Study finds being exposed to Buddhist concepts reduces prejudice and increases prosociality

Researchers from Belgium and Taiwan have found that being exposed to Buddhist concepts can undermine prejudice towards others and lead to increased prosocial behavioral intentions.

Buddhism contains a variety of teachings and practices – such as meditation – intended to help individuals develop a more open-minded and compassionate personality. Unlike the three dominant monotheistic religions, it does not draw a sharp line between believers and unbelievers.

In three separate experiments of 355 individuals, the researchers found that being exposed to words related to Buddhism could “automatically activate prosociality and tolerance, in particular among people with socio-cognitive open-mindedness.”

The study adds to a growing body of research about priming, a phenomenon in which merely being exposed to certain words or concepts changes the way people think or behave. It was published in the April issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

When Westerners familiar with Buddhism read religious words like “Dharma” and “Nirvana” – which they were exposed to under the guise of completing a word puzzle – they reported lower negative attitudes toward outgroups compared to participants exposed to positive non-religious words like “freedom.”

Westerners with a Christian background also became more tolerant after being exposed to Buddhist concepts, though only among those with a predisposition for valuing the welfare of all people and an aversion towards authoritarianism. Implicit association tests showed that these participants were less prejudiced against African people and Muslims than participants exposed to Christian concepts or neutral concepts.

Westerners with a Christian background also scored higher on measures of prosociality after being exposed to Buddhist concepts. Surprisingly, participants did not score higher on measures of prosociality after being exposed to Christian concepts.

The effect of being exposed to Buddhist concepts was not restricted to cultures in which the religion was seen as particularly exotic, the researchers said. Being exposed to Buddhist concepts also fostered increased tolerance and prosociality, compared with neutral and Christian concepts, among participants living in Taiwan.

“To conclude, we think that this work provides, for the first time, experimental evidence in favor of the idea that in both the East and the West, across people from both Christian and Eastern Asian religious traditions, Buddhist concepts automatically activate positive social behavioral outcomes, that is, prosociality and low prejudice, in particular among people with personal dispositions of socio-cognitive openness,” the researchers wrote.

“Unlike Christian and other monotheistic religious systems that paradoxically seem to encourage not only prosociality but also prejudice, Buddhist ideas favor both prosociality and outgroup tolerance, and these ideals seem particularly efficient (in leading to action) for people with relevant personality dispositions.”

“Emotional (compassion) and cognitive (tolerance of contradictions) mechanisms explain, to some extent, how Buddhist concepts, across cultural and religious contexts, enhance prosocial and tolerant attitudes and behavioral tendencies. Religious and cultural characteristics ‘travel’ and influence people’s attitudes and behavior in a globalized world even at the implicit level of consciousness,” the researchers concluded.


  1. did they study the Buddhists of Burma committing genocide against the minority muslim Burmese?

    • Let's be reasonable on

      No, because this study was looking at how people respond to buddhist philosophical concepts, not about how buddhism as a social system plays out in Burma. Two totally different fields of study. If you want to read about the situation in Burma, there are plenty of articles out there.

    • Those people aren’t Buddhist. Just because they say they are, doesn’t mean they are.

      • hey guys come on now… remember, Dharma… Nirvana…. other Bhuddist related religious words….

    • Yeah, they compared them with Christian, Jewish and Islamic instances of genocide and found that, wow, there were a lot less instances of genocide in Buddhist groups.

    • The study is not suggesting that specific cultural groups who happen to be exposed to Buddhism are more prosocial, but that individuals exposed to the central beliefs of Buddhism tend to be more prosocial.

      • Actually, it suggests that Westerners from within a culture dominated by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam became more prosocial when exposed to these unfamiliar concepts derived from Buddhism. This speaks more to the power of expanded perspective than to Buddhist concepts themselves. Perhaps people from Buddhist cultures would also show prosocial tendencies when exposed to other religions.

    • There’s always one person to generalize isn’t there….. If you have been exposed to buddhist concepts then you would understand that in no way we’re these acts of hatred related to Buddhism

  2. stephanieandjared on Last year my husband was hospitalized and diagnosed with endocarditus. He was in there for two weeks. I was one day late getting home to pay rent because we didnt have a car and i had to wait for his release. He was put out of work for a year and i am on disability. When we arrived home from the hospital we had a eviction notice on our door. Two days later the detainers warrent was place ordering me to court. In court my landlord gave me the choice of paying the 450.00 rent plus another 100 dollar late fee and on top of that another 500 for court fees. My check couldnt cover that so we became homeless. My mother is letting us stay with her for a month or so and we are trying to come up with the deposit money to put down on a house which usually runs 500 and first months and last months rent i can only cover 700 of that. My husband is still very sick and cant do much to help and my check barely gets us thru the month. So i have to swallow my pride and make this gofund me campaigne we really need some help. If you can find it in your heart to help us out id appricaite it and could even send your money back to you once we get settled into our new home. I found a trailer for 1200 total to move in as i said i can cover 700 of that but there will be more fees for lights and stuff. so even a dollar will help please find it in your heart to help two lost souls out .. god bless all of you. and btw yes i have tryed getting into public housing but with the eviction on our record they will not help us i have tryed everything. Everyone needs a little help at some point in there lifes were very young just getting started and were having a rough start.

    • Stephanie, for 1200$ you can buy a little camper and put it in your moms driveway. Never pay rent again. Look on Craigslist for a small trailer and fix it up.

  3. I still think the concept of being free from want would be an amazing thing to accomplish but society seems to be moving the opposite direction.

      • But if you are free from wanting the thing you want to be free from, you are already free from want in the first place and wouldn’t need to be free from want…

    • Rob Coomber on

      shows ignorance on the part of the author…on 2 counts…Buddhism is not a religion created by Siddhartha Gautama and Christianity uses a polytheistic philosophy in the trinity.

    • No need for refresher Jonny boy! The bigger goal is to always end suffering. If Muslims prefer, to hide behind their barbarian religion,and do harm to others ,then…….?
      Buddhist are discouraged from lying as well,but if a few savages,are pursuing someone,with intent to harm them ,and said person hid in the bushes nearby .to me,as I sat near a park bench,here is one case I can act,and it won’t be a contradiction.
      If the savages ,were to eventually ask me, if I saw such a person,then ,lying would be a good option,to save such a person’s life.Hope you get the picture.

    • Rob Coomber on

      Buddhists do what is necessary. If killing is necessary then killing is okay. If one can be at peace again then that is the objective. Peace within.

    • Andrew Kinsella on

      I wonder why these people were identified as Buddhists?
      What level of commitment did they have?
      Had they taken refuge?
      Do any of them practice meditation regularly?
      How much time do they devote to studying and practicing the dharma.

      In a country like Burma- apart from small minorities of Christians and Muslims the majority of the population are at least nominally identified as Buddhist but many do not practice.
      This “Age of denereration of the teachindgs” was actually forecast by Shakyamuni Buddha and it was forecast to happen about now.

      Look closely– the planet is in an ecological crisis– there are more people than can be supported by our environment without eroding the health of the ecosphere. People are getting a little hysterical– even some Buddhists.

  4. Rob Coomber on

    The Buddha never created a religion but a personal lifestyle and lessons for others to explore in their own way. Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) was a man, not a prophet of a higher entity. There is no holy book in Buddhism written by Siddhartha Gautama. He left basic teachings behind. Each one walks their own path. There is no god figure in Buddhism….he was a guru only… academics and philosophers hijacked Siddhartha Gautama teachings and created their own fantasy…and took the name Buddha for their own egotistical ends.

  5. John H Newcomb on

    Any religion can have extremism so such violence suggests Buddhism no different:
    – “Buddhist Violence in Burma”:
    – “Straying From the Middle Way: Extremist Buddhist Monks Target Religious Minorities”:
    – “Why are Buddhist monks attacking Muslims?”:

    • Andrew Kinsella on

      The issues you need to be clear about here John, are that violence and hateful speech are DIRECT BREACHES of both basic Buddhist ethical codes and the vows that monks take. IF true the monks will be ejected from the sangha and have to bear the karmic consequences of discrediting the dharma.

      Christ was quoted as coming to bring not peace, but a sword. I have seen nothing resembling that in any part of the Pali canon that I have read or heard referenced, and I have literally lost count of the number of Buddhist teachers I have taken teachings from in the past 30 years.

      The other issue we have to deal with is the issue that the press is not reliable. It relies on generating controversy to sell copy. The commercial press is dominated by the commercial interests of its owners and major advertisers. Organisations like the BBC, and in Australia, the ABC are often dominated by individuals of an academic background that is strongly biassed towards atheism and scientific materialism. This group is particularly problematic and virulent. There is now very good evidence of their work on Wikipedia to remove any favorable mentions of complementary medicine.

  6. Kevin Anomaly Davidson on

    Guys please don’t speak for Shakyamuni Buddha on any level…..the ONLY thing he claimed to be was “awake”….we love his nature and his teachings but there is NO place for worship here

    • Andrew Kinsella on

      No, no worship– but his teachings reward very close attention.
      Shakyamuni was very particular about the no worship issue and laughed at his followers when they were surprised that he was dying.

  7. Andrew Kinsella on

    “Surprisingly, participants did not score higher on measures of prosociality after being exposed to Christian concepts.”

    Hardly surprising at all.
    Firstly we Westerners have all been exposed to Christian teachings many times.
    Secondly Christ himself talked of turning children against their parents.

    Really Christianity has struggled to operate properly since it was hijacking by Constantine, and turned into a part of the apparatus of state control. That transformation was achieved by systematically suppressing the Gnostic gospels and murdering as many adherents of Gnostic Christianity as could be found.

    More recent fragments of those texts have emerged that point to a religion that was very similar to Buddhism as practiced nowadays.

  8. There’s one big difference between this claim and the No True Scotsman fallacy. If you define “true Buddhist” as “someone who follows Buddhist scriptures”, then these people are not Buddhist. The scriptures absolutely never encourage violence. The same cannot be said of the monotheistic religions: a true believer there could kill on the specific advice of their Holy Book.