Implicit bias is an unconscious assumption or stereotype that influences our perception of others. Even though you don't realize it, this can lead you to favor or disfavor a certain person, or group of people.
Everyone — even those who feel committed to fairness — has implicit biases, and because these implicit associations are so pervasive, they are difficult to overcome. It's common to hold implicit biases based on:
In fact, there is a growing amount of research on the correlation between practicing meditation and undermining implicit bias. Some research has found that meditation may help people become more aware of their own harmful prejudices, and learn how to act with less judgment and more compassion.
Here's what researchers have to say about how and why meditation can be an effective tool to reduce implicit bias and promote compassion on an interpersonal level.
Research has found that meditation can reduce implicit bias Adam Lueke, PhD, an experimental psychologist based at Ball State University in Indiana, specializes in how meditation practices can actively reduce stereotyping and discrimination. Specifically, Leuke has analyzed mindfulness meditation's effects on reducing implicit bias for race and age.
In one study, published in Psychology of Consciousness in 2016, Leuke and his team found that just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation reduced the automatic activation of negative associations when white participants were exposed to pictures of Black people.
In the study, white participants listened to a 10-minute mindfulness meditation audio recording, and then completed implicit association tests (IATs). During an IAT, participants categorize words or images — such as a photo of a Black man or white man — as pleasant or unpleasant.
Leuke also designed the study to include measures of trust among the different groups, such as rating how much the participants would trust a Black or white person with their money.
"When interacting with pictures of various white and Black people, mindfulness participants treated both groups about the same in terms of how much they trusted members of different racial groups, whereas control participants tended to trust white people a little more than Black people, on average," Leuke says.
Research has also found that loving kindness meditation, a specific type of meditation that promotes feelings of compassion, can help decrease implicit bias.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2013, used the IAT to measure implicit biases against Black people and homeless people. The 101 non-Black, non-homeless participants were split up into groups, with one group practicing loving kindness meditation, and another group talking about the principles of loving kindness without actually practicing it.
Overall, the study found that participants enrolled in the six-week loving kindness meditation practice experienced a decrease in their implicit bias towards Black people and homeless people, while the six-week loving kindness discussion group did not experience decreased bias.