From Essentialist to Compassionate Mind: Using Mindfulness Training as an Intervention Tool to Reduce Essentialist Bias

Presenter: Yian Xu

Research Category:
Student Type: Graduate
Additional Authors: Eliza Grossman, Natalia Chavez, Katherine Hut, Kristhy Bartels, John Coley
PI: Yian Xu
Faculty Advisor: John Coley
Award: Scholarship
Award Winner Category: Social Sciences, Business and Law

Previous literature has demonstrated that people intuitively adopt essentialist beliefs about social categories (such as Muslims and Asians) and view them as natural kinds, despite the fact that they were often constructed by the human society. Evidence indicated that social essentialism leads to powerful socio-psychological consequences, such as increased stereotype endorsement and decreased creativity.

However, little research, if any, has explored effective intervention method to counter essentialist bias. In the current study, we propose to use mindfulness training, a commonly practiced strategy to enhance the monitor activity of the mind, as a potential intervention tool to reduce essentialist thinking. Originated from the Eastern Buddhism culture, mindfulness training encourages people to “bring their complete attention to the present experience” with a neutral, non-judgmental perspective to observe and accept their current cognitive and emotional states.  In a number of experiments, mindfulness training was shown to increase self-reported empathy and compassion, daily reported positive emotions and perceived social connections.

We hypothesized that that mindfulness training would reduce essentialist bias by promoting compassion and shifting attention from an internal essence to external attributions. We will use mindfulness-training materials validated in previous research, and observe essentialist reasoning as an outcome. We predict that participants that have received mindfulness-training session would show lower essentialist responses, compared to participants that have not received mindfulness training. Expected results will provide an easily accessible, low-cost intervention tool to reduce essentialist bias.