The research on TM not only shows 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. Is the research itself reliable?
Well, the research on the Transcendental Meditation technique not only shows 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 university or a research institution comes to a particular conclusion, one can say with a fairly high certainty that this result is reliable. If however, this result is confirmed by 15 different research institutes, 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 or other attributes.
With 600 studies, Transcendental Meditation could well be one of the most examined phenomena.
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), confirming 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 an holistic effect. It affects so many different areas of life simultaneously that there are always new research topics to be found. Many benefits are often not investigated once or twice but dozens of times and confirmed by independent research institutions. For each of the research topics investigating the effects of TM, you can find the different studies that were conducted on this subject.
Scientific research brings more reliability to a result, because it is speaking about averages. Different people always have different results; some will have better results than others. When results are combined to give an average result, this gives a more realistic picture of the results one can expect compared to when only the best results are presented.
With the research on Transcendental Meditation, in many cases we are able to 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 non-prescribed drugs), 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 significant result if the probability of coincidence is less than 5 per 100. This is usually indicated by p<.05. (p stands for probability) This is equivalent to saying 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 makes 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 very 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 on 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. They act as a filter to protect research from low quality studies. A study is generally only taken seriously by the scientific world if it is published in such a journal.
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 rigourous this process is, because they 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 publications of professional journals.
Research into the Transcendental Meditation technique has been published in more than 350 different publications. (list of publications) by more than 160 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 600 studies that were not published by the professional journals, are published in a separate publication: Scientific Research on Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation and TM Sidhi program: Collected Papers, which makes them available and it still shows some degree of reliability.
4. High quality research
The intention of research is to obtain an objective result, but nevertheless there are always some subjective elements involved, such as the expectations of the subjects (placebo effect) or of the researcher. This can be particularly true in cases where the research is conducted at an institute of the Transcendental Meditation organisation itself, even though this is only applies to 10% of all studies. The quality of the research thus plays an important role in ensuring objectivity, in addition to the three previous factors. (Independent replication, low p-value and publication).
Numerous studies of TM are of the highest quality, the so-called Single Blind Randomnized Controlled Trials, or RCT’s—studies with randomly selected control groups, where the researcher does not know who belongs to which group. But a more detailed analysis of all the research shows that even studies that do not meet these high standards can give a very reliable picture. Here are some very encouraging trends that have been discovered in larger analyses of TM research, indicating that there could be no effects of bias of researchers or placebo effects (more details and references here)
1. Studies of a higher quality give 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 than researchers linked to the TM organization.
3. Those with low expectations about the TM technique before they learned how to use it had the same result as those with high expectations (no placebo).
4. The effect increased when the technique was practised for a longer time.
5. The effect is greater for regular TM practitioners than for irregular practitioners.
Research in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health in the US
The National Institutes of Health [NIH], known for its high research standards, has awarded more than US$24 million to support TM research.
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is one of the largest and most prestigious governmental research institutions in the world. They are renowned for their extremely high standards for research. They provide funds to support research if the researchers can demonstrate a high standard and if the researched method can be beneficial for the public health. Many organizations request funds from this organization but they are only granted to a few.
This makes it all the more impressive that the NIH has awarded more than US$24 million dollars to support TM research over the last 20 years. Some of the most impressive studies of the last 10 years, including studies on heart disease, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, and aging are performed 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, but in contrast to the studies that showed results, these studies were of a 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.