Wednesday, 23 March 2016

What Science says about the effect of Prayers

Clay Routledge Ph.D.

Back in 2014 I posted a story that you can see here about the scientifically-tested benefits of prayer. I have recently received requests to provide some more information on these studies so here are some links to the scientific articles and some updates on research.

The first benefit I discussed was self-control. Prayer appears to help boost people’s will power, making it easier for them to exercise self-control. That research can be found here (link is external).

Next, I discussed evidence that prayer makes people nicer. Across multiple experiments, researchers found that having participants pray for someone reduced aggressive responses to being angered or provoked. This research suggests that prayer may be a good anger management tactic. Those studies can be found here (link is external).

Prayer similarly makes it easier for people to forgive. Researchers found that having participants pray for romantic partners and friends made those individuals more likely to forgive their partners and friends. This work can be found here (link is external) and is consistent with other research suggesting that prayer improves romantic relationships. That work can be found here (link is external).

The next benefit I discussed is also relevant for romantic relationships. Researchers found that having couples pray together increased both feelings of unity and trust and did so more than having couples talk about positive experiences. This work suggests that prayer is more than just an emotionally positive experience. It helps bring couples together. More about this research can be found here (link is external).

Finally, I talked about prayer as a way to cope with stress. There is quite a bit of research focused on the different ways that people use prayer to cope with a variety of psychological and physical health challenges. Research is also discovering how the content of a prayer matters. For instance, prayer that is focused on showing thankfulness and/or getting closer to God has a positive effect on mental well-being. Prayer that is focused on asking God for something does not positively influence well-being and may even harm it. That work can be found here (link is external).

In all, researchers continue to explore the power of prayer. Over 50% of Americans say they pray every day and many more pray at least once a week. Though scientists can't tell people whether or not God hears their prayers, they can help them understand the measurable benefits they receive from praying.