Racially prejudiced behavior can be significantly reduced by a brief mindful meditation practice, according to a February 2016 study published by the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice.
Extensive research has shown that even people who value equality and diversity exhibit negative reactions to people of different races. These subtle biased responses are called implicit associations and they occur automatically, outside of conscious awareness. Multiple studies have found negative unconscious attitudes to be associated with discriminatory behavior including bias in hiring decisions, communication, and trust in social interactions. With such serious consequences at stake, it is critical to understand how to move beyond implicit associations that can negatively affect decision making- without our consent or awareness.
Social psychology researchers Adam Leuke, Ph.D. and Bryan Gibson, Ph.D. from the University of Central Michigan found that ten minutes of mindful meditation significantly lowered racially biased behavior. The study consisted of 124 White undergraduate students who played a computer game developed to assess how trust-based decision making was influenced by the race of other players. The participants who listened to a guided mindful meditation practice prior to playing the game were significantly more likely to trust partners equally; they favored White individuals 3% more than Black individuals. The participants who listened to control audio exhibited more racial bias by trusting White partners 14% more than Black partners.
This research builds on many other studies investigating the connection between mindful awareness and discrimination; however, it is distinct in showing that even very brief exposure to general mindfulness exercises can contribute to reducing implicit bias. The ten minute audio consisted of guiding the listener to become aware of body sensations and thoughts without judgement. No reference was made to race or equality or any other teaching-based content.
Leuke and Gibson’s findings suggest that mindfulness — the simple practice of focusing attention on felt experience and thought — has the potential to bypass unconscious negative judgements and foster fair treatment and equality. The authors claim that this study provides evidence of mindfulness as a technique for improving race relations:
“Through extended practice, mindfulness can possibly bring us closer to each other in a more profound way, a way in which we see each other truly and as possessing the same innate qualities and essence that we ourselves possess.”