The effect of meditation on risk-attitude: A behavioral study

Bjarke Madsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Research in the fields of neuroeconomics and behavioral economics has increasingly shown that individuals’ attitude towards risk is closely associated with emotional processes, and that economic decision making cannot be understood through classical utility theory. At the same time research on meditation has shown that meditation affects emotional processes and the reward system of the brain. This thesis explores if meditation, due to these effects, changes experienced meditators’ risk-attitude. The question of whether meditation affects risk-attitude is investigated through an experimental setup, testing experienced meditators’ risk-attitude through a gambling task involving monetary reward. The experiment is designed to test the hypothesis of a short term effect of meditation towards increased risk-aversion and explore the long term effects of meditation on risk-attitude. Other than testing meditators’ risk-attitude, the experiment also tests the participants’ behavior in two liking tasks, included in the experimental design to give further insight into the emotional effects of meditation on decision making. The statistical analysis of the experimental data, first and foremost, supports the hypothesis concerning short term effects of meditation, and further shows a positive relationship between regular meditation and risk-seeking. Furthermore, sleep during meditation and age are shown to have a significant effect on risk-attitude. Lastly, the statistical analysis shows significant relationships between deemed attractiveness of displayed faces in one of the liking-tasks and regular meditation along with age. In the discussion of the statistical analysis several possible explanations to the results are given, primarily focused on the possible effect of meditation related to dopamine and the reward system of the brain, and the effect of meditation in the direction of increased emotional control. The latter is closely associated with Prospect Theory and this theory’s concept of loss-aversion. Further, the findings in the liking tasks are explored especially in relation to the possible role of dopamine in both gambling and liking tasks. Finally, further venues of research are discussed along with opportunities for business utilization of meditation.

EducationsMSc in Applied Economics and Finance, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages80