The University of California, Davis has announced a three-year, $2.3 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation for a comprehensive study of the effects of intensive meditation training on mind and body.
Awarded as part of the $1 billion Campaign for UC Davis, the inaugural Templeton Prize Research Grant will be used to extend the Shamatha Project, which seeks to address two big questions in its next phase: After going through intensive meditation training, what differentiates people who develop their lives in ways that relieve suffering for themselves and others close to them from those who do not; and how are measurable changes in cognitive, psychological, and physiological processes related to peoples' life experience years later? Led by Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain and MIND Institute, researchers at UC Davis will work to complete analysis of the original data set while collecting follow-up data for further analysis.
Researchers will investigate the effects of two three-month retreats held in 2007 where sixty participants received intensive daily instruction from Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace in developing calm, focused attention and cultivating compassionate concern. During the retreats, participants were tested for various psychological, physiological, and cognitive measures, and then were interviewed about their experiences five and fifteen months later.
In six years, UC Davis researchers will again contact participants to assess their experiences at the retreats, what changes the retreats made in their lives, and how those changes continue to affect them. They will also interview family members, colleagues, and friends of retreat participants and record their observations about long-term changes in retreat participants.
"The Shamatha Project is a remarkable scientific odyssey that is changing our understanding not only of how contemplative practices may affect human cognition, emotion, and brain function, but also how we view the relationship between mental function and health," said Ron Mangun, dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UC Davis and a co-investigator on the project. "This major award from the Templeton Foundation will help Dr. Saron and our team [to] expand the boundaries of this innovative research."