Stereotyping and its Possible Association with Aspects of Mindfulness and Multicultural Counseling Competence in Graduate Students in Mental Health Fields
Counselors are tasked with developing an understanding of members of diverse groups and creating therapeutic relationships with them. However, human tendencies towards implicit biases and stereotyping towards groups can interfere with one’s ability to understand and connect with individuals from those groups. The counseling field recognizes the importance of avoiding the imposition of personal attitudes and beliefs onto clients, and many in the field are interested in what new understanding neuroscience can offer counselors. In this context, the present study hypothesized that graduate students in mental health fields would show neural and behavioral indicators of stereotype activation towards black men, black women, white men, and white women. A computerized priming experiment with an implicit design was used to detect a neural marker (N400 effect) and a behavioral marker (reaction time effect) of stereotype activation towards these groups. Based on theory and previous research, two factors were hypothesized to be associated with less stereotype activation—mindful observing (an aspect of mindfulness) and multicultural awareness (an aspect of multicultural counseling competence). The hypothesis that graduate students in mental health fields would show indicators of stereotyping was partially supported, as the hypothesized N400 and reaction time effects indicative of stereotyping were found towards black men and white women. The hypotheses that mindful observing and multicultural awareness would relate to stereotype activation were not supported, as these factors were not shown to relate to the stereotyping effects towards black men and white women. Unexpected findings were that participants showed an effect in the opposite direction of that indicative of stereotyping towards white men in the reaction time data. Additionally, across all experimental conditions those high in multicultural awareness also showed this opposite reaction time effect. Counselor educators, counselors-in-training, and practitioners should use this study’s findings to reflect deeply on biases and stereotyping that could unknowingly influence work with clients if such biases and stereotypes are not acknowledged. The findings should also inform future studies of intersectional (rather than strictly unidimensional) stereotype activation. This conception of stereotyping is useful in that it reflects the diverse cultural world in which stereotypes and biases emerge.