Meditation is known to promote calmness, compassion, and a sense of inner peace, but a new study finds that just seven minutes of meditation could help with one of the world’s most deep-rooted issues: racial prejudice. Specifically, Loving-kindness meditation (LKM), a Buddhist practice that promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others, proved to be effective at reducing racial bias among study participants.
LKM promotes kindness and compassion by encouraging the meditator to visualize a particular person and repeat phrases like “may you be happy and healthy.” Lead researcher Alexander Stell, a Doctoral student in Psychology at the University of Sussex, said, “We wanted to see whether doing LKM towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group."
In the study, 71 white, non-meditating adults were given a photo of a gender-matched black person. Then, the participants were split into two groups and either received seven minutes of taped LKM instructions or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain facial features for seven minutes.
Next, the researchers used the Implicit Association Test to gauge how the volunteers reacted to the faces of either their own group or another ethnic group. The researchers scored the reaction times as the volunteers matched up positive and negative words to the different faces.
Usually people are much quicker to match positive stimuli with their own ethnic group and quicker to match negative stimuli to the other ethnicities. This provides researchers with a “bias score,” and this score is considered to be a better measure of racial prejudice than traditional questionnaire data since questionnaires can be strongly influenced by the desire to come off less racist.
Amazingly, the researchers found that just seven minutes of LKM was sufficient enough to reduce racial bias. The reduced prejudice is limited, however, to members of the specific racial group to which the LKM is directed to — in this case, a black person. Nonetheless, it’s impressive that just seven minutes of LKM can have this effect. In the control group, there was no reduction in racial bias whatsoever.
"This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony,” Stell said in a statement.
In a world that’s ridden with racial prejudice, perhaps the solution is much simpler than we thought. And let’s be real — all of us have seven minutes to spare.