published in over 350 different articles or studies, (list of publications) by over 150 different professional journals all over the world, including almost all of the most prestigious journals (list of journals). This is an exceptionally high number of publications on one single subject.
Some of the total of over 600 studies we know of, were not published by the professional journals. They may be found in a separate publication: Scientific Research on Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation and TM Sidhi program: Collected Papers, available at most TM Centres and Amazon. There are currently 7 volumes of collected papers running to over 5000 pages of high quality, even if otherwise unpublished TM research.
4. High quality research
The intention of research is to obtain an objective result, because there are always some subjective elements involved, such as the expectations of the subjects (placebo effect) or of the researcher (experimenter effect). This could perhaps affect outcomes where the research is conducted at an institute affiliated with the Transcendental Meditation organisation itself, even though this only applies to a fraction of all studies. So when judging objectivity, the quality of the research needs to be considered. This is in addition to the three previous factors – Independent replication, low p-value and publication.
Numerous studies of TM are of the highest quality. These are called Randomized Controlled Trials, or RCTs. These studies randomly assign subjects to test or control groups, so that even the researcher does not know who belongs to which group.
However a detailed analysis of all the research shows that even studies that do not meet these high standards can give a very reliable picture, even if they are conducted in an institute of the Transcendental Meditation organisation itself. Some very encouraging things have been discovered in larger analyses of TM research, indicating that effects of bias of researchers or placebo effects may safely be discounted. (more details and references here)
1. Studies of a higher quality report better results. If the researchers were biased, the reverse would occur.
2. Researchers with a neutral or negative attitude towards TM had a better outcome then researchers linked to the TM movement.
3. Those with low expectations about the TM technique before they learnt how to use it had the same result as those with high expectations (no placebo).
4. The effect increased when the technique was practiced for a longer time.
5. The effect is bigger for regular TM practitioners than for irregular practitioners.
Research in collaboration with the National Institute of Health in the U.S.
The American National Institute of Health, known for its high research standards, has awarded more than $24 million to support TM research.
The U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) is one of the largest and most prestigious governmental research institutions in the world. It is renowned for extremely high standards for research. It provides funds to support research if researchers can demonstrate a high standard and if the researched method can be beneficial for the public health. Many organizations request funds from this organisation – but only few succeed.
It is thus impressive that the NIH has awarded more than 24 million dollars to support TM research over the last 20 years. Some of the best studies of the last 10 years, including studies on heart disease, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, diabetes and ageing have been done in collaboration with the NIH.
Are there also studies that have found no results?
Yes, during the last 40 years, a number of studies have appeared that could not find any results in Transcendental Meditation practitioners. However, in contrast to the studies that showed results, these studies were of questionable quality, with questionable intentions (for example because the researchers were linked to the pharmaceutical industry) and they could not be confirmed independently.
So, it doesn’t make much sense to pay a lot of attention to them. Sources who would do so may probably not be aware of all the facts.