Professor Published on Topic of Mindfulness, Interracial Interactions
Cal State San Marcos psychology professor Daniel Berry has written a manuscript on the intersection of mindfulness meditation and interracial social interactions that has been published in the academic journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The study, titled “Short-Term Training in Mindfulness Predicts Helping Behavior toward Racial Ingroup and Outgroup Members,” is the sixth peer-reviewed publication by Berry, but the first in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Berry began the research in 2014 when he was a doctoral student in general experimental psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and completed data collection in 2017, just before he was hired as an assistant professor at CSUSM. He runs the Social and Affective Psychophysiology (SAP) Lab, which studies how people respond to others in need and show kindness to one another.
“This paper is special to me because it was part of my dissertation research toward my Ph.D.,” Berry said. “As director of the SAP Lab, I’ve worked to get this paper published since arriving at CSUSM.”
Berry’s study, which he undertook with two student assistants, explored whether practicing mindfulness meditation increases acts of kindness in interracial social interactions. Mindfulness is a self-regulation skill that entails directing one’s attention to present experiences.
In the experiment, self-identifying white participants were randomly assigned to compete a four-day mindfulness mediation training or a sham meditation training. Mindfulness trainees were taught focused breathing exercises that rested their attention on the sensations of breathing and thoughts and feelings that came to mind. Sham meditation trainees were led to believe that they were receiving a real mindfulness mediation and completed breathing exercises that did not involve mindfulness.
Before and after the training, participants were put into staged lab scenarios — helping a racial outgroup member pick up a stack of dropped papers or offering their seat to a racial outgroup member on crutches. The participants weren’t aware that their social behaviors were being studied. They also completed pre- and post-intervention daily diaries about their social behaviors with strangers and acquaintances.
Berry and his team found that mindfulness trainees were three times as likely to help racial outgroup members in the staged scenarios as compared to sham meditation trainees. Mindfulness trainees also reported more helping behaviors toward racial ingroup and outgroup members in their daily diaries.
The results included two important qualifiers. First, mindfulness training only increased helping behavior among people who were less predisposed to experience mindfulness in daily life. Second, participants in both trainings reported helping racial ingroup members more than outgroup members. Because helping behavior was preferentially given to racial ingroup members, the study recommends mindfulness meditation to complement existing efforts to reduce preferential helping.