Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Kirk Warren Brown

Second Advisor

Dr. Zewelanji Serpell

Third Advisor

Dr. Scott Vrana

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Joy-Gaba

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Chris Reina


Witnessing others in need can be felt similarly to experiencing it oneself (empathy) and motivates assistance of those in need (prosocial action). It is well-documented that empathy can occur automatically, but when those in need are not members of a social ingroup, empathy and prosocial action are undermined. One major ingroup—outgroup division in American and in other countries is based on race. Although most condemn racial discrimination, empathy and prosocial action are often lower, however unintentionally, in interracial contexts. In light of this empathy gap, it is important to identify psychological factors that could bolster empathy and prosocial action toward racial outgroup members in need. This dissertation asked whether mindfulness training – cultivating present-centered, receptive attention to one’s ongoing experiences –increases social sensitivity toward racial outgroup members, and is based on pilot research indicating that a brief mindfulness induction increased empathy and prosocial action in such contexts. Healthy, self-identifying White women were randomized to either a brief (4-day) mindfulness training or a structurally-equivalent sham mindfulness training. Pre-post electroencephalographic measures of empathy toward video stimuli of outgroup members expressing sadness was assessed via prefrontal alpha frequency oscillations (i.e., frontal alpha asymmetry). Pre-post scenario-based spontaneous prosocial action toward Black individuals in need, and pre-post 14-day ecological momentary assessment (EMA) of empathy and prosocial action toward Black individuals (and other races) were conducted. Mindfulness training was expected to increase EEG- and EMA-based empathy toward Black individuals in need, as well as increase prosocial action toward such individuals in scenario and daily life (EMA) contexts. Opposite of what was hypothesized, MT reduced post-intervention empathic simulation, relative to ST, as measured by frontal alpha asymmetry. Consistent with hypotheses, however, MT increased empathic concern for outgroup members expressing sadness during video stimuli observation, and increased post-intervention scenario-based prosocial action. However, the hypothesis that MT would predict increases in pre- to post-intervention daily EMA-based prosocial action was not supported. Providing somewhat convergent evidence, trait mindfulness predicted more frequent pre-intervention scenario-based and daily prosocial action toward outgroup members; trait mindfulness was not related to pre-intervention video-based EEG and self-reported empathy outcomes. Together these results suggest that mindfulness can enhance some indicators or empathy and prosocial behavior in interracial contexts. Mechanisms and implications of the findings are discussed.


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