New research shows that practices like meditation can nudge conservatives' political orientations to the left. Values from both sides of the political spectrum have important roles to play in regard to societal structure.

"Inducing a spiritual experience through a guided meditation exercise led both liberals and conservatives to endorse more liberal political attitudes." says Jordan Peterson, one of the study's authors and professor at University of Toronto's Department of Psychology.

Lead author Jacob Hirsh of the Rotman School of Management says, "While religiousness is characterized by devotion to a specific tradition, set of principles, or code of conduct, spirituality is associated with the direct experience of self-transcendence and the feeling that we're all connected."

Hirsch, Peterson, and Megan Walberg, also from the Department of Psychology, examined their participants' political views in relation to their personal involvement with religion or spirituality in three studies. 

The first two studies analyzed participants' political orientations and confirmed that religiousness was correlated with conservatism while spirituality tends to pair with liberalism. These associations were due to a difference in political values. Conservatism and religiousness value the importance of tradition while liberalism and spirituality emphasize the importance of equality and social harmony.

The third study required participants to complete a spiritual exercise accompanied by a guided meditation video. Following the exercise, participants who meditated demonstrated higher levels of spirituality and expressed more liberal political attitudes when compared to a control group. These political opinions include a reduced support for "tough on crime" policies and a preference for liberal political candidates.

"Spiritual experiences seem to make people feel more of a connection with others," says Hirsh. "The boundaries we normally maintain between ourselves and the world tend to dissolve during spiritual experiences. These feelings of self-transcendence make it easier to recognize that we are all part of the same system, promoting an inclusive and egalitarian mindset."

The researchers hope that the studies' findings will not only enhance our global understanding of spirituality but also foster progressive political dialogue.

"The conservative part of religious belief has played an important role in holding cultures together and establishing common rules. The spiritual part, on the other hand, helps cultures renew themselves by adapting to changing circumstances," says Peterson.

"Both right and left are necessary; it's not that either is correct, it's that the dialogue between them produces the best chance we have at getting the balance right. If people could understand that both sides have an important role to play in society, some of the unnecessary tension might be eliminated."

Balance is an integral part of our shared reality and these studies highlight the importance of trying things outside of one's comfort zone. We cannot integrate unfamiliar values into our lives by consistently remaining on one side – whether religious or spiritual, or conservative or liberal. By encouraging others to regularly try new things perhaps we can help regain balance in our world.

Image by Beni Ishaque Luthor, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.