Examples of research projects involving several members of the Center:

Meditation and Wisdom

Title: Meditation, Wisdom, and fMRI Emotional Capacitance: Does meditation enhance wisdom? (IRB Project #647-2003)

Principal Investigator: Marc Kurtzman, M.A.

Subinvestigators: Monika Ardelt, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Shaya Isenberg, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Louis A. Ritz, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience, College of Medicine and McKnight Brain Institute; Gene R. Thursby, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Religion, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Abstract: The growing interest in meditation has opened the door for new and innovative research to understand both the psychological and physiological effects of this ancient practice. Research in the area of meditation is normally interdisciplinary in nature. Meditation research encompasses many fields of research from religious studies to psychology to neuroscience. The following study was an interdisciplinary venture that brought together researchers from the fields of religious studies, psychology, sociology, and neuroscience.

The first portion of the study explored the psychological impact of meditation. Using Monika Ardelt’s Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS), 42 subjects of meditators and non-meditators completed the 3D-WS and scores were computed among the various dimensions that comprise the 3D-WS. Various groupings and statistical analysis were performed in evaluating the possible differences. The results demonstrated significant differences in overall wisdom. Among the three dimensions that comprise overall wisdom, significant differences were found in the reflective dimension but most significant in the affective domain.

In the second portion of the study, we utilized the technology of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a pilot study to explore possible differences in brain activation between meditators and non-meditators in the presence of emotional stimuli from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). Six subjects (3 meditators, 3 non-meditators) underwent an fMRI and a descriptive volume analysis was used in exploring global and regions of interest differences between the two groups. Global asymmetries were found in the time-locked all affect based deconvolution. The occipital region showed asymmetries for all affect based deconvolution. Frontal region activity showed asymmetries for the time-locked negative affect only deconvolution.

The study shed light on areas of exploration that should be further explored. The low number of subjects in the fMRI portion of the study inhibited statistically significant differences from being demonstrated. The implications of the study shed further light on the many changes that are possible in both mind and brain with the practicing of meditation.


If you would like to inquire further about this study, you may contact the Principal Investigator by email:

Arts in Medicine

Title: Arts in Medicine – Facilitator of Spiritual Transformation and Psychosocial Growth for Persons Dealing with a Life-Threatening Illness?

Purpose: The goal of the proposed quantitative/qualitative study is to test (a) if creative arts/guided imagery interventions for patients with advanced cancer and their primary informal caregivers will promote spiritual transformation and psychosocial growth in both patients and caregivers; (b) if a high intensity intervention is more effective than a low intensity intervention; and (c) if spiritual transformation and psychosocial growth will lead to better social relationships, enhanced subjective well-being, more accepting attitudes toward death and, ultimately, a better dying experience of the cancer patients. Spiritual transformation and psychosocial growth are conceptualized as increases in wisdom, spirituality, personal growth, self-acceptance, forgiveness, purpose in life, and mastery. Dying well is defined as conveying positive and accepting attitudes toward death, being able to cope with physical pain, having made peace with God and the world, having given and asked for forgiveness, feeling the love and support of others, and being calm and content when death approaches.

Significance and potential impact: The end of life can either be a depressing, painful, and isolating experience or a time of great love and beauty. When a person experiences spiritual transcendence, the individual’s experience of death is transformed and a spiritual healing can take place. Based on a previous qualitative study by one of the Co-PI’s, we propose that a high-intensity creative arts/guided imagery intervention will lead to spiritual transformation, psychosocial growth, and, ultimately, a better dying experience for both advanced cancer patients and their loved ones. The study is also designed to yield quantitative comparisons between a cheap and simple intervention (listening to a generic guided imagery tape at least twice a week) and a potentially more beneficial, complex, and expensive creative arts/guided imagery program, which could prove useful in future resource allocation decisions.

Methodology: Patients, 21 years or older, with advanced cancer and a life expectancy of 12 months or less and their primary informal caregivers will be recruited through the University of Florida Cancer Center. Ninety ambulatory patients and their primary caregivers will be enrolled in the study in less than two years by inviting all eligible patients and their primary caregiver to participate in a creative arts/guided imagery program. Patient-caregiver dyads will be randomly assigned in equal numbers to either a low- or high-intensity intervention. All participants will be taught the practice of guided imagery by a guided imagery therapist. The 30-minute session will be audio-recorded, and the tape will be given to participants for their personal use. The low-intensity control group will be encouraged to listen to the tape at least twice a week for six weeks. The high-intensity experimental group will be visited by artists from the Shands Arts-in-Medicine Program at the University of Florida one or two times a week for a total of six weeks at the patient’s place of residence. Each visit will last approximately 90 minutes and will start with 10 minutes of guided imagery practice. The subsequent creative arts session will be individualized to the participants’ needs, and artist will offer participants a choice of music, visual arts, journaling, or dance that they can either actively participate in or passively watch the artist perform. Both low- and high-intensity intervention groups will be interviewed by blinded interviewers using a standardized questionnaire through face-to-face interviews at baseline and again seven weeks after the initial guided imagery intervention. Shortly after the posttest, semi-structured qualitative interviews with patients and caregivers will be conducted that will inquire about their experiences with the creative arts process. In addition, the primary informal caregiver will be asked to notify the research team after the death of the patient to give information about the circumstances of the death and how exactly the patient died. The quantitative data will be analyzed using repeated measurement MANOVA, ANOVA, correlation, multivariate regression, and latent variable analyses. The transcribed semi-structured qualitative interviews will be analyzed through Van Manen’s method of phenomenological hermeneutic. The primary purpose of the analyses will be to examine if cancer patients from the experimental group did indeed experience greater spiritual transformation and psychosocial growth and were more likely to die well than did cancer patients from the control group.