In a new study, a brief audio-guided meditation on the topic of friendship reduced emotional polarization between people on the ‘Remain’ versus ‘Leave’ side of the UK’s Brexit referendum. Otto Simonsson of Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE May 11, 2022.
In a national referendum in 2016, the British electorate voted for the UK to leave the European Union. Since then, research has identified significant levels of affective polarization between ‘stayers’ and ‘leavers’. Previous research has also shown that a brief friendship meditation can reduce emotional polarization between Democrats and Republicans in the US, but it’s unclear whether similar effects could extend to the UK.
Now, Simonsson and his colleagues have explored the potential effects of meditation in a study of 501 Remainers and 433 Leavers. They randomly assigned each participant to listen to one of two 10-minute audio recordings. One was an audio-guided friendship meditation that asked listeners to bring friendship and kindness to themselves and others. The other presented more educational information on meditation. The researchers then assessed the participants’ levels of affective polarization, that is, the gap between positive feelings towards one’s own political group and negative feelings towards the other.
Statistical analysis of the results revealed lower levels of affective polarization for people who listened to the meditation compared to those who listened to the informative recording. Additional questions answered by participants suggested that the underlying psychological mechanism for this effect may involve an increase in the perception of commonalities between the sides for those who listened to the meditation.
These findings suggest that an audio-guided friendship meditation might help reinforce perceived commonalities between opposing political groups, and thus reduce affective polarization. Such a strategy could be used in public campaigns in the UK to tackle the polarization between stayers and leavers, the authors suggest.
The authors also suggest various areas for future research, such as whether popular meditation-based apps can impact affective polarization, and the short- and long-term effects of meditation on affective polarization.
The authors add, “The results of this study build on previous findings and provide further support for the potential benefits of meditation in policy contexts.”
In your coverage, please use this URL to provide access to the article available for free in PLOS ONE: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0267493
Quote: Simonsson O, Goldberg SB, Marks J, Yan L, Narayanan J (2022) Bridging the Gap (Brexit): Effects of Brief Friendship Meditation on Affective Polarization. PLoS ONE 17(5): e0267493. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0267493
Author countries: Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, Singapore
Funding: This study was funded by the Singapore Ministry of Education Tier 1 University Research Fund (Q1 17/2019/115) and the National University of Singapore JN Research Fund. OS was supported by the Sweden-America Foundation. SG was supported by a grant (K23AT010879) from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
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Bridging the Gap (Brexit): Effects of a Brief Friendly Meditation on Affective Polarization
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Conflict of Interest Statement
The authors have declared that there is no conflict of interest.
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