Scholarly article on topic 'Teaching Students How to Meditate Can Improve Level of Consciousness and Problem Solving Ability'

Teaching Students How to Meditate Can Improve Level of Consciousness and Problem Solving Ability Academic research paper on "Psychology"

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Abstract of research paper on Psychology, author of scientific article — Jules A. Troyer, Jeremy R. Tost, Mika Yoshimura, Sarah D. LaFontaine, Autumn R. Mabie

Abstract The purpose of these studies was to analyze the effectiveness of meditation as a method of increasing level of consciousness in students and to investigate whether meditation and level of consciousness contribute to an individual's problem solving ability in a variety of domains. İn the first study, participants (N = 450) were recruited via online and asked to complete a detailed demographics questionnaire, the Situational Self-Awareness Scale, the Mindful Awareness Scale, and the Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory. Study two was administered in person to 45 university educational psychology students in which they were asked to complete the demographics questionnaire, the Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory, and a set of problem solving questions. Results from both studies indicated that individuals who meditate/pray performed better on problem solving tasks and had a significantly higher level of consciousness than individuals who did not prayer or meditate.

Academic research paper on topic "Teaching Students How to Meditate Can Improve Level of Consciousness and Problem Solving Ability"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 69 (2012) 153 - 161

International Conference on Education and Educational Psychology (ICEEPSY 2012)

Teaching Students How to Meditate Can Improve Level of Consciousness and Problem Solving Ability

Jules A. Troyer*, Jeremy R. Tost, Mika Yoshimura, Sarah D. LaFontaine, and Autumn

R. Mabie

Valdosta State University, 1500N. Patterson St., Valdosta, GA, 31698, United States

Abstract

The purpose of these studies was to analyze the effectiveness of meditation as a method of increasing level of consciousness in students and to investigate whether meditation and level of consciousness contribute to an individual's problem solving ability in a variety of domains. in the first study, participants (N = 450) were recruited via online and asked to complete a detailed demographics questionnaire, the Situational Self-Awareness Scale, the Mindful Awareness Scale, and the Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory. Study two was administered in person to 45 university educational psychology students in which they were asked to complete the demographics questionnaire, the Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory, and a set of problem solving questions. Results from both studies indicated that individuals who meditate/pray performed better on problem solving tasks and had a significantly higher level of consciousness than individuals who did not prayer or meditate. © 2012 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selectionandpeer-reviewunder responsibilityof Dr.ZaferBekirogullariofCognitive-Counselling,Research& Conference Services C-crcs.

Keywords: Level of Consciousness; Problem Solving; Meditation; Learning

1. Introduction

1.1 Meditation

Meditation has been practiced for centuries, and its popularity has grown dramatically during the last 50 years (Burke, 2004). There are many types of meditation that are practiced throughout the world by many different peoples. The deliberated benefits of the practice can also vary according to the practitioners, specifically as related to improvements in physical and mental health, mindfulness, enhanced self-awareness, and spiritual awareness. Fundamental to meditation is its use of a defined technique, relaxation, and a self-induced state.

There has been a recent increase in interest related to research in meditation, which has provided evidence in support of the effects and benefits of meditation (e.g. Chandler, Alexander, & Heaton, 2005; Dixon et al., 2005; Nidch et al., 2005; Orme-Johnson, Alexander, & Hawkins, 2005; Chambers, Lo, & Allen, 2008.. Meditative training has been shown to significantly improve such areas as cognitive abilities, self-concept, analytical ability, and general intellectual performance (Chandler, Alexander, & Heaton, 2005; Dixon et al., 2005; Nidch et al., 2005; Orme-

1877-0428 © 2012 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Dr. Zafer Bekirogullari of Cognitive - Counselling, Research & Conference

Services C-crcs.

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.11.394

Johnson, Alexander, & Hawkins, 2005; Chambers, Lo, & Allen, 2008). In concurrence, practitioners build broader perspective of life, raise self-awareness, and develop the ability to cope with high stress and difficult situations (Travis, 2004). A number of studies have shown that an increase in self-awareness can positively affect mental instability, attentional problem, substance abuse, addictions, and criminal behavior (Deepak, 2004; Travis, 2004; Kondwani et al., 2005).

Building on centuries of practical application, researchers are now looking at meditation more scientifically than ever before. Many recent studies exploring the meditative effects on the brain have been conducted. Neuroelectric studies demonstrated consistent outcomes in Electroencephalographs (EEG) and cognitive event-related potential (ERP) in meditation studies (Cahn & Polich, 2006). Neuroimaging studies have shown increases in regional cerebral blood flow during meditation, which appears to reflect changes in anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal areas (Cahn & Polich, 2006). These results are seen to be explanatory of the increased attentional demand of meditative tasks and alterations in self-experience (Cahn & Polich, 2006). There are many ways to interpret this; however, it is possible that by exercising the mental faculties related to attention, a greater attentional acuity could be achieved by people who practice meditation. Additionally, recent research has shown meditation to enhance functions associated with the middle prefrontal lobe area of the brain, implicating such phenomenon as self-insight, morality, intuition, and fear modulation, and has numerous health benefits including an improved immune system (Davis & Hayes, 2011). Health benefits of meditation can also be seen in the risk reduction of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Because of the effects of stress reduction with meditation, the risk of CVD has been shown to be reduced profoundly (Barnes et al., 2005; Schneider, Alexander, Salerno, Rainforth, & Nidich, 2004; Barnes et al., 2005). Of specific note to this study and this line of inquiry, is the recent research that has shown meditative practice may be linked to increases in information processing speed (Davis & Hayes, 2011) and working memory capacity. There has also been the suggestion that meditation can potentially be an intervention in deficits of working memory (Chambers et al, 2008). Attention, working memory capacity, and information processing speed are well known to be faculties involved in accurately and quickly solving problems. Thus, this study investigated the relationship of meditation in the development of high levels of consciousness and abilities in general problems solving.

1.2 Problem Solving

Problem solving has long been investigated by various researchers; however, defining what problem solving entails is not yet universal. Simply stated, the process of problem solving involves recognizing a problem, using previous knowledge to create new concepts about the problem, and using effective strategies to resolve the problem (Sagir, 2011). Although many researchers view problem solving as a universal tool in our cognitive development and learning, Swenson (1994) challenges this view by pointing that problem solving should be recognized as having some individual interpretation and vary somewhat between people. Swenson (1994) suggests that real problem solving entails finding solutions and succeeding; however, she clarifies that a problem is only a problem to the individual processing the experience, and that if the individual does not care for the difficulty level or a the specific solution, then a problem may not exist according to that individual. She focuses on the idea that traditional problem solving in education is not that of a problem, but that of learning a technique, practicing, and memorizing the correct solution (Swenson, 1994). Furthermore, Swenson (1994) argues that if the individual does not understand the problem, have confidence in finding a solution, or care for the problem, then he/she will not take on problems posed by others. With reference to Swenson's (1994) outlook, it is suggested that the traditional form of teaching word problems and mathematical equations could be expanded to include other types of problems, varied techniques for strategy generation, and general problems solving heuristics.

In lieu of developing problem solving skills, one must visit the components, processes and the sub-types of problem solving. Sagir (2011) developed an extensive review of problem solving, including various definitions, processes, and conditional factors. Sagir (2011) identifies a problem as "confusing to and individual's mind, challenging it and making belief uncertain; every situation which prevents one from reaching aim; a difficulty to be removed or a question whose answer is searched" (p. 2483). As Swenson (1994) noted, a problem is defined based on the perspective of the individual in the problem space; therefore, the process is also quite individualistic although key components can be found through various processes. Rational problem solving is the most basic, step-by-step process in which people identify the problem, provide various solutions, rationalize outcomes, choose a solution, and then follow through with the chosen solution (McClure, Nezu, Nezu, O'Hea, & McMahon, 2010). Paterson et

al. (2010) suggest that there are two sub-types to problem-solving, problem orientation and actual problem solving. Problem orientation is the "cognitive processes and emotional impulses that pre-dispose the individual to perceive problems in a certain way" whereas actual problem solving is the methods used to solve the problem (pg. 113).

There has been a tremendous amount of research that has focused on the individual's perception of a problem and on the steps to problem solving; however, many researchers have failed to investigate whether an increase in an individual's level of consciousness or awareness of self and the environment, will increase the ability to problem solve more efficiently.

Cognitive factors consistently are shown to play a key role in producing effective problem solving (McClure et al. 2010; Paterson et al. 2010; Roth & McGinn, 1997; Sagir, 2011; and Swenson, 1994). Cognitive factors include thinking and reasoning skills, calculation ability, memory and knowledge (Sagir, 2011). Sagir (2011) also pinpoints affective factors, those that created willingness and motivation to solve a problem, and experience factors, those that allow recall to previous problem solving techniques that were either successful or unsuccessful. The ability to problem solve involves understanding, identifying strategies, and using those strategies to develop results (Sagir, 2011), which indicates that there is more to problem solving than the more simplified and elementary steps discussed previously.

Sagir (2011) examined problem solving approaches for 1st and 4th year teacher candidates—students in various departments of the Faculty of Education. Using variables that included department preference, teaching type, class, differences in problem solving skills in departments, and leisure time, Sagir (2011) found that social science students have higher averages of problem solving abilities than those of other fields. Furthermore, pre-school teacher candidates were found to use a planned approach, which focuses on thinking and planning alternatives (Sagir, 2011). Finally, those in the science and physical education were found to have avoidant and lower thinking behaviors as compared to the other fields of study (Sagir, 2011). Sagir's (2011) research provides two key points to problems solving; one being that approaches can be measured and differentiated among fields of study and secondly, that the method of problem solving used most in the field of study transfers to the students' perception of problem solving. The influence of education on cognitive ability to perceive and process a problem is vast; therefore, it is important to delve further into problem solving, and review other forms of the subject.

Roth and McGinn (1997) proposed that there are two types of problem solving, general problem solving and structured problem solving and suggest that the solution is as important as the problem by comparing actual verses ideal solutions. Further, their research suggests that linear models found in structured problem solving only provide actual solutions in which the solution already exists (Roth & McGinn, 1997). However, the skills required for general problems solving involve ideal solutions, creativity, flexibility, and reorganization—all components needed in every day decision making (Roth & McGinn, 1997). Their research indicates that the model of thinking greatly influences the process of problem solving, ultimately influencing the solution. Once a model is in place, retraining the mind to problem solve differently becomes difficult (Roth & McGinn, 1997). Dijksterhuis (2004) raises awareness to the effects of the conscious and unconscious thought. Dijksterhuis's (2004) research indicates that unconscious thought—any cognitive process that occurs outside conscious awareness—provides better decision making than those decisions processed consciously. The process of problem solving requires large amounts of information in which people do not scientifically have the capacity to register immediately (Dijksterhuis, 2004). The lack in ability to process large amounts of information to make sound decisions can cause mistakes in problem solving (Dijsterhuis, 2004). Dijksterhuis (2004) found that even when processing information, the unconscious retains information that the conscious mind does not. Furthermore, Dijsterhuis (2004) reviews the importance of incubation, the "process whereby a problem in consciously ignored for a while, after which the unconscious offers a solution" (pg. 588). The phenomenon of incubation raises awareness to the importance of one's level of cognitive ability in both the conscious and unconscious mind (Dijsterhuis, 2004).

The mental attention, or awareness, that is necessary for consciousness to occur and progress through specific stages, is addressed by Pascual-Leone (2000). Pascual-Leone takes a neo-Piagetian approach of mental attention in order to better understand consciousness. This approach describes self-consciousness, or awareness of being conscious of the object and the self, as belonging to basic consciousness. Yet an individual can achieve heightened self-consciousness by engaging in meditation, which consists of articulating "object, ritual and subject into a practice of human/spiritual growth" (Pascual-Leone, 2000, p. 249). Depending upon the type and frequency of meditation that the individual engages in, the individual's consciousness transcends faster or slower. These higher states of consciousness that occur due to transcendence result in spiritual insights, sensorial and mental clarity, a

sense of well-being, and heightened mindfulness. These higher states of consciousness are also related to Lawrence Kohlberg's seventh stage of moral development, called cosmic perspective or transcendental morality (Nidich, Nidich, & Alexander, 2000). Nidich, Nidich, and Alexander's research indicated that "EEG brain-wave coherence is associated with the development of higher states of consciousness and Kohlberg's Stage 7" (2000, p. 217). When an individual achieves these higher states of consciousness, referred to as "postrepresentational" stages in Alexander's model of development, their problem-solving abilities, knowledge of self, accuracy, and efficacy of thinking and behavior increases. In an overview of Charles Alexander's lifetime contributions to this field, Orme-Johnson discusses research by Alexander that supports the above findings (2000). Alexander primarily uses Transcendental Meditation (TM) in order to raise the participants' levels of consciousness and has done so with success. In one study, Alexander found that maximum security prisoners who engaged in TM increased more in cognitive complexity, character, and social development over the course of one year than college students over a four-year period. Additionally, the experimental group showed decreased levels of psychopathology compared to four other inmate control groups (Orme-Johnson, 2000). Various other studies indicate higher levels of consciousness are related to increased moral reasoning and intelligence-correlated measures, and decreased blood pressure and psychosocial stress (Orme-Johnson, 2000).

The purpose of the current reseach was to assess the effectiveness of meditation as a method of increasing level of consciousness in students. Of additional interest is whether meditation and level of consciousness contribute to an individual's problem solving ability across a variety of domains.

2. Method

2.1 Participants

This current research is a product of two separate, yet theoretically similar studies. Study one was administered to 450 individuals across the United States via the internet while study two was administered in person to 45 university educational psychology students. Of the total 450 participants in study one, 28 % reported being male (72% female) with ages ranging from 18 - 85 years. Of the 45 participants in study two, 20% reported being male (80% female) with ages ranging from 18 - 40 years.

2.2 Instruments

Demographics questionnaire. The demographics questionnaire was designed to collect a basic profile of the participant as well as detailing the respondent's level of participation in meditative activities (martial arts, meditation, yoga and religious/spiritual activity). Regarding meditation and prayer, data collected in study one specifically addressed how many times a week participants meditate. In study two the wording was revised to account for how many times a week participants pray or meditate.

The Situational Self-Awareness Scale. The Situational Self-Awareness Scale (Govern & Marsch, 2001) is used to measure situational self-awareness. This 9-item scale yields three subscales reflecting private self-awareness or internal state awareness (e.g., "Right now, I am conscious of my inner feelings"), public self-awareness or self-consciousness (e.g., "Right now, I am self-conscious about the way I look") and awareness of immediate surroundings (e.g., "Right now, I am keenly aware of everything in my environment"). The SSAS is a measure that is sensitive to changes in self-awareness over time and across situations (i.e., laboratory manipulations to increase self-awareness). The SSAS assesses only whether a person is in a state of self-awareness at a particular point in time (Govern & Marsch, 2001). Data obtained using The Situational Self-Awareness Scale will not be reported in the accompanying results.

The Mindful Awareness Scale. This 15-item scale measuring the frequency of mindful states in day-to-day life, using both general and situation specific statements was created by Carlson & Brown (2005). Based on a mean of all the 15 items, MAAS scores can range from 1 to 6. Higher scores indicate higher or more mindfulness or being open to experiences and possibilities and an open or receptive awareness of and attention to what is occurring in the

present moment. Data obtained using The Mindful Awareness Scale will not be reported in the accompanying results.

The Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory. For the purposes of this study the Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory (TLOCI) is used in order to determine an individual's level of consciousness. The TLOCI is an introspective, subjective self-report instrument that falls within the High-Order Thought theory (HOT). Through strategic research and analysis, four reliable and interpretable factors emerged in the quantitative data set related to consciousness. Openness, Reflection, Meta Self-Awareness, and Helping Others comprise the structured factor model selected, with statistical results indicating a high internal consistency (r >.70), with an overall internal consistency index of .91. Furthermore, the Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory has been validated through vigorous statistical analysis through three external methods. The first two involved substantiating significant correlations with the existing related measures of the Situational Self-Awareness Scale (SSAS) and the Mindful Attention Awareness Survey (MAAS). The third external method was an investigation of whether participants who engaged in consciousness raising activities had higher scores on the scales of the TLOCI than individuals who did not engage in these activities. Using these three external methods, validation data provided significant results for construct validity.

Problem solving questions. Participants completed a set of basic problems solving activities across three specific domains (analogies, anagrams and problems of transformation). Problems were based on questions used in pervious SAT and GRE examinations.

2.3 Procedure

in the first study, participants (N = 450) were recruited via the Internet and asked to complete a detailed demographics questionnaire, the Situational Self-Awareness Scale, the Mindful Awareness Scale, and the Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory. All questionnaire data was acquired unsing an online data colection website (Survey Monkey). In all cases participants completed an informed consent form and were debriefed upon completion of data collection.

Study two was administered in person to 45 university educational psychology students in which they were asked to complete the demographics questionnaire, the Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory, and a set of problem solving questions. In all cases participants completed an informed consent form and were debriefed upon completeion of data collection.

3. Results

Two one way between-subjects ANOVAs and Scheffe post hoc tests were conducted to determine significance between meditation (study 1) or prayer/meditation (study 2) and level of consciousness. An additional one way between-subject ANOVA and Scheffe post hoc test was conducted to determine significance between prayer/meditation and problem solving (study 2 data only). The Scheffe test was selected as it is considered the most conservative post hoc test, that is, the least sensitive to significance (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007). Instances in which the Scheffe test failed to detect significant mean differences were followed up with Tukey's HSD test.

3.1 Meditation x Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory (study 1 data)

The results from a one-way ANOVA and Scheffe's post hoc test indicted that participants who meditate differ in their TLOCI scores, F(4, 442) = 20.08, p < .001. The effect size was moderate q2 = .154. Mean TLOCI scores were higher for meditators; 1-2 times a week (M = 90.71, SD = 8.53), 3-4 times a week (M = 89.88, SD = 10.36), 5-6 times a week (M = 92.87, SD = 8.40), and 7 or more times a week (M = 92.58, SD = 9.84), than non-meditators (M = 83.05, SD = 9.70) (see Table 1). Results from the Scheffe post hoc test revealed a significant mean difference between the non-meditators and the four categories of meditation (see Table 2). No significant mean differences were found amongst any of the four meditation categories.

Table 1

Means and Standard Deviation for Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory Score

Frequency of Weekly Meditation M SD

Do not meditate 83.05 9.70

1-2 times a week 90.71 8.53

3-4 times a week 89.88 10.36

5-6 times a week 92.87 8.40

7 or more times a week 92.58 9.84

Table 2

Scheffe Post Hoc Comparisons Assessing Mean Differences in TLOCI Scores

Comparison Mean Difference Significance Level

Do not meditate - 1-2 times a week -7.66 <.001

Do not meditate - 3-4 times a week -6.83 <.001

Do not meditate - 5-6 times a week -9.83 <.001

Do not meditate - 7 + times a week -9.53 <.001

3.2 Prayer/Meditation x Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory (study2 data)

The results from a one-way ANOVA and Scheffe's post hoc test indicted that participants who pray/meditate differ in their TLOCI scores, F(3, 41) = 3.44, p = .025. The effect size was moderate rf = .201. Mean TLOCI scores were highest for those praying/meditating 5-6 times a week (M = 95.80, SD = 11.56) and lowest for those praying/meditating 3-4 times per week (M = 81.60, SD = 7.82) (see Table 3). Results from the Scheffe post hoc test revealed a significant mean difference between meditating 3-4 times per week and meditating 5-6 times per week, mean difference = 14.20, p = .032 No other significant mean differences were found amongst the four meditation categories.

Table 3

Means and Standard Deviation for Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory Score

Frequency of Weekly Meditation_M_SD

1-2 times a week 87.56 8.40

3-4 times a week 81.60 7.82

5-6 times a week 95.80 11.56

7 or more times a week 86.88 9.05

3.3 Prayer/Meditation x Problems Solving

The results from a one-way ANOVA and Scheffe's post hoc test indicated that individuals who pray/meditate differed in the number of problem solving questions answered correctly, F(3, 41) = 3.74, p = .018. The effect size was moderate rf = .215. Participants who pray/meditate answered more questions correctly; 3-4 times a week (M = 7.40, SD = 3.20), 5-6 times a week (M = 11.00, SD = 3.67), 7 or more times a week (M = 9.63, SD = 3.34), than people who meditate less, 1-2 times a week (M = 6.11, SD = 3.02) (See Table 4). Results from the Scheffe post hoc test revealed no significant mean differences amongst the meditation/prayer groups. Results from Tukey's HSD revealed a significant mean difference between praying/meditating 1-2 times per week and praying/meditating 5-6 times per week, mean difference = 4.89, p = .050 No other significant mean differences were found amongst the four prayer/meditation categories.

Table 4

Means and Standard Deviations for Number of Correct Problems

Frequency of Weekly Prayer/Meditation_M_SD

1-2 times a week 6.11 3.02

3-4 times a week 7.40 3.20

5-6 times a week 11.00 3.67

7 or more times a week 9.63 3.34

4. Discussion

4.1 Future Research

Future studies should investigate the varying degrees of effectiveness on problem solving ability and level of consciousness increase of different types of meditation, different frequency of participation, and duration of participation. Also, it is important to investigate the effectiveness of other activities that utilize meditation as a component to the activity, such as yoga and different types of martial arts. Additionally, studies should be conducted testing participants in a greater variety of problem solving situations, including problems that relate directly to reallife situations.

4.2 Conclusions

The research indicates that individuals who meditate do have higher levels of consciousness compared to individuals who do not meditate, as measured by the Troyer Level of Consciousness Inventory, and meditators do significantly perform better in a variety of problem solving tasks. The results from these two studies underscore the

importance of including innovative techniques, such as meditation, into our curriculum as a method of increasing students' abilities with traditional problem solving tasks.

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* Corresponding author. Tel.: +0-000-000-0000 ; fax: +0-000-000-0000 . E-mail address: jatroyer@valdosta.edu.