Mind-Body Practices and the Self: Yoga and Meditation Do Not Quiet the Ego but Instead Boost Self-Enhancement
Mind-body practices enjoy immense public and scientific interest. Yoga and meditation are highly popular. Purportedly, they foster well-being by curtailing self-enhancement bias. However, this “ego quieting” effect contradicts an apparent psychological universal, the self-centrality principle. According to this principle, practicing any skill renders that skill self-central, and self-centrality breeds self-enhancement bias. We examined those opposing predictions in the first tests of mind-body practices’ self-enhancement effects. In Experiment 1, we followed 93 yoga students over 15 weeks, assessing self-centrality and self-enhancement bias after yoga practice (yoga condition, n = 246) and without practice (control condition, n = 231). In Experiment 2, we followed 162 meditators over 4 weeks (meditation condition: n = 246; control condition: n = 245). Self-enhancement bias was higher in the yoga (Experiment 1) and meditation (Experiment 2) conditions, and those effects were mediated by greater self-centrality. Additionally, greater self-enhancement bias mediated mind-body practices’ well-being benefits. Evidently, neither yoga nor meditation fully quiet the ego; to the contrary, they boost self-enhancement.
Mind-body practices enjoy immense interest in the general public and many areas of psychology, including cognitive, social, and clinical. A foundational assumption of yoga philosophy and Buddhism is that mind-body practices quiet the ego and, thus, curtail or eliminate self-enhancement. Curtailed self-enhancement, in turn, has been described as a key process explaining the well-being benefits of mind-body practices.
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However, the presumed effect of mind-body practices on curtailed self-enhancement has remained untested. This is unfortunate because there is a viable alternative to that ego-quieting hypothesis—the SCP-universal hypothesis. The SCP-universal hypothesis is a building block of the self-enhancement literature. It predicts that practicing any skill—and, thus, also mind-body practices—increases that skill’s selfcentrality, which in turn breeds self-enhancement bias regarding that skill. The SCP-universal hypothesis is well supported outside the mind-body domain.
Our findings have broad theoretical significance. Ego quieting is a central element of yoga philosophy and Buddhism alike. That element, and its presumed implications, requires serious rethinking. Moreover, ego quieting is often called on to explain mind-body practices’ well-being benefits. In contrast, we observed that mind-body practices boost self-enhancement, and this boost, in turn, elevates well-being. The latter finding is consistent with the literature on the well-being benefits of selfenhancement outside the yoga domain. In conclusion, despite claims to the contrary, mind-body practices do not undermine the universality of self-enhancement in self-central domains. The SCP appears to be an inextricable part of human nature.