We’re All Biased. Here’s How Meditation May Help.

By engaging in practices that increase awareness, focus on our similarities, and develop care and kindness, writes Mind & Life Institute Science Director Wendy Hasenkamp, we might also be loosening the hold of implicit bias.

Illustration by Edmon de Haro

It seems reasonable to think that, if we believe firmly that people of all racial identities should be treated equally, we won’t perpetuate racial bias. Unfortunately, our consciously held beliefs may not always align with our mental and behavioral patterns. Society, culture, media, and power structures can feed us subtle (and not-so-subtle) racist messages, and these messages, repeated over time, create associations in our minds that instill prejudice without us realizing it—even if we don’t believe these ideas consciously. This is known as “implicit bias.” We can work toward racial equity and justice through active engagement in our communities, and also in ourselves—and when we do, we need to be aware of, and work to shift, our implicit associations.

Studying Implicit Bias

A tool scientists use to study unconscious biases is the Implicit Association Test (IAT), designed to measure the strength of association between concepts in memory. In this computerized test, participants are asked to categorize two sets of stimuli as fast as possible according to the instructions. To probe racial bias, one must assign Black or white faces into positive or negative categories. The idea is that if someone has an implicit bias against Black…