Our decision making is often biased in favor of benefit to ourselves. When categorizing whether possessions belong to us or someone else, we tend to be more accurate and make the decision more rapidly when the possessions are our own. This experimental result has been found so often that some researchers believe self-prioritizing is an inevitable part of decision-making. Interventions that reduce ego-involvement may reduce this type of self-bias.
In two separate experiments, Golubickis et al. [Psychonomic Bulletin and Review] tested whether a brief mindfulness meditation could reduce or eliminate decision-making self-bias compared to a control intervention.
In the first experiment, the researchers randomly assigned 160 undergraduates (83% female; average age = 22 years) to a brief mindfulness meditation or a control group. Participants accessed the experiment through an internet web portal. Once on the website, participants engaged in a 5-minute pre-recorded guided exercise. The mindfulness group was instructed to attend to their breathing non-judgmentally and to disidentify with thoughts. The control group was instructed to allow their minds to wander and immerse themselves in their thoughts, emotions, and memories.
After the guided exercises, participants were shown images on the computer of pens and pencils. Half of each study group was instructed to think of the pencils as their own and the pens as belonging to a friend. The other half of each study group was told to think of the pencils as their own and the pens as belonging to a friend. Participants were then shown 200 images of pens and pencils for 100 milliseconds each and asked to indicate whether each object was their own or belonged to the friend by pushing keyboard keys.
The second experiment was identical to the first, except the control group was assigned a different task. Participants were 160 undergraduates (74% female; average age = 22 years). In this study, the study control group was given 5 minutes to solve a visual puzzle task which involved constructing shapes out of polygons. This problem-solving task was selected by the researchers to rule out the possibility that the control group task in the first study may have inadvertently increased self-focused ego involvement.
Control groups in both studies were significantly more accurate in identifying items belonging to themselves than those belonging to friends. They also had quicker reaction times to their own objects as opposed to objects belonging to friends. Conversely, the mindfulness group responded to self-identified and other-identified items with equal accuracy and speed.
The researchers subsequently performed a computer modeling drift diffusion analysis. This type of analysis is designed to sort out whether study group differences are due to differences in processing stimulus information or due to differences in preparing to respond. Computer modeling in this way suggested the mindfulness group was more cautious about making a response about ownership, needed more information before deciding, and more quickly absorbed information about the pens and pencils.
This study shows a brief web-based guided mindfulness meditation can reduce self-bias in categorizing possessions as belonging to oneself. Thus, it supports the idea that mindfulness helps reduce certain types of ego-bias in cognitive processing related to ownership of inexpensive items.
Golubickis, M., Tan, L. B. G., Saini, S., Catterall, K., Morozovaite, A., Khasa, S., & Macrae, C. N. (2022). Knock yourself out: Brief mindfulness-based meditation eliminates self-prioritization. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
Link to study