Reducing Israeli-Jewish Pupils’ Outgroup Prejudice with a Mindfulness and Compassion-Based Social-Emotional Program

Published: 
2018

Source: Mindfulness (2018)

 

This study evaluated the effectiveness of a newly developed mindfulness and compassion-based social-emotional intervention, Call to Care-Israel (C2C-I), in reducing prejudiced attitudes of Israeli-Jewish youth toward the Israeli-Palestinian outgroup. The C2C-I combines social-cognitive and social-emotional driven mindfulness and compassion practice into one program to create a community of care and cultivate compassion toward the self and others.

Three hundred twenty-four Israeli-Jewish 3rd–5th graders from three elementary schools in central Israel were assigned by partial randomization to the C2C-I intervention or a wait-list control group. Outgroup prejudice was assessed by three measures—stereotyping, affective prejudice, and readiness for social contact—at pre- and post-intervention, as well as at a 6-month follow-up. Results showed that, compared to control group participants, those in the C2C-I intervention significantly reduced affective prejudice toward and negative stereotyping about the Israeli-Palestinian outgroup, while simultaneously increasing their readiness to engage in social contact with Israeli-Palestinian youth. Importantly, the significant effects found in the C2C-I group were maintained at the 6-month follow-up—a period that involved a violent escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—while further deterioration in intergroup attitudes emerged for the control group. High effect sizes for group differences in all prejudice measures emerged, further highlighting the robust impact of the C2C-I program. These results have significant implications for implementing C2C-I mindfulness and compassion-based practices in order to promote positive intergroup relations in areas characterized by ethnic tension and violent conflict.

The novel findings of this study demonstrate, in line with our hypotheses, that participation in an extended school-based mindfulness and compassion-based social-emotional program resulted in significant prejudice reduction immediately upon completion of the program—results that were maintained at a 6-month follow-up assessment. More specifically, compared to the pupils in the control group, Israeli-Jewish elementary school pupils in the C2C-I mindfulness and compassion program significantly reduced their expressions of negative feelings toward and negative stereotyping about the Israeli Palestinian outgroup, while simultaneously increasing their readiness and willingness to engage in social contact with Israeli-Palestinian youth. Notably, these changes reflect the impact of mindful and compassionate contemplation practices in a social-emotional program on reductions across three different manifestations of prejudice: cognition, emotion, and behavioral intent. Equally important, the significant effects were maintained in the 6-month follow-up among the pupils in C2C-I program.

In contrast, the opposite trend was observed among pupils in the wait-list control group who significantly increased negative stereotyping and affective prejudice toward the Israeli Palestinian outgroup and decreased their readiness to engage in social contact with the Israeli-Palestinian youth from the pre-test to the follow-up. This significant deterioration in the Israeli-Jewish control group pupils’ intergroup attitudes is likely related to the serious escalation in political violence (i.e., what has been named the “third Palestinian intifada”,) that took place around the same time as the follow-up assessment. Similar patterns of heightened intergroup tensions among Israeli-Jews and Israeli-Palestinians were observed in a previous study following the 2014 military operation, “Protective Edge”. This finding should not be underestimated as prolonged ethnic and violent conflict promulgates fear and hate, resulting in strongly held polarized views about members of the opposing group. Thus, the C2C-I and control groups’ results suggest a promising robustness of the C2C-I program in facilitating long term positive intergroup attitudes, even in the face of ongoing and violent political conflict.

The results of this study add not just to the literature on the positive outcomes of mindfulness and compassion practices for the self, but also to the still growing literature on greater social benefits as well (Condon et al. 2013; Lim et al. 2015; the Dalai Lama and Ekman 2008). Recently, a handful of studies have shown that the social benefits of mindfulness and compassion training extend to intergroup tolerance in terms of positive changes in implicit and explicit evaluations and biases (Hutcherson et al. 2008; Kang et al. 2014; Lueke and Gibson 2015, 2016), and in the prevention of ostracism (Ramsey and Jones 2015). This focus on the contribution of mindfulness and compassion training on social issues like intergroup relationships is a relatively recent advance in the contemplative field, and in addition to bringing these issues to the forefront of research in this area, our findings extend this work in very meaningful ways.

This study demonstrated that a mindfulness and compassion-based social-emotional training program can reduce prejudice in children. Social developmental psychologists have long argued that the time for intervention is in childhood, before prejudice and stereotypes become deeply entrenched (see Killen and Rutland 2011; Raabe and Beelmann 2011). Beyond this, C2C-I was implemented in the schools, not in the laboratory, thus demonstrating a higher degree of ecological validity. Furthermore, taking this work outside of the laboratory brought this intervention directly into the heart of a long-lasting and ongoing protracted conflict. The implications of conducting a mindfulness and compassionbased intervention in such a context reach far beyond the physical and psychological health of an individual, and instead carry the potential of challenging prevailing societal norms of political conflict and violence.

Updated: May. 23, 2018
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