The idea of meditation is often thought about in the same breath as that of a Zen-like state of mind that looks at the world calmly and treats others in it with more compassion. This view, which has been promoted by teachers and practitioners alike, also found support from some scientific studies that meditation, did in fact, have an overall positive influence on people’s behavior.

But a new meta-study, which looked at over 20 such studies — on the impact of meditation on people’s sense of compassion and other such attributes — found the positive effects were overstated in the studies, likely a result of biases and methodological weaknesses. The new analysis found meditation “played no significant role in reducing aggression or prejudice or improving how socially-connected someone was.”

Researchers from New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom published a paper Monday, in which they looked at five types of social behavior — compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. They then tried to gauge any increase in “prosociality” following meditation.

“The popularization of meditation techniques, like mindfulness, despite being taught without religious beliefs, still seem to offer the hope of a better self and a better world to many. We wanted to investigate how powerful these techniques were in affecting one's feelings and behaviors towards others,” Miguel Farias, from Coventry University in the U.K. and a coauthor on the paper, said in a statement.

The researchers found no effect on three of the five behavior types they looked at — aggression, connectedness and prejudice were unaffected among people who were meditating. And even the other two behavior types — compassion and empathy — where they found some positive correlation was tempered by methodological problems.

For instance, “compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract.

A total of over 4,500 articles related to meditation and mindfulness were initially found by the researchers, who finally narrowed them down to 24, on the basis of their selection criteria. All the studies were based on random controlled trials, and therefore none of them covers the effects of transcendental meditation.

Given the significant problems in the methodology of the studies proclaiming a cause-and-effect beneficial relationship between meditation and positive behavior, the researchers were careful not to dismiss meditation itself as not being helpful, but instead, spoke of the need to devise better methods to gauge the relationship.

“None of this, of course, invalidates Buddhism or other religions’ claims about the moral value and eventually life changing potential of its beliefs and practices. But our research findings are a far cry from many popular claims made by meditators and some psychologists. To understand the true impact of meditation on people’s feelings and behavior further we first need to address the methodological weaknesses we uncovered — starting with the high expectations researchers might have about the power of meditation,” Farias said.

Titled “The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” the paper appeared online in the journal Scientific Reports.