Our Students in Action

Michael Warren

Seeking a Scientific Basis for the Benefits of a Religious Discipline

Positive Developmental Psychology student Michael Warren’s Master's Thesis looks at an ancient discipline from the perspective of serious psychological research. As someone who has practiced meditation for most of his life, Michael is seeking to build the scientific evidence base to bolster what anecdotal evidence has long suggested: meditation and prayer can improve well-being.

Michael has developed a study that will measure well-being among older adults via meditation, or in psychological terms, attention control. State-level change in attention control, he explains, has been linked to changes in emotional regulation in the literature on geriatric psychology. That, in turn, is believed to partially underlie older adults’ unexpectedly high levels of well-being. "If meditation can be shown to improve attention control in older adults, then meditation should increase their well-being," Michael says.

His findings would take on extra value because they take advantage of a natural trend among the elderly. "As people age, some tend to have increased spiritual concerns and a desire for meaningful relationships," Michael says. He is approaching the subject with an eye towards traditional spiritual constructs that would fit with the understanding of a largely theistic population. The effects of "relational" and "non-relational" meditation are being compared on two groups. Relational meditation is defined as a spiritually-grounded meditation with an emphasis on an individual’s relationship with the divine, whereas non-relational meditation--though also spiritually-grounded--emphasizes divine-related thoughts or phrases, rather than a personal relationship. Michael predicts that relational meditation will have stronger benefits for attention control (as measured by a computerized executive control task following the meditation session) than non-relational meditation. If supported, his findings could encourage very cost-effective interventions and extend meditation research among the aging.

Michael is conducting this research under the supervision of Dr. Michael Spezio, a member of Claremont Graduate University’s graduate psychology faculty at Scripps College.