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Ten minutes’ of meditation can help Brexit remainers and leavers get along ©Getty Images
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Ten minutes of meditation could help Brexit remainers and leavers get along

Published: 11th May, 2022 at 19:00
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Meditation could be used in public campaigns by the UK government to help ease any lingering tensions, the researchers say.

Having issues seeing eye-to-eye with your friends and family thanks to disagreements over Brexit? Try meditating.

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Listening to a ten-minute befriending-themed meditation session can reduce negative feelings to those on the other side of the leave/remain debate, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden have found.

The team gathered together nearly 1,000 volunteers from the UK - 501 who voted to remain in the 2016 European membership referendum and 433 who voted to leave. They had each of them listen to one of two ten-minute audio recordings.

One of the recordings was a 'befriending meditation' designed to encourage listeners to express feelings of friendship and kindness to themselves and to others, while the other featured general information about meditation.

The team then asked the volunteers a series of questions designed to assess their level of affective polarisation - a measure of the difference between positive in-group bias towards the political party someone supports and negative out-group bias towards other parties.

They found much lower levels of affective polarisation in volunteers that had listened to the befriending meditation.

"We had already found similar results in another study with US adults who identified as Democrats or Republicans, but it was difficult to know whether the findings would be replicated in the UK context," said study author Otto Simonsson, a postdoctoral researcher based at the Karolinska Institutet.

"It was a positive surprise to see that the results were replicated."

The answers to the questions asked suggest that the volunteers who listened to the befriending meditation may have experienced a heightened sense of commonality with those on the other side of the Brexit argument, the researchers say.

"The findings in our study suggest that the effects on affective polarisation were mediated by perceived commonality with the political out-group," said Simonsson.

"It is possible that a brief befriending meditation can increase a sense of connectedness with others, even with people from opposing political parties. That, in turn, seems to reduce affective polarisation."

The study suggests that befriending meditation could be used in public campaigns by the UK government to help ease tensions between leavers and remainers, the researchers say.

"I don't think there's a silver bullet for affective polarisation, but certain types of meditation can hopefully play an important role in reducing tensions between political groups," said Simonsson.

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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Science Focus Podcast.

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