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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Inclusion of these participants’ data did not alter the interpretation of any of the substantive findings.

References

  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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google 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).

  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.

    Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander J. Stell.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Stell, A.J., Farsides, T. Brief loving-kindness meditation reduces racial bias, mediated by positive other-regarding emotions. Motiv Emot 40, 140–147 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-015-9514-x

Download citation

Keywords

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