A recent study conducted at Baylor Medical College in Houston, has found that people who partake in regular Buddhist meditation are more likely to engage in rational thought.
The neurological processes of twenty-six long term meditators were compared to a control group during their participation of the Ultimatum Game. The game is an economic decision-making task that in order for a rational decision be reached, the player must control any emotional factors and focus on logical outcomes. The game consists of two players who have the opportunity to win a sum of money providing they can divide it between them. The first player will recommend how to split the money, if the second player accepts the offer the split is made as the proposer suggested, however if the offer is rejected neither player wins.
The game theory suggests that the rational solution is for the proposer to offer the smallest amount of money and for the second player to accept it despite how unreasonable or unfair this may appear. However when ‘irrational’ humans play often the suggested split is relatively equal and fair, meaning the proposer has less money or the second player is often unwilling to accept a small proportion.
The aim of this particular study was to establish if Buddhist meditators would accept unfair offers rather than leaving with nothing to a greater extent than non-meditators. This was found to be the case with meditators accepting twenty-five percent more unfair offers than the controls. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) also supported these results. Networks of the brain thought to be involved with cognitive processes were activated in the brains of meditators when they were contemplating accepting an unfair offer while in the control brains areas thought to be involved in emotion processing was activated.
This research adds to social and clinical indications that persistent meditation training and mindfulness may positively aid human decision making and rational thinking.