New Research Says Mindfulness Can Reduce Unconcious Racial Bias

In light of recent events involving fatal police confrontations with unarmed people of color, it's clear that racial biases are still alive and well.

Seeking some sort of solution, scientists at Central Michigan University conducted a small-scale study to see how mindfulness could affect implicit racial associations in the subconscious — the involuntary feelings that surface when we look at an image of someone of another race. And they reported that a 10-minute introduction to mindfulness meditation could, in fact, help combat racial biases.

The researchers told 72 white college students the study was about "the relationship between listening to an audiotape and reaction time." Half of them listened to a 10-minute introduction to mindfulness, while the other half listened to a 10-minute discussion about natural history.

The mindfulness recording, which was based on Buddhist principles, "instructed participants to become aware of bodily sensations (heartbeat and breath) and fully accept these sensations, and any thoughts, without restriction, resistance, or judgment," according to Pacific Standard.

All participants then completed an Implicit Association Test (IAT), which is a social psychology measure designed to gauge the strength of a person's automatic associations. In this instance, black, white, old, and young faces were randomly paired with positively and negatively associated words. The students then had to respond to these words as quickly as possible by pressing either the "positive" or "negative" key.

As the researchers had rather pessimistically hypothesized, they found that white people have a quicker response time for positive words associated with white faces than positive words associated with black faces. Conversely, the participants also more quickly associated black faces with negative words than white people with negative words.

Yet there is some hope: The study also showed that those who underwent a mindfulness meditation exercise had significantly weaker racial biases than those who had not. The researchers hypothesized that this may be because mindfulness encourages longer thought processes rather than snap judgments.

While it may be optimistic thinking, these findings show how powerful a tool mindfulness can be in overcoming these impulsive — and, as has been proven as of late, harmful — associations. We are nowhere near a post-racial society, but this study offers hope that, if we're willing, we can rid ourselves of these prejudices by becoming more self-aware.

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