Mindfulness meditation and psychedelic use might produce positive leadership outcomes among business managers, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology. The preliminary study sheds light on the potential impact of mindfulness meditation and psychedelic use on leadership development.
The study was motivated by anecdotal reports of individuals using altered states for peak performance and leadership growth, with a specific focus on mindfulness meditation and psychedelics like LSD. Despite the increasing popularity of these interventions, there was limited empirical data on their effects, particularly regarding psychedelics and their potential influence on leadership development.
Previous research had shown that mindfulness meditation had diverse effects on outcomes related to leadership, such as stress reduction, sleep, creativity, and emotion regulation. However, previous studies were often limited by small sample sizes and potential self-selection biases. Similarly, while some research suggested that psychedelics, particularly in safe and supportive contexts, could impact psychological health, creative thinking, and interpersonal attitudes, there was little research on their connection to leadership outcomes.
“There’s been a fair amount of research on how mindfulness meditation and psychedelic substances may impact mental health. Yet there is relatively little empirical data on how these interventions, especially psychedelics, might affect leadership development,” said Otto Simonsson, a postdoctoral researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience and the corresponding author of the new study.
To address these gaps in the literature, the researchers used Prolific Academic to recruit two samples of participants: 4,867 U.S. adults and 4,865 U.K. adults. This platform offers representative samples of the U..S and U.K. populations based on factors like sex, age, and ethnicity. The study description did not mention psychedelics to avoid bias in self-selection.
These participants provided demographic information, including age, gender, educational attainment, religiosity, political affiliation, and management role. They were asked about their mindfulness meditation experiences and experiences with psychedelic substances.
The participants were asked to provide written responses about how mindfulness meditation or psychedelic experiences influenced their leadership. These responses were coded independently by two researchers for themes such as no impact, positive impact, or negative impact on leadership.
Of the 3,150 participants who held a management position, a significant portion had tried mindfulness meditation (43.6% of the management sample) and a smaller portion had tried psychedelics (17.7% of the management sample). Approximately 10% of the management sample had tried both mindfulness meditation and psychedelics.
Regarding the perceived impact of these practices on leadership, 70.9% of the responses related to mindfulness meditation described a positive impact, 28.8% described no impact, and only a very small fraction (0.2%) indicated a negative impact. Similarly, for responses about psychedelics and leadership, 40.6% described a positive impact, 58.0% indicated no impact, and a small percentage (1.4%) noted a negative impact.
The researchers also conducted a thematic analysis of the written descriptions provided by participants who had experienced either mindfulness meditation or psychedelic use to identify broader patterns and themes in the qualitative data. This resulted in four main themes related to positive impacts.
“Although the findings should be interpreted in light of the study’s limitations, the main takeaway from the study, I think, is that mindfulness meditation and psychedelic use may produce comparable and also complementary effects on leadership at work,” Simonsson told PsyPost.
Many participants reported that mindfulness meditation and/or psychedelic substances had a positive impact on their wellbeing and health. They described how it helped them manage stress, anxiety, and emotions, contributing to better sleep and overall health. This enhanced their resilience and effectiveness as leaders.
Participants noted increased presence and awareness resulting from mindfulness meditation and/or psychedelic substances. This contributed to more effective leadership as they became more attuned to their own actions, thoughts, and emotions.
Mindfulness meditation and/or psychedelic use was associated with enhanced creativity, increased productivity, and improved problem-solving skills. Respondents noted increased cognitive function and better decision-making, contributing to better leadership performance.
Finally, many participants highlighted how mindfulness meditation and/or psychedelic substances had influenced their interpersonal attitudes and behaviors. Many reported greater empathy, compassion, and patience. They often mentioned adopting a more egalitarian and understanding attitude toward coworkers, leading to stronger bonds and a sense of unity within teams.
The researchers were unable to identify consistent or meaningful patterns in the responses that were coded as having a negative impact due to the low number of responses in the negative impact category. But they noted that some participants reported difficulties focusing, feeling unwell, or experiencing after-effects that negatively affected their work performance.
While the study provides valuable insights into the potential positive impacts of mindfulness meditation and psychedelic use on leadership development, some limitations should be taken into consideration when interpreting the findings. For example, the study did not collect detailed information about participants’ mindfulness meditation practices or psychedelic experiences, such as dosage, frequency, or specific techniques used. These factors could significantly influence the outcomes observed. Additionally, the study’s cross-sectional design prevents the establishment of causal relationships between mindfulness meditation, psychedelic use, and leadership outcomes.
“While the findings in this study should be considered preliminary due to the limitations of the research design, the results suggest that mindfulness meditation and psychedelic use may produce comparable and also complementary effects on leadership at work,” the researchers concluded. “If replicated in future studies with more rigorous research designs (e.g., randomized controlled trials), such findings could lead to the development of novel training programs that combine both mindfulness meditation and psychedelics to improve leadership at work.”
The study, “Altered states of leadership: mindfulness meditation, psychedelic use, and leadership development“, was authored by Otto Simonsson, Cecilia U. D. Stenfors, Simon B. Goldberg, Peter S. Hendricks, and Walter Osika.