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Mindful Attention Reduces Linguistic Intergroup Bias


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A brief mindfulness intervention diminished bias in favor of one’s in-group and against one’s out-group. In the linguistic intergroup bias (LIB), individuals expect in-group members to behave positively and out-group members to behave negatively. Consequently, individuals choose abstract language beset with character inferences to describe these expected behaviors, and in contrast, choose concrete, objective language to describe unexpected behaviors. Eighty-four participants received either mindful attention instructions (observe their thoughts as fleeting mental states) or immersion instructions (become absorbed in the vivid details of thoughts). After instruction, participants viewed visual depictions of an imagined in-group or out-group member’s positive or negative behavior, selecting the best linguistic description from a set of four descriptions that varied in abstractness. Immersion groups demonstrated a robust LIB. Mindful attention groups, however, exhibited a markedly tempered LIB, suggesting that even a brief mindfulness related instruction can implicitly reduce the propensity to perpetuate stereotypical thinking through language. These results contribute to understanding the mechanisms that facilitate unprejudiced thinking.
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1 23
ISSN 1868-8527
DOI 10.1007/s12671-015-0450-3
Mindful Attention Reduces Linguistic
Intergroup Bias
Moses M.Tincher, Lauren A.M.Lebois
& Lawrence W.Barsalou
1 23
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Mindful Attention Reduces Linguistic Intergroup Bias
Moses M. Tincher
&Lauren A. M. Lebois
&Lawrence W. Barsalou
#Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015
Abstract A brief mindfulness intervention diminished bias
in favor of ones in-group and against ones out-group. In
the linguistic intergroup bias (LIB), individuals expect in-
group members to behave positively and out-group mem-
bers to behave negatively. Consequently, individuals
choose abstract language beset with character inferences
to describe these expected behaviors, and in contrast,
choose concrete, objective language to describe unexpect-
ed behaviors. Eighty-four participants received either
mindful attention instructions (observe their thoughts as
fleeting mental states) or immersion instructions (become
absorbed in the vivid details of thoughts). After instruction,
participants viewed visual depictions of an imagined in-group
or out-group members positive or negative behavior,
selecting the best linguistic description from a set of four de-
scriptions that varied in abstractness. Immersion groups dem-
onstrated a robust LIB. Mindful attention groups, however,
exhibited a markedly tempered LIB, suggesting that even a
brief mindfulness related instruction can implicitly reduce the
propensity to perpetuate stereotypical thinking through
language. These results contribute to understanding the
mechanisms that facilitate unprejudiced thinking.
Keywords Linguistic abstraction .Linguistic expectancy
bias .Linguistic intergroup bias .Mindfulness .Stereotypes .
Language offers a window to the mind. Among other things,
we use language to maintain and communicate expectancies,
including our privately held beliefs about people and events
(Douglas et al. 2008). Regardless of our intentions, the lan-
guage we use may implicitly or explicitly transmit bias in the
form of stereotypes and prejudice (Maass 1999; Wigboldus
et al. 2000,2005). One way to measure these kinds of bias is
by using a property of language known as linguistic abstrac-
tion, specifically, the amount of interpretive information con-
veyed when describing a person or behavior (Semin and Fied-
ler 1988,1991,1992).
Linguistic abstraction can be used to characterize how peo-
ple select verbs and adjectives to describe a person or a be-
havioral event at different levels of description, ranging from
concrete to abstract. The Linguistic Category Model, for ex-
ample, identifies four levels of linguistic abstraction (BLCM,^
Semin and Fiedler 1988,1991,1992). Figure 1illustrates the
LCM with examples of cartoon images for (1) a negatively
valenced behavior (hitting another person) and (2) a positive
behavior (picking up someone who fell). The main character
in the cartoon is labeled with the letter BA.^The four levels of
the LCM in Fig. 1exhibit increasing amounts of interpretation
about a depicted event. At Level 1, descriptive action verbs are
the most concrete, providing a non-interpretive description of
an event or behavior (e.g., A is hitting the other person). At
Level 2, interpretive action verbs also describe a specific event
or behavior, but include some interpretation, making them
more abstractthan Level 1 (e.g.,A is hurting the other person).
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
(doi:10.1007/s12671-015-0450-3) contains supplementary material,
which is available to authorized users.
*Lauren A. M. Lebois;
Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA
McLean Hospital, 115 Mill St, Belmont, MA 02478, USA
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School,
Boston, MA 02115, USA
DOI 10.1007/s12671-015-0450-3
Author's personal copy
At Level 3, state verbs are more abstract than the previous two
levels because they describe an emotional state of the person
involved rather than a specific detail of the event or behavior
(e.g., A hates the other person). At Level 4, adjectives are the
most abstract, describing the characteristics of the person
performing the behavior, not the behavior itself (e.g., A is
violent). The choice to describe an action concretely vs. ab-
stractly is really a choice about whether to describe the action
in terms of someones current physical behavior vs. their long-
term abstract nature. The contexts in which people choose to
make a Bcharacter judgment,^or decide not to, can reveal
stereotyped beliefs about social groups.
Two processesdifferential expectancies and in-group pro-
tectionplay important roles in determining the level of lin-
guistic abstraction used to describe an observed action. These
two processes also play central roles in conveying stereotypes
and intergroup bias. Each process is addressed in turn.
First, consider differential expectancies. In general, people
tend to use abstract, interpretive language when describing a
behavior that matches their expectations (Maass 1999;Maass
et al. 1995; Wigboldus et al. 2000). If one holds a stereo-
typed expectation that men are aggressive, for example,
one would be likely to choose the most abstract description
of Cartoon 1 in Fig. 1(A is aggressive). This abstract
language implies that the behavior is believed to be typical
of the individual or group and is related to their Bmakeup^
(Maass 1999; Maass et al. 1995).
In contrast, people tend to use more concrete, non-
interpretive language when describing a behavior that violates
their expectations (Maass 1999;Maassetal.1995; Wigboldus
et al. 2000). When a high-level explanation of the behavior is
lacking, people simply describe the behavior. Returning to our
previous example, if one holds a stereotyped belief that women
are not aggressive and views a woman (instead of a man) hit-
ting a person in Cartoon 1, one would be more likely to choose
the most concrete description (A is hitting the other person).
Concrete language implies that the behavior is believed to be
uncharacteristic of the individual or group. Such language re-
frains from relating the behavior to someones nature, and pre-
vents contradicting the stereotyped belief, for example, that
women are not aggressive (Maass 1999;Maassetal.1995).
Thus, the level of linguistic abstraction in each of these two
examples serves to maintain ones stereotyped beliefs about
men being aggressive and women not being aggressive
(Maass 1999; Maass et al. 1995). This phenomenon is called
the Linguistic Expectancy Bias or the LEB (Maass et al. 1995;
Wigboldus et al. 2000). Notably, stereotyped expectations that
cause the LEB can be negatively valenced (e.g., all blond
women are unintelligent) or positively valenced (e.g., all
Asians are good at math). Regardless of the valence, abstract
language is associated with conveying stereotypical expecta-
tions, according to the LEB.
Further, consider the second process of in-group protection.
When ones in-group becomes associated with something neg-
ative, in-group protection serves to maintain a positive in-group
image (Maass et al. 1989). Generally speaking, in-group pro-
tection limits the process of differential expectancies to positive
expectancies for in-group members (and oneself) vs. negative
expectancies for out-group members. More specifically, people
tend to use more abstract, interpretive language when describ-
ing a positive behavior performed by a member of their in-
group (e.g., a friend) or when describing a negative behavior
performed by a member of their out-group (e.g., an enemy). If,
for example, character A in Cartoon 2 is their friend, people
would be likely to choose description 4, A is a considerate
person. Analogously, if character A in Cartoon 1 is their enemy,
people would be likely to choose description 4, A is aggressive.
Conversely, people tend to use more concrete, descriptive
language when describing a negative behavior performed by a
member of their in-group or when describing a positive behavior
performed by a member of their out-group. If for example, char-
acter A in Cartoon 2 is their enemy, people would be likely to
choose description 1, A is picking up the other person. Analo-
gously, if character A in Cartoon 1 is their friend, people would
be likely to choose description 1, A is hitting the other person.
As we have seen, abstract language relates an observed
behavior to beliefs about the agents character, whereas con-
crete language implies that an observed action is an exception
to typical behavior, inconsistent with the nature of the individ-
ual performing it (e.g., Arcuri et al. 1993; Cole and Leets
1998;Maass1999). As a consequence, using levels of linguis-
tic abstraction in this manner with in-groups and out-groups
serves to maintain a positive in-group bias and a negative out-
group bias (Arcuri et al. 1993; Cole and Leets 1998;Maass
et al. 1989). The use of linguistic abstraction to convey
Fig. 1 Cartoon 1 is an example of a negative behavior performed by the
main character labeled BA,^with four possible linguistic descriptions of
the behavior listed below. These four descriptions are in order of
increasing abstractness, corresponding to the levels of abstraction in the
Linguistic Category Model (LCM). Cartoon 2 is an example of a positive
behavior performed by character A, with its corresponding linguistic
descriptions. Like the negative behavior cartoon, these descriptions also
correspond to the levels of linguistic abstraction in the LCM. Cartoons
reproduced with the permission of. Dr. Anne Maass
Author's personal copy
in-group vs. out-group biases constitutes the Linguistic Inter-
group Bias or the LIB (Maass et al. 1989). The LIB is a
specific form of the more general LEB. Whereas the LIB is
limited to positive vs. negative expectancies for in-groups vs.
out-groups, respectively, the LEB includes a wide variety of
additional expectancies.
People are often not aware that the LIB transmits their un-
derlying cognitive biases and beliefs to others (Franco and
Maass 1996; Schnake and Ruscher 1998; von Hippel et al.
1997). Consequently, it is difficult to inhibit its effect on lin-
guistic tasks (Franco and Maass 1999). For these reasons, the
LIB can be used as an implicit indicator of peoples prejudices
(vonHippeletal.1997). Although there is some evidence that
this prejudice can be reduced through explicit means (e.g., tell-
ing people to view their out-group in a favorable way; Douglas
and Sutton 2003;2008), this reduction may simply reflect ex-
plicit effects of social desirability, not a true reduction in bias.
Ideally, it would be more desirable if the LIB could be reduced
implicitly, without directly asking participants about their atti-
tudes toward in- and out-group members explicitly, thereby
minimizing the influence of social desirability.
Mindfulness offers a potential implicit modulator of the
LIB. Broadly speaking, mindfulness is present-centered,
nonjudgmental awareness (Kabat-Zinn 1990,2003). It facil-
itates sustained attention to ongoing sensory, cognitive, and
emotional experience, while diminishing the tendency to
react, elaborate, or evaluate (Bishop et al. 2004). Over the
past few decades, mindfulness has been associated with
numerous benefits, including increased self-control, affect
tolerance, emotional intelligence, improved concentration,
and mental clarity, and the ability to relate to others and
oneself with kindness, acceptance, and compassion (Hayes
and Feldman 2004; Baer and Lykins 2011;Bishopetal.
2004; Brown et al. 2007; Fulton 2005; Leary and Tate
2007; Walsh and Shapiro 2006).
Accumulating evidence suggests that mindfulness reduces
stereotypical and prejudicial cognition. Compared to control
groups, participants in a wide variety of mindfulness interven-
tion groups were less likely to discriminate against
handicapped individuals (Langer et al. 1985), less likely to
report that prejudicial thoughts were objective facts, and more
likely to endorse the intention to actively reduce bias in their
lives (Lillis and Hayes 2007). Further, evidence suggests that
mindfulness can reduce stereotype threat (i.e., when a nega-
tive stereotype associated with ones in-group becomes active
and decreases task performance). In Weger et al. (2012), for
example, women primed with the stereotype that Bmen are
better at math^did better on a subsequent math test if they
had previously completed a brief mindfulness intervention
compared to those who had not. Those without the mindful-
ness intervention exhibited the typical stereotype threat reduc-
tion in math performance. Similarly, Lueke and Gibson (2015)
found that a mindfulness intervention reduced automatic
negative reactions to out-group members based on race and
age as measured by the Implicit Association Test. Finally,
Ostafin et al. (personal communication, 25th March, 2014)
found that individuals high in trait mindfulness were better
at controlling alcohol drinking behaviors, with this relation-
ship being partially mediated by how abstractly these behav-
iors were represented. Individuals high in mindfulness tended
not to link alcohol behavior to abstract, higher-order goals like
emotion regulation. None of this research, however, has ex-
amined whether mindfulness modulates the LIB.
Using a brief mindfulness-based intervention, we aimed to
reduce the expectancy biases that arise during linguistic ab-
straction. In an in-group/out-group paradigm that has consis-
tently produced the LIB (e.g., Maass et al. 1995; Douglas and
Sutton 2003), participants imagined either their Bbest friend^
(in-group) or Bworst enemy^(out-group) behaving in expect-
ed ways or unexpected ways (as depicted by cartoons like
those in Fig. 1) before selecting the linguistic description that
best described the action. In the immersion groups that
attempted to replicate the LIB, participants immersed them-
selves in their thoughts and emotional reactions to the car-
toons (the default approach to engaging with them). Converse-
ly, in the mindful attention groups, participants simply ob-
served their thoughts and reactions to cartoons, viewing them
as transient mental events. As a result of shifting perspective
from the default state of immersion to mindfully observing
ones thoughts, we predicted that participants would disen-
gage from the situations depicted in the pictured scenes, such
that their stereotypical reactions to them would not appear as
subjectively real as usual. As a further consequence, partici-
pants shouldrefrain from ascribing abstract, interpretive, char-
acter judgments to their friends when they acted positively,
and from ascribing character judgments to their enemies when
they acted negatively. Once participants no longer engaged in
elaborative, inference-filled thought, they should choose rela-
tively concrete behavioral descriptions, regardless of whether
their in-group or out-group member acted in line with their
expectations. Thus, we predicted that mindful attention would
attenuate, and perhaps eliminate, the LIB effect that normally
occurs while being immersed in viewing scenes. Specifically,
we predicted that this modulation of the LIB would reveal
itself in a three-way interaction between perspective (mindful
attention/immersion), character (friend/enemy), and cartoon
behavior valence (positive/negative).
Eighty-four (21 per group) students (60 female) from Emory
University participated for course credit, ranging in age from
18 to 26 (M=19). The sample was 59 % Caucasian, 21 %
Author's personal copy
Asian, 11 % Hispanic, 7 % African American, and 2 % iden-
tified as other. Of the 84 participants, 25 stated that they had
previous meditation experience (6 in immersion/friend, 4 in
immersion/enemy, 7 in mindful attention/friend, and 8 in
mindful attention/enemy). These meditation experiences
ranged from periodic yoga classes to daily prayers and breath-
ing exercises. We obtained informed consent from each par-
ticipant and treated them in accordance with the ethical stan-
dards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its
later amendments. The Emory Institutional Review Board ap-
proved this protocol.
The experiment took place on a laptop using E-prime software
inside individual cubicles in either a laboratory or library set-
ting. The mixed design consisted of a repeated measures factor
of behavior valence (positive/negative), with two between-
group manipulations, character (friend/enemy), and perspec-
tive (mindful attention/immersion), yielding four groups: (1)
mindful attention/friend, (2) mindful attention/enemy, (3) im-
mersion/friend, and (4) immersion/enemy. After being ran-
domly assigned to a condition, each participant viewed all
the same cartoon stimuli, presented in a random order during
both the practice and testing phases. Participants were not
aware that the experiment included a mindfulness-based inter-
vention, but instead were told that the experiment examined
how we view our peers. Instructions were provided visually
on the laptop, with the experimenter answering questions as
In-Group/Out-Group Manipulation
Participants were first asked to imagine that the person labeled
with the letter A in the cartoons to come was either their friend
or enemy, depending on their group assignment. They viewed
four practice cartoons and rated whether they felt negative,
neutral, or positive emotions while viewing them. This initial
task encouraged participants to attend to their thoughts and
reactions about the cartoons.
Immersion Instructions
After viewing the practice cartoons and rating their emotions,
the participants in the Bimmersion perspective^groups were
asked to completely immerse themselves in the cartoon events
depicting their friend (or enemy). They were instructed to
Blive^the experience by projecting themselves into the events
and by attempting to experience vivid details such as colors,
sounds, smells, as well as emotions, physical sensations, and
bodily states. These participants were encouraged to experi-
ence the events almost as if they were actually occurring in the
present moment (see SM Appendix A for more details). The
immersion instructions were adapted from Papies et al. (2012)
and Wilson-Mendenhall et al. (2011).
Mindful Attention Instructions
Participants in the mindful attention groups were asked to
view and think about the cartoon events depicting their friend
(or enemy) using an Bobserving perspective.^To prevent po-
tential demand, the words Bmindfulness^or Bmindful
attention^were never used to describe this perspective. Partic-
ipants were simply instructed to observe specific thoughts and
reactions that they had in response to viewing the cartoons.
Rather than engaging in vivid, elaborative thought about the
event, they were asked to treat their thoughts and reactions as
transitory, fleeting mental states. They were further instructed
that these thoughts and reactions are not really part of the
cartoon events but are what the mind constructs at that mo-
ment. Thus, when the participants practiced this Bobserving
perspective,^they remained aware that they were simply ob-
serving their thoughts and reactions to the events in the present
moment instead of Bliving^them (see SM Appendix A for
more details). The mindful attention instructions were adapted
from Papies et al. 2012 (also see Lebois et al. 2015; Papies et al
2015). The mindful attention and immersion instructions were
presented in a similar style and length.
After the perspective instruction, the experimenter verified
that the participants understood their instructed strategy and
asked them to rate how well they understood it on a scale of 1
(not at all) to 7 (very well). Next, participants viewed the four
practice cartoons again, to practice immersing or observing.
For each cartoon, participants had 10 s to perform immersion
or observation while they viewed their friend (or enemy) in the
respective event before the screen advanced to the next prac-
tice cartoon. This procedure repeated for all four practice car-
toons. After this second phase of practice was completed,
participants rated how well overall they were able to perform
immersion or observation. Once this instruction was com-
plete, participants advanced to the critical task.
Multiple-Choice Task
This task was introduced as a new and different part of the
experiment. Depending on their group assignment, partici-
pants were instructed to continue immersing themselves in
each cartoon or to continue observing their reactions to it. At
the top of the screen for each trial (both practice and critical),
participants were reminded to either BImmerse Yourself^or
BObserve Your Thoughts^and to also imagine that the char-
acter performing the behavior in the cartoons was either their
BFriend^or BEnemy.^After 10 s of immersion or observation
with respect to the depicted event, four descriptions appeared
beneath the cartoon, and participants selected the description
(1, 2, 3, or 4) that they felt best represented what was occurring
Author's personal copy
in the cartoon. The descriptions varied in abstractness based
on levels of the Linguistic Category Model described earlier,
ranging from (1) very concrete to (4) very abstract (with noth-
ing being said to participants about the abstractness of the
descriptions). Participants had an unlimited amount of time
to select the description that they felt was best suited for de-
scribing what the main character was doing in the event (typ-
ically taking about 7 to 11 s). After participants made their
selection, a 2 s pause occurred before the computer screen
advanced to the next cartoon. Half of the cartoons depicted
positive behaviors, and half depicted negative behaviors, all
being randomly intermixed (with nothing being said to partic-
ipants about the valence manipulation).
Before the critical trials, participants completed four prac-
tice trials with the same practice cartoons that they had already
seen twice previously, this time selecting a description. The
experimenter answered any questions before the participants
moved on to the eight critical trials with the eight novel car-
toons. The aforementioned procedure continued until partici-
pants had performed all eight critical trials. After completing
the experiment, participants were asked to describe what they
were doing while viewing the cartoons and to rate how diffi-
cult it was to immerse themselves in the scenes or observe
their thoughts to them on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 7 (very
difficult). After this rating, they were asked to describe any
personal meditation experience. Finally, they were debriefed
and received compensation for participating.
Participants viewed four practice cartoons and eight critical
cartoons (see Fig. 1for examples). Appendix B in the
Supplementary Materials (SM) provides all practice and crit-
ical cartoon stimuli. Each cartoon contained one frame
depicting an event. Half of the critical cartoon events depicted
positive behaviors that included walking an elderly person
across the road, recycling trash, picking another person up
off the ground, and running. The other half depicted negative
behaviors that included telling a sexist joke, throwing trash on
the ground, spray-painting a wall, and hitting another person.
Each cartoon had a main character clearly labeled with the
letter BA.^The main characters were drawn in a stylized
way such that gender and age were less central features.
Each cartoon was paired with four unique descriptions
of increasing abstractness that portrayed the main charac-
ter, As, actions. Two examples of these descriptions are
provided in Fig. 1, and all description options are provided
in SM Appendix B. The participants were not told that the
four descriptions for each cartoon represented different
levels of linguistic abstraction from the Linguistic Catego-
ry Model (Semin 1994; Semin and Fiedler 1988). For ev-
ery cartoon, the four description options for each cartoon
always began with the most concrete first and the most
abstract last.
The eight critical cartoons, one practice cartoon, and their
associated descriptions were the same as those constructed by
Douglas and Sutton (2003). Three additional practice cartoons
and associated descriptions were newly created for this exper-
iment. These additional practice materials were added to en-
sure that participants viewed an equal distribution of positive
and negative behavior cartoon events and that each cartoon
event depicted a different behavior. All four experimental
groups used the same practice and critical materials. In addi-
tion, all critical materials were normed in previous studies to
ensure that people perceived the desirable behaviors as posi-
tive and the undesirable behaviors as negative (Douglas and
Sutton 2003; Maass et al. 1995). On each trial, the cartoon
description chosen was recorded, as was the response time
(RT) for making the choice. Appendix C presents the internal
consistencies for materials within each condition.
Data Analysis
Participantsresponses on the critical multiple-choice task
were transcribed into numbers based on the Linguistic Cate-
gory Model, with 1 representing most concrete and 4
representing most abstract. These linguistic abstraction scores
were then entered into various analyses. Each participants
responses to positive behaviors were averaged to create an
overall positive behavior abstraction score, and the same
was done for responses to negative behaviors, creating two
data points for each participant. To assess our hypotheses,
we performed a priori contrasts and an analysis of variance
(ANOVA) across the four experimental groups with one re-
peated factor of behavior valence. Gender, ethnicity, and age
did not predict differences in our results and therefore have not
been controlled for in the following analyses. All contrasts
were one-tailed tests given that they tested directional hypoth-
eses. All effect sizes are reported using Hedgesg
following Lakens (2013). Figure 2illustrates both the descrip-
tive statistics for the cartoon description abstraction responses
and the key inferential statistics that follow (IMM=immer-
sion, MA=mindful attention).
Our key hypotheses involved the three-way interaction be-
tween perspective (mindful attention/immersion), character
(friend/enemy), and behavior valence (positive/negative).
We hypothesized that the immersion groups would robustly
replicate the LIB and that the mindful attention groups would
show diminished bias. Consistent with these predictions, the
omnibus three-way interaction was significant, F(1,80) =
10.09, p=0.002, ηp
Author's personal copy
To examine where the predicted group differences occurred
within the three-way interaction, we conducted a series of a
priori contrasts further testing our hypotheses. The signifi-
cance bars in Fig. 2illustrate the results described next. In line
with our hypotheses and previous work, the immersion groups
exhibited the LIB. Behaviors that matched their expectations
(friend positive, enemy negative) were rated more abstractly
than unexpected behaviors (friend negative, enemy positive).
The mean difference in the linguistic abstraction scores be-
tween friend (2.57) and enemy (1.40) for a positive behavior
was 1.17, t(40) = 7.31, SE =0.16, p<0.001, g
=2.15. Con-
versely, the mean difference in the scores between friend
(2.00) and enemy (2.43) for a negative behavior was 0.43,
t(40)=2.05, SE= 0.21, p=0.024, g
=0.57. As described ear-
lier, higher numbers indicate more abstraction. Thus, the dif-
ference of 1.17 for positive behaviors indicates that the lin-
guistic abstraction scores for the friend group were more ab-
stract than were the scores for the enemy group. In contrast,
the difference of 0.43 for negative behaviors indicates that
the linguistic abstraction scores for the friend group were less
abstract than were the scores for the enemy group. Thus, over-
all, participants described behaviors that matched their expec-
tations relatively abstractly (friend positive, enemy negative)
and those that violated their expectations relatively concretely
(enemy positive, friend negative).
Although the mindful attention groups also exhibited the
LIB, it was significantly attenuated as predicted. Four results
support this conclusion. First, the mindful attention groups
only exhibited the LIB for positive behaviors (positive behav-
iors: friend vs. enemy, Mdifference = 0.37, t(40)= 2.31, SE=
0.16, p=0.010, g
=0.79; negative behaviors: friend vs. ene-
my, Mdifference=0.13, t(40)= 0.62, SE=0.21, p>0.250,
=0.20). Mindful attention participants were more likely to
ascribe character judgments to their friends when they were
behaving positively than they were to ascribe these abstract
descriptions to their enemiespositive actions. These partici-
pants did not, however, ascribe more abstract character judg-
ments to their enemies when they were behaving negatively
compared to when their friends behaved negatively.
Second, the LIB exhibited for positive behaviors in the
mindful attention groups was much smaller than the LIB ex-
hibited for positive behaviors in the immersion groups; IMM,
Mdifference = 1.17 vs. MA, Mdifference=0.37; t(82)=3.53,
SE=0.23, p<0.005. This finding indicates that mindful atten-
tion significantly reduced the LIB. Although mindful attention
participants still ascribed character judgments to their friends
when they behaved positively, they did so to a much lesser
extent in comparison to the immersion groups.
Third, the LIB exhibited for positivebehaviors in the mind-
ful attention groups also had a much smaller effect size com-
pared to the immersion groups (IMM, g
=2.15 vs. MA, g
0.79). Although the effect size for the LIB in the mindful
attention groups was still high, suggesting that the LIB is
difficult to overcome, it was much smaller than in the immer-
sion groups. Again, mindful attention reduced the LIB.
Fourth, as the dashed significance bars further illustrate in
Fig. 2, the bias exhibited by the mindful attention groups,
relative to the immersion groups, was attenuated substantially.
As hypothesized, this attenuation occurred for expected be-
haviors (friend positive, enemy negative). Specifically, posi-
tive behaviors for friends and negative behaviors for enemies
were rated more concretely in the mindful attention groups
than in the immersion groups (Positive friend behaviors:
IMM vs. MA, Mdifference=0.63, t(40)=3.94, SE= 0.16,
p<0.001, g
=1.01; Negative enemy behaviors: IMM vs.
MA, Mdifference=0.54, t(40)=2.57, SE = 0.21, p= 0.007,
=0.76). This pattern indicates that biased knowledge played
less of a role in the construal of perceived behavior during
mindful attention than during immersion.
We did not have any hypotheses about mindful attentions
influence on ratings for unexpected behaviors (friend nega-
tive, enemy positive). When we compared immersion and
mindful attention groups on these behaviors, however, there
were no significant differences. Consistent with the LIB, be-
haviors that violated expectations were rated concretely in
both the immersion and mindful attention groups (negative
friend behaviors: IMM vs. MA, Mdifference=0.24, t(40)=
1.14, SE=0.21, p=0.135, g
=0.34; positive enemy behaviors:
IMM vs. MA, Mdifference=0.17, t(40)=1.06, SE=0.16,
p=0.142, g
=0.47). This pattern is not surprising because un-
expected behaviors were already described more concretely in
the immersion groups and because mindful attention tended to
elicit concrete descriptions overall (as described next).
We were also interested in the main effect of perspective
(mindful attention vs. immersion), predicting that mindful
Fig. 2 Average linguistic abstraction scores for the four groups
(immersion-friend, immersion-enemy, mindful friend, mindful enemy)
for each type of scene (positive, negative). Solid significance bars
illustrate differences between groups representing the Linguistic
Intergroup Bias (LIB). Dashed significance bars illustrate significant
reductions in the LIB. *p<0.05. Standard error bars are ± one standard
error of the mean
Author's personal copy
attention would elicit more concrete responses compared to
immersion. Consistent with this prediction, we found a signif-
icant main effect of perspective, F(1,80) = 9.60, p=0.003,
=0.11. Collapsed across character groups (friend and ene-
my), responses in the mindful attention group were more con-
crete (M=1.79, SE= 0.07) than were responses in the immer-
sion group (M=2.10, SE= 0.07; Mdifference= 0.31). This
finding suggests that, in general, participants in the mindful
attention groups were more likely to simply describe the spe-
cific details of their in-group and out-group membersactions,
whereas immersion groups were more likely to draw relatively
abstract inferences about the character and emotional states of
both in-group and out-group members from their actions.
The main effect of character was also significant, F(1,80)=
5.97, p=0.017, ηp
=0.07. Collapsed across perspective and
behavior valence, the friend groups received more abstract
responses (M=2.07, SE=0.07) than did the enemy groups
(M=1.82, SE=0.07). As the three-way interaction in Fig. 2
illustrates, this main effect is most likely driven by the immer-
sion groupsabstract responses to friends behaving positively,
together with their concrete responses to enemies behaving
The omnibus interaction between behavior valence and
character (collapsed across perspective) was also significant,
F(1,80)=36.94, p<0.001, ηp
=0.32. The mean difference in
the linguistic abstraction scores between friend (2.26) and
enemy (1.49) for a positive behavior was 0.77, t(82)= 7.00,
SE=0.11, p<0.001,g
=0.34. Conversely, the mean difference
in the scores between friend (1.88) and enemy (2.16) for a
negative behavior was 0.28, t(82)=1.87, SE= 0.15, p=
0.034, g
=0.53. As this pattern illustrates, there was a signif-
icant LIB across the entire sample, driven primarily by the
strong LIB in the two immersion groups.
The main effect of behavior valence, the interaction be-
tween valence and perspective, and the interaction between
perspective and character were not significant, F(1,80) =
2.98, p=0.088, ηp
=0.04; F(1,80)=0.81, p>0.250, ηp
0.37; and F(1,80)=1.57, p=0.214, ηp
=0.02, respectively.
These results do not limit or have any bearing on our main
overall hypotheses and so are not discussed further.
Some participants in our sample had previous experience
with meditation (25 out of 84). As a result of this experience,
these participants could have biased the data toward our hy-
pothesized outcomes. To address this issue, we conducted a
supplemental analysis excluding individuals who had previ-
ous meditation experience of any kind (see Appendix C in the
SM for the complete details). As illustrated in SM Figure 1,
the same pattern of results found for all 84 participants also
emerged for the 59 participants without meditation experi-
ence. Critically, there was still a significant three-way omni-
bus interaction between behavior valence, perspective, and
character type in the non-meditators, F(1,55)= 4.69, p=
0.035, ηp
=0.08. The immersion groups still demonstrated
the LIB for positive behaviors (positive behaviors: friend vs.
enemy, Mdifference= 1.15, t(30)= 6.39, SE= 0.18, p<0.001,
=2.20). They did not, however, exhibit a significant LIB for
negative behaviors (negative behaviors: friend vs. enemy, M
difference=0.23, t(30)=0.88, SE=0.26, p=0.187, g
0.30), but classic research does not always observe the LIB
for negative behaviors (Maass 1999; Maass et al. 1989).
Non-meditators in the mindful attention groups also exhib-
ited the LIB for positive behaviors but not for negative behav-
iors (positive behaviors: friend vs. enemy, Mdifference= 0.47,
t(25)=2.35, SE= 0.20, p=0.011, g
=0.88; negative behaviors:
friend vs. enemy, Mdifference= 0.01, t(25)= 0.04, SE=
0.28, p>0.250, g
=0.01). These participants still rated the
positive behavior of friends more abstractly than the positive
behavior of enemies. Compared to immersion groups, howev-
er, the mindful attention groups exhibited a reduced LIB (pos-
itive friend behaviors: IMM vs. MA, Mdifference=0.62,
t(27)=3.26, SE= 0.19, p=0.001,g
=1.18; negative enemy be-
haviors: IMM vs. MA, Mdifference= 0.54, t(28)= 1.93, SE=
0.27, p=0.026, g
=0.69). Thus, the mindful attention groups
still rated expected behaviors (positive friend, negative ene-
my) more concretely compared to the immersion groups. In
contrast, immersion groups were more likely to ascribe ab-
stract character judgments in these contexts. The SM includes
all other main effect and interaction results for the non-
meditator subgroup.
In summary, non-meditators still exhibited the crucial pat-
tern evident in the complete sample: The immersion group
exhibited the LIB, and the mindful attention group exhibited
a reduced LIB. Therefore, the influence of individuals who
already had experience with mindfulness-based practices
was not the driving force behind the original results.
Although our sample only included 25 participants with
varied meditation experience, we ran an exploratory analysis
to see if this subgroup displayed a unique pattern of results
(see Appendix C in the SM for the complete details). Again,
the omnibus three-way interaction between valence, perspec-
tive, and character was the key result to examine for our hy-
potheses. As illustrated in SM Figure 2, this interaction was
again significant, F(1,21)= 6.70, p=0.017, ηp
In the meditation subgroup, the immersion groups demon-
strated the LIB for both the expected positive friend behaviors
and negative enemy behaviors (positive behaviors: friend vs.
enemy, Mdifference = 1.19, t(8) = 3.72, SE = 0.32, p<0.001,
=2.13; negative behaviors: friend vs. enemy, Mdiffer-
ence= 1.02, t(8) = 2.76, SE=0.37, p=0.006, g
=1.58). Just
like the pattern in our main results, immersion groups repli-
cated the LIB by describing expected behaviors (friend posi-
tive, enemy negative) more abstractly than unexpected behav-
iors (friend negative, enemy positive).
Meditators in the mindful attention groups, however, ex-
hibited no LIB. These participants did not ascribe more ab-
stract character judgments to behaviors that matched biased
Author's personal copy
expectations of friends behaving positively and enemies neg-
atively (positive behaviors: friend vs. enemy, Mdifference=
0.21, t(13)=0.81, SE=0.26, p=0.207, g
=0.39; negative be-
haviors: friend vs. enemy, Mdifference = 0.36, t(13)= 1.20,
SE=0.30, p=0.121, g
=0.58). Because the sample sizes in
these comparisons were small, power was low, and the results
should be interpreted with caution. Nevertheless, the results
suggest tentatively that when meditators are instructed to use
mindful attention, the LIB may be relatively weak and perhaps
not present.
Again, mindful attention groups had significantly more
concrete responses to expected behaviors (friend positive, en-
emy negative) when compared to immersion groups (positive
friend behaviors: IMM vs. MA, Mdifference = 0.66, t(11)=
2.36, SE= 0.28, p= 0.013, g
=1.22; negative enemy behav-
iors: IMM vs. MA, Mdifference=0.69, t(10)=1.97, SE=
0.35, p=0.032, g
=1.05). All other main effects and interac-
tions are reported in the SM. Based on these initial explora-
tions, it appears that the participants with meditation experi-
ence were even more successful with mindful attention. When
performing the observe strategy, these participants exhibited
no bias, whereas individuals in the meditation naïve subgroup
still exhibited an attenuated LIB. The implications of these
exploratory subgroup analyses are addressed further in the
The linguistic expectancy bias (LEB) is the use of abstract
interpretive language to describe expected behaviors (e.g., a
friends positive behavior, an enemys negative behavior),
while using concrete language to describe unexpected behav-
iors (e.g., a friends negative behavior, an enemyspositive
behavior; Maass 1999). Using abstract interpretive language
implies that a behavior is a stable characteristic of an individual,
whereas concrete descriptive language implies that a behavior
is unique and uncharacteristic. The linguistic intergroup bias
(LIB) is a specific example of the LEB, related to the valence
of expectancies about in-groups and out-groups. Whereas in-
group members are expected to behave positively, out-group
members are expected to behave negatively (e.g., Maass et al.
1989). Previous research indicates that people are often un-
aware of their biased linguistic tendencies and that the LEB
and LIB can be used as implicit measures of prejudice (Franco
and Maass 1996;vonHippeletal.1997). In the experiment
reported here, we adapted a friend/enemy paradigm (Douglas
and Sutton 2003;Maassetal.1995) and observed two basic
results: First, we replicated the LIB with immersion instruc-
tions. Second, we observed a reduction in the LIB with mindful
attention instructions. We briefly review each result in turn.
When participants were asked to immerse themselves in
cartoon stimuli depicting a friendsorenemys behavior, they
described expected behaviors (friend positive, enemy nega-
tive) more abstractly than unexpected behaviors (friend nega-
tive, enemy positive). This bias may have occurred with im-
mersion instructions specifically because it involved actively
projecting oneself into an event. Participants were encouraged
to become absorbed in their thoughts and reactions to the
event and to vividly imagine actually being in the situation.
In this way, immersion instructions may have encouraged in-
ferential linguistic descriptions.
Importantly, our immersion condition replicates many pre-
vious LIB experiments in which participants did not receive
immersion instructions but simply selected the best descrip-
tion for a scene with no particular instructions given (e.g.,
Maass et al. 1995; Douglas and Sutton 2003). This finding
suggests that immersion is the default strategy participants
apply when processing scenes (for supporting evidence relat-
ed to food stimuli, see Papies et al. 2012,2015).
Previous research reduced the LIB with explicit communi-
cation goals (e.g., telling participants to view their out-group
member in a more positive light; Douglas and Sutton 2003;
2008). Our results demonstrate that mindful attentionan as-
pect of mindfulness (Bishop et al. 2004;Leboisetal.2015;
Papies et al. 2015)is an implicit modulator of linguistic
abstraction, effectively reducing the LIB without directly ask-
ing participants to be unbiased. Both mindful attention groups
had lower average linguistic abstraction scores overall com-
pared to the immersion groups. Additionally, both mindful
attention groups viewed expected behavior descriptions
(friend positive, enemy negative) more concretely than did
the immersion groups. These results suggest that observing
ones thoughts and reactions to events as fleeting mental states
reduces elaborations and inferences about actions, encourag-
ing a more concrete viewpoint on events, such that abstract
descriptions become less likely.
Although the mindful attention groups exhibited a signifi-
cantly reduced LIB compared to immersion groups, they still
demonstrated a modest linguistic intergroup bias for positive
behaviors. Mindful attention groups continued to describe
positive behaviors for friends more abstractly than those for
enemies, suggesting that the LIB may be difficult to over-
come, even with a brief mindful attention intervention. Later,
we discuss how long-term meditation training may offer a
more powerful means of inducing still stronger changes in
linguistic and cognitive biases.
A variety of possible mechanisms associated with mindful-
ness could be responsible for the modulation of the LIB that
we observed, including, decentering, self-disengagement, and
subjective realism, each addressed in turn. First, increasing
evidence suggests that mindfulness produces a shift in per-
spective often referred to as decentering (Bishop et al. 2004;
Brown et al. 2007; Teasdale et al. 1995). Decentering pro-
duces the realization that thoughts, feelings, and reactions to
events are fleeting patterns of mental activity. Rather than
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being experienced as true representations of ones self and
events in the world, thoughts are simply experienced for what
they are, thoughts. Rather than being immersed in ones
thoughts, one sees them as transitory mental states arising
and dissipating in the moment.
Second, the shift in perspective associated with mindful-
ness and decentering may result from disengaging a sense of
self from ones thoughts. Following brief mindfulness inter-
ventions, two neuroimaging experiments reported less self-
referential, emotional, and visceral integration for recalling
negative autobiographical memories (Kross et al. 2009)and
for imagining stressful situations (Lebois et al. 2015). Further
evidence suggests that mindfulness reduces ego defensiveness
under threat (Brown et al. 2008; Niemiec et al. 2010) and
diminishes concern with oneself (Brown and Ryan 2003).
Additionally, Niemiec et al. (2010) found that after partici-
pantsin-group was threatened, those low in mindfulness ex-
hibited higher in-group partiality and more out-group depre-
cation relative to those high in mindfulness. Across these di-
verse paradigms, the decentering process associated with
mindfulness appears to decrease the association between ones
sense of self and onesthoughts.
Third, the ability to disengage a sense of self from ones
thoughts via decentering may reduce the subjective realism of
thoughts. Subjective realism is the experience that an imag-
ined event or thought feels as if it were happening in the
present moment via mental time travel (Lebois et al. 2015;
Papies, et al. 2012,2015;alsoseeBcognitive fusion,^Hayes
and Feldman 2004). The construct of subjective realism is
readily demonstrated in peoples responses to food cues.
Much research shows that viewing a picture of a delicious
food typically activates an eating simulation that reenacts tast-
ing the food and experiencing the reward of consuming it
(e.g., Papies 2013; Simmons et al. 2005;vanderLaanetal.
2011). Once these eating simulations become active, they mo-
tivate consumptive behavior, especially when hungry (Papies
et al. 2015). This process may work the same way in the
context of imagining an in-group or out-group member acting
in positive or negative ways. As these simulations become
active, they produce something like the experience of actually
interacting with an in-group/out-group member, which moti-
vates subsequent reactions. Most importantly, the shift in per-
spective associated with decentering may disengage a sense of
self from these simulations, such that they no longer seem
subjectively real, but are experienced instead as passing
Most likely the three mechanisms just described are not
independent: The shift in perspective associated with
decentering appears to disengage a sense of self from ones
thoughts, thereby decreasing their subjective realism. All three
mechanisms probably work together to produce the benefits of
mindfulness. From this perspective, we assume that all three
mechanisms may have operated in concert to decrease the
impact of bias and stereotypes observed here. Specifically,
when a stereotype became active as a thought during mindful
attention, the participant disengaged from the thought, de-
creasing its subjective realism. In turn, the effects of differen-
tial expectancies and in-group protection decreased, such that
less linguistic abstraction occurred in a biased way.
An important goal for future research is to assess the pro-
cess model just described, along with other possible accounts
of how mindful attention reduces the LIB. In doing so, it
would be useful to establish evidence for each individual
mechanism and for their interaction. Another important issue
is to establish the extent to which people are born with these
mechanisms in place, as opposed to learning them through
instruction (Lebois et al. 2015).
Earlier, we reviewed literature illustrating that differential
expectancies and in-group protection promote linguistic ab-
straction. The mechanisms just proposed to modulate the LIB
may, more generally, modulate the LEB. First, consider how
mindful attention could operate to undermine in-group protec-
tion. As described earlier, in-group protection is the internal
motivation to maintain a positive in-group and self-image by
abstractly describing desirable in-group behaviors and undesir-
able out-group behaviors (Maass et al. 1989;Maass1999).
Much evidence suggests that mindfulness induces feelings of
acceptance and compassion towards the self and others
(Condon et al. 2013) and also reduces reactivity to potential
self-threats (e.g., Niemiec et al. 2010). Therefore, when prac-
ticing mindful attention, our participants may have not only felt
more accepting towards themselves but may also have felt
more accepting of out-group members. Participants may not
have felt the need to shield their self-image by attributing pos-
itive inferences to their in-group and negative inferences to
their out-group. As a result, in-group protection decreased.
More generally, mindful attention may have also reduced
differential expectancies. As described earlier, differential ex-
pectancies constitute a cognitive strategy that involves de-
scribing expected information abstractly and unexpected in-
formation concretely (Maass et al. 1995; Wigboldus et al.
2000,2005). Beyond the LIB, differential expectancies can
occur regardless of the valence of the behavior paired with
an in-group or out-group member. Say, for example, that
you are Caucasian. The stereotype exists that all Asians
(your out-group) are good at math. Even though Asians are
your out-group, a linguistic abstraction paradigm might show
that you ascribe this positive math ability to your out-group
via an abstract description of this ability (instead of a concrete
behavior). If, however, you observe such thoughts as passing
mental states in the present moment (mindful attention), the
typical abstract, inferential, and evaluative thinking that pro-
duces stereotypical expectations about people may not occur.
Rather than relying on previously stored beliefs about a person
or an event, you may simply observe the behavioral event
occurring in the moment more concretely for what it is.
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Because we did not assess such non-valenced expected
behaviors in our experiment, we cannot conclude that mindful
attention reduces differential expectancies. Thus, another im-
portant goal for future research is to examine whether mindful
attention reduces differential expectancies beyond the
valenced behaviors associated with the LIB. By examining a
variety of other abstractions associated with stereotypes (such
as Asians being good at math), it should be possible to assess
whether mindful attention reduces the LEB more generally.
As reported earlier, we did not find significant differences
between the mindful attention and immersion groups for un-
expected behaviors (friend negative, enemy positive). Be-
cause these unexpected behaviors were already described con-
cretely in the immersion groups, a floor effect may have oc-
curred in the mindful attention groups, such that these behav-
iors could not be described more concretely. Although our
primary focus was to reduce linguistic abstraction bias by
eliciting concrete descriptions of expected behaviors, one
might nevertheless imagine it would be desirable to describe
the positive behaviors of out-group members abstractly, at
least under some circumstances. In other words, attributing
positive abstract characteristics to the positive behaviors of
out-group members offers an additional means of reducing
the LIB, besides reducing negative abstract character
attributions to negative behaviors.
Limitations and Future Directions
In our paradigm, participants were instructed to implement a
specific perspective (mindful attention or immersion) while
viewing the critical cartoon materials. A more robust test of
mindful attentions effect on the LIB would be to teach par-
ticipants the perspective initially and then see if it carries over
to their later viewing of the materials without explicitly being
told to adopt it. In our experiment here, however, instructing
participants to continue with the perspective while viewing the
critical materials may actually mirror how novice meditators
first begin to attend mindfully. Initially, this perspective may
be an effortful choice that gradually becomes more uncon-
scious with practice.
Although our paradigm used an implicit task and interven-
tion in the sense that we (1) did not directly ask participants
about their in-group/out-group biases, (2) did not directly tell
them that we were measuring their biases, and (3) did not
directly ask them to change their biases (Fazio and Olson
2003), it is unclear whether the reduction in LIB occurred
outside conscious awareness. During the exit interview, we
did not ask participants whether they noticed differences in
linguistic abstraction between the four LCM descriptions that
were provided nor did we ask mindful attention participants if
they were aware of the potential effect that the Bobserving^
perspective might have had on their choices. Thus, we cannot
say for certain that the observed reduction in the LIB here
occurred completely outside participantsconscious aware-
ness (analogous to the same issue that confronts many other
implicit tasks, such as the Implicit Association Test). Future
experiments could begin to test conscious awareness by intro-
ducing these questions during an exit interview and by using
other methods that establish unconscious processing.
Previous LIB research has not included immersion instruc-
tions. Instead, LIB experiments have simply instructed partic-
ipants to imagine their friend or enemy performing the behav-
iors depicted in the cartoon events without explicitly telling
them how to do so (e.g., Maass et al. 1995; Douglas and
Sutton 2003). One might worry that explicit immersion in-
structions were responsible for our results. Rather than mind-
ful attention reducing bias, immersion may have increased it.
Several reasons, however, suggest that this was not the
case. First, previous research has demonstrated that immersion
instructions and regular viewing instructions (e.g., Bsimply
look at the pictures^) produce similar results, suggesting that
immersion constitutes participantsdefault perspective toward
their thoughts (Papies et al. 2012,2015). Second, the re-
sponses in our immersion groups were strikingly similar to
those reported in the LIB literature when immersion instruc-
tions were not used (see Maass 1999 for a review). To the
extent that responses in our immersion group deviated from
those the literature, they were often more concrete (e.g.,
friend/positive: 2.57 for us vs. 2.69 for Maass et al. 1989;
enemy/negative: 2.43 vs. 2.82 for Maass et al. 1989; friend/
negative: 2 vs. 2.51 for Maass et al 1989; enemy/positive: 1.40
vs. 2.47 for Maass et al. 1989). Both findings suggest that
immersion instructions were not responsible for the differ-
ences in the LIB that we observed between the immersion
and mindful attention groups. Future experiments, however,
could include both immersion and regular viewing groups to
assess this issue directly.
Our participant sample was comprised of individuals who
were both meditation-naïve and meditation-experienced. An-
other possible concern is that participants with meditation ex-
perience constituted the driving force behind our observed
reduction in the LIB, not the mindful attention instructions.
To ensure a more uniformly meditation-naïve sample, we
could have recruited only meditation-naïve participants from
the outset. Problematically, however, participants could have
anticipated the relevance of meditation-related principles with
this exclusion procedure, which could have biased their re-
sponses. Instead, to address this concern, we completed a
follow-up analysis including only meditation-naïve partici-
pants. In this analysis, these participants still exhibited the
critical pattern observed in the complete sample. The immer-
sion groups still displayed the LIB, and the mindful attention
groups still exhibited a reduced LIB.
A natural avenue for future research, however, would be to
examine similar effects with experienced meditators. Previous
research has demonstrated that for individuals to respond
Author's personal copy
without prejudice to out-group members, they must overcome
years of exposure to stereotypical information (Devine 1989),
using effortful, regulatory strategies (Devine and Monteith
1993,1999;Devineetal.2002). Our modulation of the LIB
with a very brief mindful attention intervention suggests that
another way of reducing bias and prejudice is to cultivate
mindfulness. Although we only had 25 participants of varied
meditation experience in our sample, we found that these in-
dividuals did not exhibit the LIB in the mindful attention
groups. This finding needs to be replicated in a larger sample
of experienced meditators, but it does suggest that more con-
sistent, extended practice with mindfulness meditation may
have strong effects on linguistic biases associated with
Acknowledgments We are grateful to Esther Papies for sharing her
mindful attention instructions and for her many helpful suggestions, to
Brian Ostafin for his informative discussions, to Anne Maass and Karen
Douglas for their materials, and to Nancy Bliwise and Sheila Tschinkel
for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest The authors declare that they have no competing
Funding Work on this article was supported in part by National
Institute of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award
1 F31 AT007130-01 and 5 F31 AT007130-02 to Lauren (McDonough)
Lebois at Emory University.
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... More germane to this review, attributional biases are often exacerbated in intergroup contexts (e.g., Pettigrew, 1979), and incipient research suggests that the effects of mindfulness practice might allay intergroup attributional biases. An experiment tested whether mindful attention would negate linguistic intergroup bias (Tincher et al., 2015). Participants were randomly assigned to a brief mindfulness training or a control condition involving absorption in personal thoughts. ...
... As a receptive, psychological state that can be trained (e.g., Quaglia et al., 2016) and situationally manipulated (Heppner & Shirk, 2018), this literature review suggests that mindfulness dampens intrapsychic boundaries to intergroup prosociality, including social categorization (Pinazo & Breso, 2017), biased causal attributions (Tincher et al., 2015), and implicit intergroup attitudes (Lueke & Gibson, 2016). What is more, even short-term training in focused attention forms of mindfulness create a flexible frame of reference to take the perspective of outgroup members (e.g., Edwards et al., 2017). ...
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Objectives Mindful attention deployment has been found to have practical benefits for a range of interpersonal outcomes including prosocial action and emotion. Recently, theory has posited that contemplative training that incorporates mindful attention may enhance intergroup compassion. Methods Here, we conduct a selective narrative review, drawing on the Buddhist concept skillful means to ask if mindful attention deployment presents an optimal starting point for intergroup compassion and action. Results An interdisciplinary theoretical framework is presented, which suggests that mindful attention dismantles common intrapsychic challenges to intergroup prosociality. Empirical research is described concerning cause and effect relationships between mindfulness and several outgrowths of intergroup prosociality. Specifically, mindfulness promotes basic social cognitive processes that allow intergroup prosociality to flourish. Conclusions While this research is promising, to date, the science on this topic has been limited to individual-level outgrowths of mindfulness practice. Discussion focuses on the future of mindfulness research in intergroup prosociality and calls for an integrative approach situating mindful attention deployment within social (and other) psychological interventions to enhance intergroup compassion.
... As evidence of this, one experiment found that brief instruction-focusing attention on present experiences of the breath-relative to active and inactive controls, predicted lower parochial trust in an economic game (Lueke & Gibson, 2016). Another experiment found that mindfulness trainees were less likely to use biased language in describing the actions of outgroup members (Tincher et al., 2016). However, in a context less constrained by the laboratory setting, Berry, Wall, Tubbs, et al. (2021) found that a 4-day mindfulness meditation intervention promoted daily helping behaviors toward racial ingroup and outgroup members, though parochial helping of racial ingroup members remained. ...
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Recent research indicates that empathy‐enhancing interventions are limited in their ability to produce meaningful and lasting reductions in bias and hostility toward outgroup members. Parochial empathy—defined as preferentially higher empathy felt for ingroup over outgroup members—has been shown to be a promoter of intergroup conflict and antipathy. Our review will discuss the shortfalls of enhancing empathy for its own sake in intergroup contexts. We leverage the longstanding theory and science of multidimensional perspectives and operationalizations of general empathy, which include cognitive, affective and motivational responses to others' suffering. Thereafter we will discuss the current state of the science on measuring parochial empathy. We close by suggesting a multidimensional perspective of parochial empathy can inform interventions to promote intergroup prosociality, particularly interventions that directly and/or indirectly motivate other‐oriented empathy and concern.
... In a separate line of research, a different methodological strategy revealed a similar effect, not with advanced practitioners for non-dual Tibetan traditions, but with novice practitioners. Here, the hypothesized reduction in temporal abstraction noted above gains support from research showing that a simple mindfulness manipulation among the general population led to less abstract descriptions of others' behavior (Tincher et al. 2016). In that study, simple instructions to observe mental states as fleeting events led participants to rely less on character inferences (e.g., "he is hostile") when judging the behavior of outgroups, in favor of more concrete, non-interpretive language (e.g., "he tried to hit the other person"). ...
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This article addresses two distinct but interrelated aspects of “skillful means” that can inform compassion training: (1) the historical precedent and need for adapting meditation practices to meet new cultural contexts, and (2) the need to express compassion flexibly in ways that creatively meet the specific contexts, mentalities, and needs of particular persons and situations. We first discuss ways that the doctrine of skillful means was employed by Buddhists to rationalize the repeated adaptation of Buddhist teachings to meet the culturally situated mentalities and needs of diverse Asian peoples. Then, in continuity with that history of Buddhist adaptation, we explore how theories from modern psychological science, such as attachment theory, can be newly drawn upon to support adaptation of relational frameworks operative in traditional Buddhist cultures of compassion training for modern contexts. Finally, we draw on theories from cognitive science, namely situated conceptualization, that provide a tractable framework for understanding skillful compassion as embodied emptiness—involving the relaxation of pattern completion mechanisms, which helps open up greater discernment and presence to others, so that care and compassion can be more unrestricted, creative, and directly responsive to the person and situation at hand.
... The same intervention was also predictive of discriminatory behavior: participants in the mindfulness condition exhibited significantly less discrimination in the trust game than control group participants (Lueke and Gibson, 2016). Mindfulness interventions seem to be applicable across different specifications of out-groups (Tincher et al., 2016) and outperform educational approaches when it comes to bias reduction (Lillis and Hayes, 2007). The relationship between trait mindfulness and prejudice is, however, less clear (Adelheid and De France, 2018). ...
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Though research provides ample evidence that mindfulness shapes psychological processes and states that are linked to political attitudes and behavior, political science has so far largely ignored mindfulness as a potential explanatory factor shaping political attitudes and actions. This literature review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the concept of mindfulness and outlines potential linkages between mindfulness and outlines political attitudes. I begin by identifying gaps in the literature on political attitude formation and change as well as its linkage to political behavior. I then introduce mindfulness as a multifaceted concept, discussing its definitional features and unravelling the mechanisms of mindfulness affecting cognitive and emotional abilities. Building on this foundation, I review research on correlates and effects of mindfulness on attitudes and behaviors related to the political domain, such as pro-environmentalism and pro-social behavior. Critically reflecting on extant research on mindfulness, I propose possible research avenues for political science that enhance its dialogue with neuroscience and social psychology.
... Explicit articulation of INTs can, perhaps, help to distinguish between teaching of mindfulness that focuses on INT1 and mindfulness practices taught from a wider perspective of all the INTs. This might be of relevance to current exploration of the potential of mindfulness practices in contributing to societal challenges such as in-group/out group biases, conflict resolution or climate change (Lueke and Gibson, 2015;Tincher et al., 2016;Alkoby et al., 2019;Geiger et al., 2019). For example, practices in MG1 delivered with INT1 (Intention to gain experiential understanding of how the relationship to experience contributes to mental-distress and wellbeing) are unlikely to lead to wider prosocial change, whereas MG2-MG4 delivered with INT3 (Intention to gain experiential understanding of the relationship between sense of self and mental-distress and wellbeing) or INT4 (Intention to gain experiential understanding of how positive and prosocial mental states contribute to wellbeing) may lead to EUs linked to realizing the constructed nature of the sense of self resulting in lessening of in-group identification and out-group rejection. ...
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When considering the numerous mindfulness-based and mindfulness-informed programs that have flourished in the past decades it is not always clear that they all refer to the same “mindfulness. ” To facilitate more clarity and precision in describing, researching and teaching mindfulness in the secular settings, we propose a classification framework of mindfulness practices, intentions behind them and the experiential understandings the practices may aim to develop. Accordingly, the proposed framework, called the Mindfulness Map, has two axes. The first axis outlines mindfulness practices (and associated instructions) classified into four groups (MGs), e.g. the MG1 focuses on cultivating attention to the present moment somatic and sensory experience while the MG4 focuses on cultivating the ability to recognize and deconstruct perceptual, cognitive and emotional experiences and biases. The second axis outlines possible intentions (INTs) to cultivate particular experiential understanding (EU) via teaching and practicing the MGs, e.g., the INT1 designates the intention to gain EU of how our relationship to experience contributes to wellbeing, the INT2 refers to the intention to gain EU of the changing nature of body, mind and external phenomenon. We suggest that the same MG can lead to different EUs outcomes based on the specific INTs applied in their teaching or practice. The range of INTs and EUs included here is not exhaustive, there are further types the Map could be expanded toward. Aside from encouraging more fine-grained distinctions of mindfulness practices, the proposed Map aims to open discussions about interactions between MGs, INTs, EUs and practice outcomes. The Map may facilitate more nuanced and precise approaches to researching the range of outcomes cultivated by mindfulness practices, help bridge contradictory findings, and catalyze further debate and research into ethical aspects of mindfulness. The Map also highlights the need for further teaching development and research on longer-term trajectories of mindfulness practice. While the proposed Mindfulness Map organises the mindfulness practice territory along two axes, it is aimed as a starting point for further discussion and can be further revised and/or expanded by other axes.
... In contrast, abstract self-referential thought is assumed to be maladaptive. It could be argued that immersion (e.g., Papies et al., 2011Papies et al., , 2014Tincher et al., 2016) reflects abstract selfreferential thought. Even though immersion leads to a vivid experience of sensory detail (Lebois et al., 2015), it is unlikely that this entails a direct experiential awareness of sensations in the current moment, as would be the case for concrete self-referential thought (Teasdale, 1999;Watkins, 2004). ...
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Repetitive thought about oneself, including one’s emotions, can lead to both adaptive and maladaptive effects. Construal level of repetitive self-referential thought might moderate this. During interoception , which engages areas such as the insula, the anterior and/or posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and the somatosensory cortex, concrete low level construal self-referential thought is applied, which has been shown to lead to more positive emotions after upsetting events. Contrarily, during immersion , related to neural activity in the default mode network (DMN), abstract high level construal self-referential thought is applied, which is linked to depression. The current study investigated whether the integration of concrete and abstract self-referential thought by means of embodied mentalization leads to less subjective arousal, decreased DMN activity and increased somatosensory activity as compared to immersion, and to more DMN activity as compared to interoception. In the fMRI scanner, participants imagined stressful events while adopting immersion, interoception or embodied mentalization. After each imagined stressful event, participants rated their subjective arousal and how difficult it was to apply the mode of self-referential thought. Results showed that participants felt that immersion was easier to apply than embodied mentalization. However, no differences in subjective arousal or neural activity were found between immersion, interoception and embodied mentalization. Possible reasons for this lack of significant differences are discussed.
... One caveat to this argument, however, is that implicit bias toward Asians was lower (overall) than that toward African Americans, suggesting a "floor effect." Tincher et al. (2016) randomly assigned undergraduates to receive either mindful or control instructions before viewing images depicting positive or negative behavior. Participants were told to imagine that the images represented either friends (ingroup conceptualization) or enemies (outgroup). ...
People’s proclivity for favoring their ingroups over outgroups has negative consequences for individuals, groups, and societies. Social psychologists have explored a variety of techniques to reduce these intergroup biases. Emerging research suggests that mindfulness may be effective for this purpose. Mindfulness is defined as present-moment attention and awareness with an accepting attitude, and it is often cultivated through meditation. Our systematic review of the mindfulness-intergroup literature suggests that, across the heterogeneity of paradigms, mindfulness attenuates intergroup bias. Supporting this supposition, for all studies in the current review, regardless of operationalization of mindfulness (i.e., mindfulness-based intervention, brief mindfulness induction, expert meditators, dispositional mindfulness), the overall effect size was g = +.29 ( k-number of studies = 36; 95% CI [0.20, 0.39]; Z = 5.94, p < .0001), suggesting a small but significant effect of mindfulness on improved levels of intergroup bias. In the current work, we review the eligible studies and their findings in detail and conclude by discussing critical issues and implications for future research.
Converging evidence shows that mindfulness is associated with various indicators of interpersonal behavior and well-being. Although promising, the effects of mindfulness should ultimately be expressed during interpersonal interactions and observed by interaction partners. The current study assessed the associations between trait mindfulness, interpersonal stress, and interpersonal perceptions during stressful interpersonal tasks between strangers. Sixty-seven same sex stranger dyads (134 individuals; all females) participated in a laboratory study. Trait mindfulness was measured via an online questionnaire. In the lab, participants were asked to engage in two tasks with a stranger: (1) a stressful interaction task (they were asked to introduce themselves standing only 27 cm apart) and (2) a joint coordination task. Afterwards, both partners’ levels of interpersonal stress and interpersonal perceptions (i.e. liking of the interaction, perceived attentiveness, and perceived coping) were assessed. Results of Actor Partner Interdependence Models (APIM) showed a negative association between trait mindfulness and experienced interpersonal distress. Trait mindfulness was positively associated with liking of the interaction, perceived attentiveness and perceived coping. Actors’ trait mindfulness was positively associated with the partners’ liking of the interaction (marginally significant), but no other partner effects were found. There was no association between trait mindfulness and performance on the joint coordination task. The current findings underscore the importance of studying trait mindfulness dyadically. In actual interpersonal interactions, trait mindfulness positively affects interaction experiences of actors, but we found little support for a transfer to experiences of interaction partners. We discuss the implications of these findings in light of several theoretical models.
This study integrates the conceptual and empirical research on mindfulness and intergroup bias to guide a meta-analysis that examines associations between mindfulness and (a) different manifestations of bias, e.g., implicit and explicit attitudes, affect, and behavior, directed towards (b) different bias targets, e.g., outgroup or ingroup (internalized bias), by (c) intergroup orientation, e.g., towards bias or anti-bias. Of 70 independent samples, 42 (178 effect sizes; N = 3,229) were studies of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) and 30 (150 effect sizes; N = 6,002) were correlational studies. Unconditional mixed-effects structural equation models showed a large, negative effect of mindfulness on bias for intervention (d = -0.56, CI 95% [-0.72, -0.40]) and correlational (r = -0.17 [-0.27, -0.03]) studies. Effects were comparable for intergroup bias and internalized bias; the largest effects were for behavioral outcomes. We conclude by identifying gaps in the evidence base and outline an agenda for future research.
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Objective. Generalization of psychological approaches to the analysis of the effectiveness of inter- cultural interaction and their integration with related concepts, which will allowing to build an explanatory model for achieving the effectiveness of communication in a situation of intercultural communication. Background. In a traditional models of intercultural competence, the link in which a specific com- municative situation is analyzed is missing. For the issue related to the effectiveness of intercultural interaction, the most relevant is a model that focuses on the result of communication — the communica- tive theory of anxiety / uncertainty management by W. Gudikunst. The combination of communicative and competence-based approaches can bring theoretical analysis to a higher level of understanding and predicting intercultural interaction. This approach describes the process of ensuring intercultural communication as managing uncertainty and anxiety. The socio-psychological mechanisms underlying these processes can be described using the theory of Uncertainty-Identity by M. Hogg and the theory of Intergroup threat by W. Stephan and colleagues. In this case, a comprehensive model using communica- tive and socio-psychological approaches will allow us to analyze the mechanism by which intercultural competence contributes to intercultural efficiency. Methodology. Systematic approach, method of comparative analysis. Main conclusions. An integrative socio-psychological model for assessing and predicting the effec- tiveness of intercultural interaction allows us to build an adequate fundamental scientific rationale for studying the effectiveness of intercultural interaction in specific communicative situations.
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Ruminative thoughts about a stressful event can seem subjectively real, as if the imagined event were happening in the moment. One possibility is that this subjective realism results from simulating the self as engaged in the stressful event (immersion). If so, then the process of decentering-disengaging the self from the event-should reduce the subjective realism associated with immersion, and therefore perceived stressfulness. To assess this account of decentering, we taught non-meditators a strategy for disengaging from imagined events, simply viewing these events as transient mental states (mindful attention). In a subsequent neuroimaging session, participants imagined stressful and non-stressful events, while either immersing themselves or adopting mindful attention. In conjunction analyses, mindful attention down-regulated the processing of stressful events relative to baseline, whereas immersion up-regulated their processing. In direct contrasts between mindful attention and immersion, mindful attention showed greater activity in brain areas associated with perspective shifting and effortful attention, whereas immersion showed greater activity in areas associated with self-processing and visceral states. These results suggest that mindful attention produces decentering by disengaging embodied senses of self from imagined situations so that affect does not develop. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
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Research has shown that mindfulness can positively affect peoples’ lives in a number of ways, including relying less on previously established associations. We focused on the impact of mindfulness on implicit age and racial bias as measured by implicit association tests (IATs). Participants listened to either a mindfulness or a control audio and then completed the race and age IATs. Mindfulness meditation caused an increase in state mindfulness and a decrease in implicit race and age bias. Analyses using the Quad Model showed that this reduction was due to weaker automatically activated associations on the IATs.
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Mindful attention, a central component of mindfulness meditation, can be conceived as becoming aware of one’s thoughts and experiences and being able to observe them as transient mental events. Here, we present a series of studies demonstrating the effects of applying this metacognitive perspective to one’s spontaneous reward responses when encountering attractive stimuli. Taking a grounded cognition perspective, we argue that reward simulations in response to attractive stimuli contribute to appetitive behavior and that motivational states and traits enhance these simulations. Directing mindful attention at these thoughts and seeing them as mere mental events should break this link, such that motivational states and traits no longer affect reward simulations and appetitive behavior. To test this account, we trained participants to observe their thoughts in reaction to appetitive stimuli as mental events, using a brief procedure designed for nonmeditators. Across 3 experiments, we found that adopting the mindful attention perspective reduced the effects of motivational states and traits on appetitive behavior in 2 domains, in both the laboratory and the field. Specifically, after applying mindful attention, participants’ sexual motivation no longer made opposite-sex others seem more attractive and thus desirable as partners. Similarly, participants’ levels of hunger no longer boosted the attractiveness of unhealthy foods, resulting in healthier eating choices. We discuss these results in the context of mechanisms and applications of mindful attention and explore how mindfulness and mindful attention can be conceptualized in psychological research more generally.
Three studies examined the moderating role of motivations to respond without prejudice (e.g., internal and external) in expressions of explicit and implicit race bias. In all studies, participants reported their explicit attitudes toward Blacks. Implicit measures consisted of a sequential priming task (Study 1) and the Implicit Association Test (Studies 2 and 3). Study 3 used a cognitive busyness manipulation to preclude effects of controlled processing on implicit responses. In each study, explicit race bias was moderated by internal motivation to respond without prejudice, whereas implicit race bias was moderated by the interaction of internal and external motivation to respond without prejudice. Specifically, high internal, low external participants exhibited lower levels of implicit race bias than did all other participants. Implications for the development of effective self-regulation of race bias are discussed.
Mindfulness is typically described as a form of nonjudgmental, nonreactive attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, including cognitions, emotions, and bodily sensations, as well as sights, sounds, smells, and other environmental stimuli. The cultivation of mindfulness is a central component of Eastern meditation traditions and lies at the heart of Buddhist teachings about the nature of reality and human experience. This chapter argues that mindfulness cultivates human characteristics that are central to positive psychology, including character strengths and virtues and psychological wellbeing, but it does so through acceptance-based rather than change-based methods. Because mindfulness training appears to have a broad range of outcomes, including enhancement of positive characteristics, its potential contribution to optimal human functioning warrants substantially increased attention. The chapter examines the literature supporting this view, discusses the processes or mechanisms through which this may occur, and suggests directions for future research.
The importance of language is increasingly acknowledged within social psychology. In this seminal book, a group of distinguished authors goes beyond general theory to address, from a research base, key issues in the interrelationship between language, interaction and social cognition. Their starting point is that the ways in which we perceive and, therefore, interact with others are structured by the language available to us, as a socially constructed system above and beyond individual minds. The relationship between language and social cognition is not, however, a fixed or unicausal one: linguistic terms are also generated in response to social and cultural development. The interplay is dialectical - a dialectic of the social. The authors explore this dialectic through such themes as: the use and power of category labels; trait-behaviour relations in social information processing; and interpersonal verbs and attribution. They examine the significance of language use in the persistence of stereotypes, and the links between syntactical reasoning processes and social cognition, as well as the impact of perspectivity. They consider the ways in which communication roles and context shape, and are shaped by, language. Language, Interaction and Social Cognition will be essential reading for all those in social psychology, psycholinguistics, linguistics and communication studies concerned with the role of language in interaction and social cognition.
Three studies tested basic assumptions derived from a theoretical model based on the dissociation of automatic and controlled processes involved in prejudice. Study 1 supported the model's assumption that high- and low-prejudice persons are equally knowledgeable of the cultural stereotype. The model suggests that the stereotype is automatically activated in the presence of a member (or some symbolic equivalent) of the stereotyped group and that low-prejudice responses require controlled inhibition of the automatically activated stereotype. Study 2, which examined the effects of automatic stereotype activation on the evaluation of ambiguous stereotype-relevant behaviors performed by a race-unspecified person, suggested that when subjects' ability to consciously monitor stereotype activation is precluded, both high- and low-prejudice subjects produce stereotype-congruent evaluations of ambiguous behaviors. Study 3 examined high- and low-prejudice subjects' responses in a consciously directed thought-listing task. Consistent with the model, only low-prejudice subjects inhibited the automatically activated stereotype-congruent thoughts and replaced them with thoughts reflecting equality and negations of the stereotype. The relation between stereotypes and prejudice and implications for prejudice reduction are discussed.
A model of interpersonal terms (verbs and adjectives) is reviewed in terms of the research on: (a) the systematic cognitive inferences these terms mediate, and (b) the implications of this model for social cognitive processes as it is applied in different domains such as attribution processes and intergroup relations.