NEWS

White People Trained in Mindfulness More Likely to Help Black People in Staged Scenarios

white woman assisting black child

Jose Luis Pelaez / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • White people with mindfulness training were three times more likely to help a Black individual in staged scenarios.
  • With mindfulness skills, whites were more likely to help people of various races, but preferential treatment for whites remained.
  • Such findings demonstrate how much more work remains to be done to address white supremacy.

There is no shortage of resources on how to support communities of color but the work is far from done and white supremacy persists. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that whites with mindfulness training were 3 times more likely to help Black people in staged scenarios that followed.

This randomized controlled trial was conducted with 78 white women of various ages and found that participants with mindfulness meditation skills were 3 times more likely to help Black people in staged scenarios.

Research demonstrates that less than half the population of white Americans support Black Lives Matter, so greater efforts to address white supremacy are crucial for protecting the lives in Black communities.

Understanding the Research

This study began with the use of daily diaries by white participants to gauge how they would approach opportunities to help people, then were randomly assigned to either an intervention group for mindfulness training or a control group for breathing exercises.

Following the 4-day long intervention of either mindfulness or breathing exercises training, the mindfulness meditation training was found to predict more helping behavior towards Black people, of a woman dropping her pile of papers accidentally or another woman navigating the waiting room on crutches, whereby she leans on the wall in paid, but preferential treatment was still illustrated with white individuals by participants.

Researchers note that a predisposition to engage in mindful attention in daily functioning predicts help towards individuals of both the same race as participants and other races when it comes to strangers and acquaintances.

While this research holds promise for complementing other efforts that improve outcomes regarding the consequences of racial bias, limitations of this study include only white women participants, some self-report measures, and relatively short-term impact assessment, so these findings may not necessarily result in sustainable change over a long period of time.

In-Group Preferences Persist Among White Women

Brittany A. Johnson, LMHC, says, "The biggest takeaway from this study is that participants are more likely to stay in-group in terms of race."

Johnson explains, "The study showed that those who had received mindfulness training would help people from other racial backgrounds but that they were still more likely to stick to in-group. More research is needed as the study only included white women."

Brittany A. Johnson, LMHC

This research adds to the greater body by giving more insight into how white female clinicians may respond to people outside of their racial group.

— Brittany A. Johnson, LMHC

Continued discussions around how race impacts responses and relationships with people who are not in-group are needed, according to Johnson. "Those who received actual training have an increased chance of helping individuals outside of their group," she says.

Johnson explains, "This research adds to the greater body by giving more insight into how white female clinicians may respond to people outside of their racial group. It also provides additional support for the point that increased education reduces the chances of clinicians staying in-group."

Given that people of color often report feeling less understood by their white clinicians, Johnson notes that those who have not received additional training in models that explicitly discuss how race impacts clients may be ill-equipped with the necessary skills to address white supremacy.

Mindfulness May Help to Address White Supremacy

Neuroscience coach and clinical social worker, Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, CEAP, says, “A takeaway that readers should have is that practicing mindfulness has been proven to be beneficial in developing and deepening our awareness about our thoughts, feelings, and actions."

Weaver explains, "Having this awareness tends to modify our behavior in ways that align with our best selves. We are at our best when we do good and helping others is one of those ways that we feel good. Practicing mindfulness expands our vision and we unconsciously begin to look in the direction to which we are attracted."

Although the public may not understand this well, Weaver highlights the neuroscience behind practicing mindfulness. "The brain is designed to protect us and make us feel good," she says.

Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, CEAP

My personal practice of mindfulness has expanded my ability to be non-judgmental and self-compassionate. I have noticed that the more I extend these qualities to myself the more my personal and professional relationships with others improve.

— Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, CEAP

Weaver notes, "As humans, most of our behavior is habitual and we tend to have a limited view and are simply drawn to what is familiar. The practice of mindfulness helps us to expand our ability to connect with our inner selves while widening our outer vision. The more we see ourselves, the more we see others and opportunities to help."

By understanding that authentic mindfulness practices are the key ingredient to improving relationships, Weaver highlights that more research needs to be conducted to demonstrate the long-term benefits of practicing mindfulness. "Based on neuroscience, once our mind gets the positive reward from helping others it will always look for opportunities to experience that feeling again," she says.

Weaver explains, "My personal practice of mindfulness has expanded my ability to be non-judgmental and self-compassionate. I have noticed that the more I extend these qualities to myself the more my personal and professional relationships improve. I share this gift with my patients, with the goal of guiding them towards vibrating higher in their own lives."

What This Means For You

As this research study demonstrates, mindfulness meditation training may improve the helping behavior of white individuals towards Black people. Given that this intervention did not address the continued preferential treatment of white individuals, a great deal more work is necessary to remotely address centuries of white supremacy in the US. If you are a white person reading this, it should provide a timely reminder regarding the need for you to invest further in racial justice.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Berry D, Wall C, Tubbs J, Zeidan F, Brown K. Short-term training in mindfulness predicts helping behavior toward racial ingroup and outgroup membersSoc Psychol Personal Sci. 2021:194855062110530. doi:10.1177/19485506211053095

  2. Pew Research Center. Wide racial, ethnic and partisan gaps in support for Black Lives Matter.

  3. Psychotherapy Networker. White therapists, here's what your Black colleagues want you to know.

  4. Psychology Today. The neuroscience of giving.