Over 80 teachers between the ages of 25 and 60 took part in a project which arose from a meeting between Buddhist scholars, behavioural scientists and emotion experts at the home of the Dalai Lama.
The group devised a 42 hour training programme over eight weeks, with three different types of meditative practice.
One practice was to focus attention on specific mental or sensory experience, the second involved the close examination of body and feelings and the third was designed to promote empathy and compassion towards others.
All of the teachers were new to meditation and all were involved in an intimate relationship.
“We wanted to test whether the intervention affected both personal well-being as well as behavior that would affect the well-being of their intimate partners,” said Dr Margaret Kemeny, director of the Health Psychology Programme at the University of California and San Francisco.
As a test, the teachers and their partners underwent a “marital interaction” task measuring minute changes in facial expression while they attempted to resolve a problem in their relationship.
In this type of encounter, those who express certain negative facial expressions are more likely to divorce, research has shown.
It was found that after the meditation programme hostile looks diminished and depressed mood levels dropped by more than half.
In a follow-up assessment five months later, many of the positive changes remained, the authors said.
“We know much less about longer-term changes that occur as a result of meditation, particularly once the ‘glow’ of the experience wears off,” said Dr Kemeny.
“It’s important to know what they are because these changes probably play an important role in the longer-term effects of meditation on mental and physical health symptoms and conditions.”
The results of the study are published in the April issue of the journal Emotion.