The meditating brain in context: eliciting ethical reflections on neuroscientific meditation research

Activity: Talk or presentation / Performance / SpeechesTalk or presentation - at conferenceAcademic


Background and objectives
Neurophysiological measurements render evidence for meditation affecting the brain and improving health, well-being, and cognition. This type of research has gained increasing popularity over the last decades. It has helped to transform an ancient Eastern religious practice into a therapeutic product that nowadays integrates smoothly in Western scientific culture. However, this does not come without challenges: the commodification and secularization of Buddhism, the potential negative side effects when meditating, and the introduction of meditation to the workplace where it might be used to reach productivity targets. My research develops a critical understanding of ethical challenges in neuroscientific meditation research.

These ethical challenges are similar to those addressed in other fields by so-called “Responsible Research and Innovation” (RRI). Introduced in academia and policy making in the 21st century, RRI aims at the establishment of a democratic process including all stakeholders in ethical reflections on how research and innovation should be steered. Yet, the implementation of RRI faces problems. An inclusive, democratic process of ethical reflection cannot be realized if the fluidity, i.e. the changing nature of stakeholder groups and ethical reflections remains disregarded. Tackling these problems, I experiment with the implementation of RRI in the Silver Santé Study, currently Europe’s biggest neuroscientific meditation research project on the impact of meditation on healthy aging. I conduct ethnographic research including participant observation, interviews, and document analysis.

The analysis unpacks the fluidity of stakeholder groups and ethical reflections. This demonstrates how stakeholder groups form and re-form; how stakeholders rhetorically enact ethical reflections; and how ethical reflections and daily occurrences in research co-evolve.

Discussion and conclusion
Analyzing ethical reflections of different actors, including myself, generates a critical understanding of ethical challenges in neuroscientific meditation research whose relevance extends into two directions. One is to help realize the ideal of RRI – directing neuroscientific meditation research in a more ethical, inclusive, and equitable manner. Encouraging stakeholders to explore ethical reflections might stimulate them to find ways to deal with ethical challenges. The second is to propose recommendations for improving RRI’s implementation in other projects.

Key words
Science and Technology Studies, Ethnography, Neuroscientific meditation research, Ethics, Responsible Research and Innovation
Period11 Jul 2018
Event titleInternational Conference on Mindfulness 2018: Science from within
Event typeConference
LocationAmsterdam, NetherlandsShow on map