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Meditation can combat racism

A Buddhist meditation technique designed to spread love and kindness can combat racial prejudice.

Just seven minutes of “loving-kindness meditation” (LKM) is enough to reduce the ease with which people think negatively about someone of another race, scientists say.

LKM is supposed to engender happiness and kindness through repeating phrases such as “may you be happy and healthy” while visualising a particular person.

For the study, 71 non-meditating white volunteers were each shown a photo of a gender-matched black individual. Some participants undertook LKM meditation by following taped instructions, while others were asked to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face.

Both groups were then given an Implicit Association Test, a technique used by psychologists to measure racial bias.

The test records reaction times when participants are asked to associate positive or negative words with faces from their own or another ethnic group.

On average, people are quicker to match positive words such as “happiness” with members of their own race. Negative associations tend to be faster when they apply to someone who is racially different.

The results of the test produce a bias “score” that is considered a more reliable measure of prejudice than answers on a questionnaire.

Seven minutes of LKM directed towards the black person in the photo reduced levels of prejudice against members of that ethnic group, the results showed. Racial bias towards other groups not involved in the meditation experiment was unaffected.

Lead researcher Alexander Stell, from the University of Sussex, said: “This indicates that some medication techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.”

The findings are published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.

The scientists also measured levels of positive emotions that were either “other-regarding” (eg, love, gratitude, awe, elevation) or self-directed (eg, contentment, joy, pride).

They found large increases in other-regarding emotions in people practising LKM, which was thought to explain the reduction in racial bias.

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