Do you consider yourself a conservative or a liberal? According to a new study conducted at the University of Toronto, meditation may just shake up the way you identify politically. Researchers found that practicing guided meditation actually makes people more politically liberal, at least immediately after a session.
In the United States, studies have already found that identifying as religious is associated with conservatism while spirituality is linked with a more liberal attitude. The Republican party, for example, cites conservative Christians as their key demographic while Democrats are more likely to not have a religious affiliation.
This study, published recently in Social Psychological & Personality Science, involved a team of researcher’s from the University’s Department of Psychology examining study participants’ political views in relation to their spirituality or religious beliefs.
The researchers made an important distinction between people who identify as religious or spiritual. As lead author Dr. Jacob Hirsch put it, “While religiousness is characterized by devotion to a specific tradition, set of principles or code of conduct, spirituality is associated with the direct experience of self-transcendence and the feeling that we’re all connected.”
This large study actually had three parts. During the first part of the study, almost 600 participants were asked if they considered themselves a Republican or Democrat. Next, the researchers measured the political leanings and support for political parties of over 700 participants. This confirmed that spirituality is associated with liberalism while religiousness is connected with conservatism.
For the third study, 317 participants from the United States used a spiritual guided meditation program and were then asked to close their eyes, breathe deeply and imagine feeling connected to the environment. They were then given a questionnaire about their political feelings.
After the study, researchers found that the participants who used guided meditation felt a higher level of spirituality compared to the control group and expressed more liberal beliefs, such as reduced support for tough on crime policies and a higher preference for liberal candidates.
“Inducing a spiritual experience through guided meditation exercise led both liberals and conservatives to endorse more liberal political attitudes. Spiritual experiences seem to make people feel more of a connection with others,” Hirsch said.
While the study may confirm what many people already believe about guided meditation, it’s just another example of its effectiveness at improving spiritual connection and feelings of self-transcendence. Guided meditation helps us realize that we are truly all a part of the same system and all connected, despite our different beliefs, and breaks down the boundaries between ourselves and our world.
As the New York Times reported in 2012, religious conservative groups have started to protest the use of yoga on children, equating it to “religious indoctrination” of kids. A group of parents, led by a local conservative group, began protesting the use of 30-minute yoga classes in San Diego public schools by saying that the school was teaching students how to think and act. As this and other protests seem to point out, the potentially liberalizing effect of meditation has already been noticed by others.
Researchers from the University of Toronto point out that both sides are necessary and neither side is correct. They hope that this study opens a dialogue between the left and the right and helps people understand that both sides play an important role to eventually eliminate this tension.