Many of us have seen the harmful effect of stereotypes.
In fact, some stereotypes are so pernicious, they can actually hinder performance. When people are worried about being stereotyped – like “girls are bad at math” – they become more anxious, affecting results in school, on the job, or in other situations.
This is stereotype threat, first described by social psychologist Claude Steele, Ph.D., while he was a professor at the University of Michigan.
But here’s a thought: if stereotypes cause anxiety, then couldn’t mindfulness help prevent some of the negative effect of stereotypes?
Researchers at the University of Kent in the U.K. asked that exact question.
Dr. Ulrich Weger and his colleagues randomly assigned 71 female undergraduates to 4 treatment groups.
First, everyone in the study completed a math test, which involved general questions like dividing fractions or finding the mean of a set of numbers.
Next, 2 groups received a 5-minute audio instruction on how to practice mindfulness while eating 2 raisins. We’ll call them the mindfulness treatment groups.
Meanwhile, researchers asked students in the other two groups to simply eat 2 raisins in 5 minutes. These groups served as a control.
Then, everyone took the math test again.
But before taking the test, one control group and one mindfulness treatment group were told that they were about to take part in a test to explore “why males are better than females in math.”
Researchers then looked at the difference between the pre- and post- tests for each group.
And what did they find?
The group that received the mindfulness training actually performed significantly better on the second test – even after being given the stereotype threat. Meanwhile, the control group receiving the stereotype performed worse on the second test.
The groups that received no stereotype threat performed equally well on the pre- and post-tests.
These findings are remarkable because they suggest that mindfulness training actually prevents some of the negative effect of discrimination.
While we have to be careful not to generalize beyond gender discrimination, it would be interesting to conduct more research to see whether mindfulness helps with other forms of discrimination as well – such as racial or class discrimination.
If you’d like to read the full study, it was published in Consciousness and Cognition.
Of course, to see these benefits with your clients, you need to be able to introduce mindfulness effectively.
Have you ever used mindfulness to help clients deal with discrimination at school, in the workplace, or elsewhere in their lives? Please leave a comment below.