For the new year, here are some positive perspectives based on recent studies.
I’ll offer an excerpt about how racial bias can be lessened, but the article also discusses other issues such as empathy and altruism. This goes against what cynics and determinists are always arguing. We aren’t naturally racists. Like so many other attitudes and behaviors, racial bias or its opposite are dependent on many factors, both factors we control individually and factors we control as a society.
We aren’t fated to ignorance and mindlessness. We aren’t mere puppets of genetics and culture. We always have a choice. We always have the opportunity to learn and improve. Being realistic can mean being optimistic, depending on the reality we choose to create.
Can Empathy for Birds Make Us Happier? Ten Breakthroughs in the Science of a Meaningful Life
by Jeremy Adam Smith, Bianca Lorenz, Kira M. Newman, Lauren Klein, Lisa Bennett, Jason Marsh, Jill Suttie
Racial bias in policing is at the forefront of our national news. So it was heartening this year to see a study that found bias could be reduced through training in mindfulness—the nonjudgmental moment-to-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and surroundings.
Adam Lueke and Brian Gibson of Central Michigan University looked at how instructing white college students in mindfulness would affect their “implicit bias”—or unconscious negative reactions—to black faces and faces of older people. After listening to a 10-minute mindfulness audiotape, students were significantly less likely to automatically pair negative descriptive words with black and elderly faces than were those in a control group—a finding that could be important for policing, which often involves split-second assessments of people.
Why the connection between mindfulness and bias? Mindfulness has the power to interrupt the link between past experience and impulsive responding, the authors speculate. This ability to be more discerning may explain why another study this year found that people who were high in mindfulness were less likely to sink into depression following experiences of discrimination.
As we reported back in 2009, numerous programs have successfully helped officers become aware of their own unconscious biases. But by specifically looking at the effects of mindfulness training—even just 10 minutes’ worth—these new studies point to innovative techniques that might help prevent fatal mistakes from being made in the future.