Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 140–147 | Cite as

Brief loving-kindness meditation reduces racial bias, mediated by positive other-regarding emotions

  • Alexander J. Stell
  • Tom Farsides
Original Paper


The relationship between positive emotions and implicit racial prejudice is unclear. Interventions using positive emotions to reduce racial bias have been found wanting, while other research shows that positive affect can sometimes exacerbate implicit prejudice. Nevertheless, loving-kindness meditation (LKM) has shown some promise as a method of reducing bias despite increasing a broad range of positive emotions. A randomised control trial (n = 69) showed that a short-term induction of LKM decreased automatic processing, increased controlled processing, and was sufficient to reduce implicit prejudice towards the target’s racial group but not towards a group untargeted by the meditation. Furthermore, the reduction in bias was shown to be mediated by other-regarding positive emotions alongside increased control and decreased automaticity on the IAT. Non-other-regarding positive emotions conversely showed no correlation with bias. The study is the first to show that a short-term positive emotional induction can reduce racial prejudice, and aids the understanding of how positive emotions functionally differentiate in affecting bias.


Loving-kindness meditation Implicit social cognition Prejudice Positive other-regarding emotions Implicit association task 


  1. Abele, A., Silvia, P., & Zöller-Utz, I. (2005). Flexible effects of positive mood on self-focused attention. Cognition and Emotion, 19(4), 623–631. doi: 10.1080/02699930441000391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bodenhausen, G. V., Kramer, G. P., & Süsser, K. (1994). Happiness and stereotypic thinking in social judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(4), 621–632. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.66.4.621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dasgupta, N., DeSteno, D., Williams, L. A., & Hunsinger, M. (2009). Fanning the flames of prejudice: The influence of specific incidental emotions on implicit prejudice. Emotion, 9(4), 585–591. doi: 10.1037/a0015961.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crisis? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 365–376. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.365.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Greenwald, A. G., Nosek, B. A., & Banaji, M. R. (2003). Understanding and using the implicit association test: I. An improved scoring algorithm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(2), 197–216. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.2.197.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Griskevicius, V., Shiota, M., & Neufeld, S. (2010). Influence of different positive emotions on persuasion processing: A functional evolutionary approach. Emotion, 10(2), 190–206. doi: 10.1037/a0018421.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Haidt, J. (2003). The moral emotions. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, & H. H. Goldsmith (Eds.), Handbook of affective sciences (pp. 852–870). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Horberg, E. J., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2011). Emotions as moral amplifiers: An appraisal tendency approach to the influences of distinct emotions upon moral judgment. Emotion Review, 3(3), 237–244. doi: 10.1177/1754073911402384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hunsinger, M., Livingston, R., & Isbell, L. (2012). Spirituality and intergroup harmony: Meditation and racial prejudice. Mindfulness, 5(2), 139–144. doi: 10.1007/s12671-012-0159-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Huntsinger, J. R., Sinclair, S., & Clore, G. L. (2009). Affective regulation of implicitly measured stereotypes and attitudes: Automatic and controlled processes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 560–566. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.01.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion, 8(5), 720–724. doi: 10.1037/a0013237.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Johnson, K., & Fredrickson, B. (2005). “We all look the same to me”: Positive emotions eliminate the own-race bias in face recognition. Psychological Science, 16(11), 875–881. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01631.x.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Kang, Y., Gray, J. R., & Dovidio, J. F. (2014). The nondiscriminating heart: Lovingkindness meditation training decreases implicit intergroup bias. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(3), 1306–1313. doi: 10.1037/a0034150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kok, B. E., Coffey, K. A., Cohn, M. A., Catalino, L. I., Vacharkulksemsuk, T., Algoe, S. B., et al. (2013). How positive emotions build physical health: Perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1123–1132. doi: 10.1177/0956797612470827.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Lai, C. K., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2013). Moral elevation reduces prejudice against gay men. Cognition and Emotion, 28(5), 781–794. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2013.861342.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Lai, C. K., Marini, M., Lehr, S. A., Cerruti, C., Shin, J.-E. L., Joy-Gaba, J. A., et al. (2014). Reducing implicit racial preferences: I. A comparative investigation of 17 interventions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(4), 1765–1785. doi: 10.1037/a0036260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Leiberg, S., Klimecki, O., & Singer, T. (2011). Short-term compassion training increases prosocial behavior in a newly developed prosocial game. PLoS ONE, 6(3), e17798. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017798.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Minear, M., & Park, D. C. (2004). A lifespan database of adult facial stimuli. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, 36, 630–633. doi: 10.3758/BF03206543.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and Cognition, 18(1), 176–186. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.12.008.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Nosek, B. A., Greenwald, A. G., & Banaji, M. R. (2007). The implicit association test at age 7: A methodological and conceptual review. In J. A. Bargh (Ed.), Social psychology and the unconscious: The automaticity of higher mental processes (pp. 265–292). New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  21. Nosek, B. A., Sriram, N., Smith, C. T., & Bar-Anan, Y. (2014). The multi-category implicit association test (unpublished manuscript).Google Scholar
  22. Preacher, K., & Hayes, A. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40(3), 879–891. doi: 10.3758/brm.40.3.879.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Prinz, J. J. (2007). The emotional construction of morals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Salzberg, S. (1995). Loving-kindness: The revolutionary art of happiness. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.Google Scholar
  25. Scherer, K. R. (2005). What are emotions? And how can they be measured? Social Science Information, 44(4), 695–729. doi: 10.1177/0539018405058216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Shiota, M. N. (2014). The evolutionary perspective in positive emotion research. In M. M. Tugade, M. N. Shiota, & L. D. Kirby (Eds.), Handbook of positive emotions (pp. 44–59). New York: Guilford Publications.Google Scholar
  27. Singer, P. (2011). The expanding circle: Ethics, evolution, and moral progress. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., Caldwell, J. Z., Olson, M. C., et al. (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1171–1180. doi: 10.1177/0956797612469537.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Westermann, R., Spies, K., Stahl, G., & Hesse, F. W. (1996). Relative effectiveness and validity of mood induction procedures: A meta-analysis. European Journal of Social Psychology, 26(4), 557–580. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-0992(199607)26:4<557:AID-EJSP769>3.0.CO;2-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SussexBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations