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Learning from Spiritual Models and Meditation: A Randomized Intervention Among College Undergraduates. Doug Oman, Ph.D. School of Public Health University of California, Berkeley Shauna L. Shapiro Carl E. Thoresen Tim Flinders Joseph D. Driskill Thomas G. Plante

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Learning from Spiritual Models and Meditation: A Randomized Intervention Among College Undergraduates

Doug Oman, Ph.D.

School of Public Health

University of California, Berkeley

Shauna L. Shapiro Carl E. Thoresen

Tim Flinders Joseph D. Driskill

Thomas G. Plante

Thanks also to Metanexus Institute, John Templeton Foundation, Santa Clara University, Academic Council of Learned Societies, Contemplative Mind in Society, Fetzer Institute

Presented at 115th Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association

San Francisco, CA -- August 18, 2007

further information on evidence ideas presented here
Further information on evidence/ideas presented here

#1. Described/cited in

Plante/Thoresen 2007

(ch. 6 by Flinders et al)

#2. Published study

Pastoral Psych 2007 54:473-93

  • Introduction
    • Background
    • Questions
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
design three group study same sample as previous speaker
Design:Three-group Study:(same sample as previous speaker)


Control group




Meditate on breath




Meditate on passage



nih expert panel
NIH Expert Panel

“Persuasive” evidence exists that meditation is associated with better outcomes among patient groups

American Psychologist

(Seeman, Dubin & Seeman, 2003)


spirituality ignored in meditation research
Spirituality Ignored in Meditation Research!

“The religiosity/spirituality component of these [meditation] interventions is not always a direct, explicit focus of the research...”

(Seeman &c, 2003, p. 60)

what do we mean by spirituality
What do we mean by ‘Spirituality’?
  • Many possible answers...
    • Transcendence
    • The sacred
  • Is meditation intrinsically ‘spiritual’?
    • Maybe
  • Our Approach:
    • Spiritual Models

(supports hearing a ‘still small voice’?)

examples of revered spiritual models
Examples of Revered Spiritual Models

● Jesus ● Mother Teresa

● Buddha ● Mahatma Gandhi

● Martin Luther King ● Dalai Lama

key elements of r s traditions
Key Elements of R/S Traditions
  • Beliefs
  • Practices
  • Spiritual models
  • ...
spiritual modeling
Spiritual Modeling

Spiritual Modeling: Learning spiritually relevant skills or behaviors through observing other persons.

(Oman & Thoresen, 2003)

spiritual models may be
Spiritual models may be...
  • Everyday models

from family or community

  • Revered models

from tradition or other media

spiritual models importance
Spiritual Models:Importance

Recognized spiritual Value

  • RS traditions often see spirituality as “caught not taught”
  • Exposure to models important in major psychological theory

(Bandura, 2003)

social learning theory how do we learn anything

Background: Spiritual Models

Social Learning Theory How do we learn anything?
  • “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling”

(Bandura, 1986)

  • Relying only on trial/error would be excruciating!
observational learning bandura 1986
Observational Learning(Bandura, 1986)

Four major underlying processes

  • Attention
  • Retention
  • Reproduction in Behavior
  • Motivation

Observational spiritual learning uses same 4 processes (Bandura, 2003)


Religions historically foster all four, systematically

(Oman & Thoresen, 2003)

documented power of examples
Documented power of Examples

“One can get people to

  • behave altruistically,
  • volunteer their services,
  • delay or seek gratification,
  • show affection,
  • behave punitively,
  • prefer certain foods and apparel,
  • converse on particular topics,
  • be inquisitive or passive,
  • think innovatively or conventionally,

and to engage in almost any course or action

by having such conduct exemplified.”

(Bandura, 1986)

combining meditation spiritual models
Combining Meditation + Spiritual Models

Do meditation programs differ

in levels of support forspiritual modeling processes?

e.g., for

 Attention

 Retention

 Reproduction

 Motivation

a review of previously studied programs
A Review of Previously Studied Programs

(Oman & Beddoe, 2005)

Level of support

passage meditation choose own passages from a spiritual wisdom figure or tradition
Passage Meditation (choose own passages from a spiritual wisdom figure or tradition)

Memorize / Recite silently in mind for 30 mins

why is passage meditation very high
Why is Passage Meditation “Very High”?
  • It steeps the mind in “modeling information”



passages eight point program easwaran 1978 1991
Passages + “Eight Point Program” (Easwaran, 1978/1991)


into sub-








into day

Reproductionin behavior



pm thus supports all 4 modeling processes
PM thus supports all 4 modeling processes

Attention to spiritual models in 1-meditation and 8-spiritual reading

Retention through memorizing and repeating meditation passages

Reproduction in behavior with 6-Putting others first, 4-focused attention, etc.

Motivation from 1-meditating on positive experiences (“He restoreth my soul...”)

mbsr and spiritual models
MBSR and Spiritual Models

Supports learning via

  • Poetry/etc shared in meetings
  • Group setting/fellowship Each other as
      • models
      • source of attitudes to famous models

“Life has not forgotten you,

it holds you in its hands and

will not let you fall”


an empirical study
An Empirical Study

published (2007) in

Pastoral Psychology

Goal: Clarify separate


Spiritual Meditation Models 


three group study meditation and spiritual models randomized
Three-group Study:Meditation and Spiritual Models(randomized)


Control group




Meditate on breath




Meditate on passage



spiritual models


Pretest, Post-test, 8-week FUp

participants n 44 students at a roman catholic university
Participants (N=44) Students at a Roman Catholic University

Mostly 18 years old 59% range 18-24

First-year 66%

Female 80%

White 73%

Religion: Catholic 48%

Other 11%

None 41%

clues about changes
Clues about Changes

On each outcome,

if PM and MBSR perform:

Equivalently.......................suggests due to meditation

PM larger changes..............suggests due to spiritual models

3 Exploratory Questions

Spiritual well-beingmeasures

3 A priori Hypotheses

Spiritual modelingmeasures

exploratory questions no hypotheses about sources
Exploratory Questions no hypotheses about sources


● God image

loving / controlling

● Religious coping

positive / negative

● Aspirations

non-materialistic / materialistic

(Benson & Spilka, 1973)

5+5 items

(Fetzer/NIA, 1999)

2+3 items

(Kasser & Ryan, 1996)

9+9 items

a priori hypotheses spiritual models hypoth as a source
A Priori Hypotheses Spiritual models hypoth. as a source


● Perceived Influence of SMs (spiritual models)

● Availability of SMs

● Self-Efficacy for

learning from SMs

SMILE measure

(newly developed)

1 item

5+ items in

5 domains

(family, school, etc.)

10 items

spiritual well being
Large, statistically significant benefits in both variants:

God viewed as Controlling (reduced 0.7 SD)

Negative religious coping (reduced 0.7 to 0.9 SD)

BUT...Positive measures showed no changes for either variant:

God as Loving (unchanged)

Positive religious coping (unchanged)

Results: Exploratory

Spiritual Well-Being





(5 items)

(3 items)


spiritual well being continued

Results: Exploratory

Spiritual Well-Being(continued)

Non-Materialistic Aspirations

“I will assist people who

need it, asking nothing

in return”

“I will feel that there are

people who really love

me, and whom I love”

(Kasser & Ryan, 1996, 9-item subscale)



SDs Change

Materialistic Aspirations:

No change either group


spiritual models



Spiritual Models

Spiritual Modeling Self-Efficacy











As hypothesized

Passage Meditation only showed large, sig. gains at 8-wk FUp:

  • Famous models before 1900 (gain 0.8 SDs)*
  • Self-efficacy/confidence (gain 0.9 SDs)*

Influence of famous models (gain 0.8 SDs at Posttest)*


summary implications
Summary / Implications

Meditation practices


Spiritual models

both appear important, but for different outcomes

modeling influences over 8 weeks
Modeling Influences?(over 8 weeks)



  • Spiritual well-being

● Religious coping

● God image

● Non-materialistic aspirations

  • Spiritual model measures

● Influence of spiritual models

● Availability of spiritual models

● Self-efficacy to learn from spiritual models


Not over

8 weeks


Key=Spiritual models

health implications
Health Implications

Over 8-16 weeks...

Both meditation programs appear to foster mental health physical health

unresolved questions
Unresolved Questions
  • Why effects on negativebut notpositivespiritual well-being? (i.e., God-images and coping)
  • Why few immediate (post-test) spiritual modeling changes?

 Replicable?

Do positive changes require more time?

 Benefits may accumulate over time (‘teach someone to farm...’)

Similar PM trends seen on other outcomes / studies

questions for further study
Questions for further study
  • What is the long-term effect of extra spiritual models in meditation?
      • Will/do Breath meditators gain spiritual models through other pathways?
thank you

Further info see...

#1. Described/cited in

Plante/Thoresen 2007

(ch. 6 by Flinders et al)

#2. Published study

Pastoral Psych 2007 54:473-93