Mindful Attention Reduces Linguistic Intergroup Bias


A brief mindfulness intervention diminished bias in favor of one’s in-group and against one’s out-group. In the linguistic intergroup bias (LIB), individuals expect in-group members to behave positively and out-group members to behave negatively. Consequently, individuals choose abstract language beset with character inferences to describe these expected behaviors, and in contrast, choose concrete, objective language to describe unexpected behaviors. Eighty-four participants received either mindful attention instructions (observe their thoughts as fleeting mental states) or immersion instructions (become absorbed in the vivid details of thoughts). After instruction, participants viewed visual depictions of an imagined in-group or out-group member’s positive or negative behavior, selecting the best linguistic description from a set of four descriptions that varied in abstractness. Immersion groups demonstrated a robust LIB. Mindful attention groups, however, exhibited a markedly tempered LIB, suggesting that even a brief mindfulness related instruction can implicitly reduce the propensity to perpetuate stereotypical thinking through language. These results contribute to understanding the mechanisms that facilitate unprejudiced thinking.

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

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. Arcuri, L., Maass, A., & Portelli, G. (1993). Linguistic intergroup bias and implicit attributions. British Journal of Social Psychology, 32(3), 277–285.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baer, R. A. & Lykins, E. L. B. (2011). Mindfulness and positive psychological functioning. In K. Sheldon, T. Kashdan, & M. Steger (Eds.), Designing the future of positive psychology: taking stock and moving forward (pp. 335-348). Oxford University Press.

  3. Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., … & Devins, G. (2004). Mindfulness: a proposed operational definition. Clinical psychology: Science and practice, 11(3), 230-241.

  4. Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822–848.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Brown, K. W., Ryan, R. M., & Creswell, J. D. (2007). Mindfulness: theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 211--237.

  6. Brown, K. W., Ryan, R. M., Creswell, J. D., & Niemiec, C. P. (2008). Beyond me: mindful responses to social threat. Transcending self-interest: Psychological explorations of the quiet ego, 75-84.

  7. Cole, T., & Leets, L. (1998). Linguistic masking devices and intergroup behavior further evidence of an intergroup linguistic bias. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 17(3), 348–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Condon, P., Desbordes, G., Miller, W., & DeSteno, D. (2013). Meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering. Psychological Science, 24(10), 2125–2127.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(1), 5–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Devine, P. G., & Monteith, M. J. (1993). The role of discrepancy-associated affect in prejudice reduction. In D. M. Mackie & D. L. Hamilton (Eds.), Affect, cognition, and stereotyping: Interactive processes in group perception (pp. 317–344). San Diego: Academic.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Devine, P. G., & Monteith, M. J. (1999). Automaticity and control in stereotyping. In S. Chaiken & Y. Trope (Eds.), Dual-process theories in social psychology (pp. 339–360). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Devine, P. G., Plant, E. A., Amodio, D. M., Harmon-Jones, E., & Vance, S. L. (2002). The regulation of explicit and implicit race bias: the role of motivations to respond without prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(5), 835–848.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Douglas, K. M., & Sutton, R. M. (2003). Effects of communication goals and expectancies on language abstraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 682–696.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Douglas, K. M., Sutton, R. M., & Wilkin, K. (2008). Could you mind your language? An investigation of communicators’ ability to inhibit linguistic bias. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 27(2), 123–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fazio, R. H., & Olson, M. A. (2003). Implicit measures in social cognition research: their meaning and use. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 297–327.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Franco, F. M., & Maass, A. (1996). Implicit versus explicit strategies of out-group discrimination: the role of intentional control in biased language use and reward allocation. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 15(3), 335--359.

  17. Franco, F. M., & Maass, A. (1999). Intentional control over prejudice: when the choice of the measure matters. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29(4), 469–477.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Fulton, P. R. (2005). Mindfulness as clinical training. In C. K. Germer, R. D. Siegel, & P. R. Fulton (Eds.), Mindfulness and psychotherapy (pp. 55--72). New York: Guilford Press.

  19. Hayes, A. M., & Feldman, G. (2004). Clarifying the construct of mindfulness in the context of emotion regulation and the process of change in therapy. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 255–262.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: the program of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. New York: Delta.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Kross, E., Davidson, M., Weber, J., & Ochsner, K. (2009). Coping with emotions past: the neural bases of regulating affect associated with negative autobiographical memories. Biological Psychiatry, 65(5), 361--366.

  23. Lakens, D. (2013). Calculating and reporting effect sizes to facilitate cumulative science: a practical primer for t-tests and ANOVAs. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 863. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00863.

  24. Langer, E. J., Bashner, R. S., & Chanowitz, B. (1985). Decreasing prejudice by increasing discrimination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49(1), 113–120.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Leary, M. R., & Tate, E. B. (2007). The multi-faceted nature of mindfulness. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 251--255.

  26. Lebois, L. A., Papies, E. K., Gopinath, K., Cabanban, R., Quigley, K. S., Krishnamurthy, V., … & Barsalou, L. W. (2015). A shift in perspective: decentering through mindful attention to imagined stressful events. Neuropsychologia, 75, 505--524.

  27. Lillis, J., & Hayes, S. C. (2007). Applying acceptance, mindfulness, and values to the reduction of prejudice: a pilot study. Behavior Modification, 31(4), 389–411.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Lueke, A., & Gibson, B. (2015). Mindfulness meditation reduces implicit age and race bias: the role of reduced automaticity of responding. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(3), 284--291.

  29. Maass, A. (1999). Linguistic intergroup bias: stereotype perpetuation through language. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 31, 79–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Maass, A., Salvi, D., Arcuri, L., & Semin, G. R. (1989). Language use in intergroup contexts: the linguistic intergroup bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 981–993.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Maass, A., Milesi, A., Zabbini, S., & Stahlberg, D. (1995). Linguistic intergroup bias: differential expectancies or in-group protection? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(1), 116–126.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Niemiec, C. P., Brown, K. W., Kashdan, T. B., Cozzolino, P. J., Breen, W. E., Levesque-Bristol, C., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). Being present in the face of existential threat: the role of trait mindfulness in reducing defensive responses to mortality salience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(2), 344–365.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Papies, E. K. (2013). Tempting food words activate eating simulations. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Papies, E. K., Barsalou, L. W., & Custers, R. (2012). Mindful attention prevents mindless impulses. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(3), 291–299.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Papies, E. K., Pronk, T. M., Keesman, M., & Barsalou, L. W. (2015). The Benefits of simply observing: mindful attention modulates the link between motivation and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 148–170.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Schnake, S. B., & Ruscher, J. B. (1998). Modern racism as a predictor of the linguistic intergroup bias. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 17(4), 484–491.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Semin, G. R. (1994). The linguistic category model and personality language. In J. Siegfried (Ed.), The status of common sense in psychology (pp. 305--321). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

  38. Semin, G. R., & Fiedler, K. (1988). The cognitive functions of linguistic categories in describing persons: social cognition and language. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(4), 558–568.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Semin, G. R., & Fiedler, K. (1991). The linguistic category model, its bases, applications and range. European Review of Social Psychology, 2(1), 1–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Semin, G. R., & Fiedler, K. E. (1992). Language, interaction and social cognition. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Simmons, W. K., Martin, A., & Barsalou, L. W. (2005). Pictures of appetizing foods activate gustatory cortices for taste and reward. Cerebral Cortex, 15(10), 1602--1608.

  42. Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z., & Williams, J. M. G. (1995). How does cognitive therapy prevent depressive relapse and why should attentional control (mindfulness) training help?. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 33(1), 25--39.

  43. van der Laan, L. N., de Ridder, D. T., Viergever, M. A., & Smeets, P. A. (2011). The first taste is always with the eyes: a meta-analysis on the neural correlates of processing visual food cues. NeuroImage, 55(1), 296–303.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. von Hippel, W., Sekaquaptewa, D., & Vargas, P. (1997). The linguistic intergroup bias as an implicit indicator of prejudice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33(5), 490–509.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Walsh, R., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). The meeting of meditative disciplines and Western psychology: a mutually enriching dialogue. American Psychologist, 61(3), 227.

  46. Weger, U. W., Hooper, N., Meier, B. P., & Hopthrow, T. (2012). Mindful maths: reducing the impact of stereotype threat through a mindfulness exercise. Consciousness and Cognition, 21(1), 471–475.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. Wigboldus, D. H., Semin, G. R., & Spears, R. (2000). How do we communicate stereotypes? Linguistic biases and inferential consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(1), 5–18.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Wigboldus, D. H., Spears, R., & Semin, G. R. (2005). When do we communicate stereotypes? Influence of the social context on the linguistic expectancy bias. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 8(3), 215–230.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Wilson-Mendenhall, C. D., Barrett, L. F., Simmons, W. K., & Barsalou, L. W. (2011). Grounding emotion in situated conceptualization. Neuropsychologia, 49(5), 1105–1127.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references


We are grateful to Esther Papies for sharing her mindful attention instructions and for her many helpful suggestions, to Brian Ostafin for his informative discussions, to Anne Maass and Karen Douglas for their materials, and to Nancy Bliwise and Sheila Tschinkel for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lauren A. M. Lebois.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


Work on this article was supported in part by National Institute of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award 1 F31 AT007130-01 and 5 F31 AT007130-02 to Lauren (McDonough) Lebois at Emory University.

Electronic Supplementary Material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.


(DOCX 1602 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tincher, M.M., Lebois, L.A.M. & Barsalou, L.W. Mindful Attention Reduces Linguistic Intergroup Bias. Mindfulness 7, 349–360 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-015-0450-3

Download citation


  • Linguistic abstraction
  • Linguistic expectancy bias
  • Linguistic intergroup bias
  • Mindfulness
  • Stereotypes
  • Prejudice