Listen Live
Stone Soul 2024
Praise 104.7 Featured Video


The power of prayer has long been controversial, but a new study in a leading psychological journal finds some of the first scientific evidence that it truly works – at least on the person doing the praying.

While previous studies have looked largely at the people being prayed for, investigators flipped the research model to examine those who personally engage in the religious practice. They found that even a single prayer for a loved one led to increased self-reported willingness to be forgiving of that person.

Though the research leaves open the possibility of divine intervention, investigators don’t claim any “miraculous event.” They instead focus on scientifically quantifiable factors, such as prayer’s ability to prime a more selfless state of mind. “This is not an attempt to proselytize; our position is one of absolute neutrality,” says study co-author Frank Fincham, a world expert on relationship science. “What seems to be operative here is that people experience a selfless love when they pray; they appear to be connecting more with humanity and feeling more positively toward humanity as a whole. That’s what leads them to be more willing to forgive.”

The new study, published in the journal Psychological Science, draws data from 119 people over two experiments.

In the first, participants assigned to say a single prayer for their romantic partner reported a greater willingness to be forgiving of that person than did participants who were asked to describe their partner to a recording device “as if they were (talking) to a parent.”

The second study was more revealing, with participants – all of whom were comfortable with prayer – split into three groups: those asked to pray for a friend, those asked to pray about any topic, and those asked to think positive thoughts about a friend every day for four weeks.

People in the first group were much more likely to be forgiving of that friend than those in either of the latter two groups, which notably showed no significant differences between them. The first group also expressed more “selfless concern” during the testing period.

Fincham, director of the Family Institute at Florida State University, says the findings suggest focused prayer can act as insulation, protecting both platonic and romantic relationships from drawn-out conflict by helping regulate emotion.

While Fincham says religious communities are “overjoyed” at the findings, critics such as Richard P. Sloan – author of Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine – are skeptical that prayer can, or even should, be subjected to scientific scrutiny.

“There’s been this tendency to try to justify religious ritual and spiritual practices based on their effectiveness … It’s a ridiculous trivialization,” says Sloan, a professor of behavioural medicine in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. “They’re making prayer into some sort of spiritual vending machine, where you deposit something in it and you get a desired outcome.”