Introduction

Persons of various religious belief systems believe that petitions (prayers) to a deity or deities
can lead to a deity or deities intervening in human affairs. While beliefs about what prayers can
accomplish and the mechanism for which prayers function differ, some religious persons believe that
intercessory prayer, prayer from one person directed toward a person at a distance, can help improve
the health of persons. While some believe that intercessory prayer is outside of the domain of scientific
investigation for various reasons, there is widespread disagreement regarding this matter and,
nevertheless, an array of studies have taken place investigating whether intercessory prayer has any
effect on health outcomes of humans.
Aviles et al. (2!) wanted to determine whether intercessory prayer would have a positive
effect on sub"ects with cardiovascular disease who were discharged from hospitals. #n a randomi$ed
trial, %&& coronary care patients would be placed into a group receiving intercessory prayer or a group
not receiving intercessory prayer. 'hose who had received intercessory prayer were prayed for at least
once a week for 2( weeks. )ub"ects were further divided into high*risk and low*risk groups based on
presence of diabetes, prior myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular disease, and other factors.
+esearchers declared certain ,end points, in their study including death, cardiac arrest,
rehospitali$ation, or an emergency department visit for cardiovascular disease. At the end of 2( weeks,
2-.(. of sub"ects in the intercessory prayer group reached an end point and 2&./. of people in the
control group reached an end point. #n the high*risk group, /!. in the prayer group and //./. in the
control group reached end points while !%. in the prayer group and 20.!. in the control group
reached end points. +esearchers concluded that intercessory prayer had no statistically significant effect
on medical outcomes for sub"ects.
1enson et al. (2-) recruited patients who were going to have coronary artery bypass graft
(2A13) surgery. !42 sub"ects out of /2&- eligible patients for the study decided to participate and
were placed into three random groups. 'he demographics of each randomi$ed group were very similar5
the mean age of each group was very similar, most were males, most were 2aucasian, most were not
current smokers, about half ever smoked, about half had a high school education or less, most patients
said they had a religious affiliation, the type of denomination was also similar throughout groups, and
most strongly agreed with the statement 6# believe in spiritual healing.7
3roup one received prayer from outside persons without knowing, but was told that the
religious groups contacted by the researchers may or may not be praying for them. 3roup two did not
receive prayer from outside persons, but was also uncertain about whether or not they were being
prayed for. 3roup three received prayer from outside persons and was informed that they would be
receiving prayer. Patients were prayed for for fourteen days by people who prayed anywhere from
thirty seconds a day to several hours from one to four times a day. +esearchers recorded complications
and deaths that had taken place amongst the patients during and after the study.
2omplications and death were similar across the three groups. Amongst patients in the group
who were uncertain about whether or not they were receiving prayer and did receive prayer, -2.
e8perienced complications. Amongst the patients who were uncertain about whether or not they were
receiving prayer and did not receive prayer, -!. e8perienced complications. -&. of the people who
were certain that they were receiving prayer and did receive prayer e8perienced complications.
+esearchers concluded that prayer had no statistically significant effect on people being prayed
for, however patients who were certain that they were being prayed for had a higher rate of
complications than patients who were uncertain.
1oelens et al. (2&) wanted to investigate the effect of direct contact person*to*person prayer
on depression, an8iety, positive emotions, and salivary cortisol levels. )ub"ects in the study, all !4 years
of age or older, met the criterion proposed by the 9):*#;*'+ for depressive disorder and were
recruited from medical physician offices. )ub"ects, symptoms were measured using various
measurement tools. (/ clients were split into two groups < one being a control group and one being an
intervention group. After serving as controls, 2! of the control sub"ects crossed*over into the
intervention group. After si8 prayer sessions for the intervention and crossed*over control group, no
prayer intervention would follow. 2lients were then evaluated using the measurement tools
administered before the prayer intervention. Prayers were administered by a non*denominational
2hristian minister who would, "oined by sub"ects, pray various form prayers, prayers releasing hurts,
and prayers of blessings. 'he first prayer session lasted & minutes. =ollowing sessions lasted (
minutes are were tailored to sub"ects, needs.
+esearchers concluded that findings of the study led to the conclusion that prayers significantly
lowered the levels of depression and an8iety while elevating the levels of optimism and spirituality in
sub"ects. Prayers, though, the researchers noted, had no effect on patients, cortisol levels.
2ontrada et al., (20) found !02 patients scheduled for heart surgery at a hospital in >ew
?ersey. Patients ranged from ages /2*44. 4!. of sub"ects were male and !&. of sub"ects were female.
4/.4. of the participants were 2aucasian, %.%. were African*American, 0.&. were Asian, 2.4. were
@ispanic, and .%. were other races. %(.4. of sub"ects were married, .%. were separated, (./. were
divorced, !2. were widowed, and 0.2. were never married. 'he mean years of education amongst
sub"ects was !/.- (three completed undergraduate semesters in college). -2.4. of sub"ects were
+oman 2atholic, 24.2. were Protestant, 2.4. were Aastern Brthodo8, 4.-. were ?ewish, 2.4. were
@indu, and 0.&. were of no religion.
+esearchers, Cuestionnaires contained statements such as 6@ow often do you attend religious
servicesD7 , 6@ow often do you privately pray or meditateD7 ,and 6# believe in a divine being who
watches over me and to whom # am accountable.7 Aach sub"ect also completed a 1eck 9epression
#nventory (19#), :ultidimensional )cale of Perceived )ocial )upport, and a +evised Eife Brientation
'est.
Although the freCuency of prayer had no effect on recovery, researchers found that sub"ects
with stronger religious beliefs had fewer surgical complications and shorter hospital stays, but more
freCuent religious attendance was associated with longer hospital stays. Affects of religious beliefs and
attendance on length of hospital stay were found to be stronger among women.
:asters (2-) argues that prayer studies lack theological or rational theoretical foundations
and produce findings that are not inrerpretable. 'he e8perimental methods of science, :asters notes,
renders science ill*eCuipped to study divine intervention. #ntercessory prayer studies, :asters says, are
a distraction from other work that should be performed in the areas of health and religion. @e further
writes that the scientific method is an inappropriate ill*eCuipped tool to investigate whether a deity
intervenes in human affairs e8plaining that science assumes the world is predictable and mechanistic
while it is a basic premise that 3od is not a physical entity5 :asters writes that natural processes are the
proper domain of science and supernatural processes are the proper domain of theology. :asters
further notes that, according to the 1ible, 3od,s ways are not known to humans, should not be
Cuestioned, and should not be tested. 'he 1ible also, he notes, warns people to not tempt, test, or
Cuestion 3od.
:athai and 1ourne (20) selected children attending mental health services with a mean age of
nine (with a range from 0*!0) and randomly assigned half of the children to a control group and
randomly assigned the other half of the children to an intervention prayer group without the knowledge
of the sub"ects. A group of si8 people prayed for the children in the prayer group and were blind to the
identity and condition of the children who were indicated by a numerical code. 'he sub"ects and their
families were unaware of the prayer so that positive effects related to positive e8pectations could not
confound the study. )ub"ects were given Cuestionnaires to ensure that they were still being treated, a
)trength and 9ifficulty Fuestionnaire ()9F), and a @ealth of the >ation Butcome )cales for 2hildren
and Adolescents (@o>B)2A) Cuestionnaire as follow*ups after three months (time one) and si8
months (time two).
+esearchers from the study report that there was no difference in the )9F scores from time one
to time two, but there was a reduction in @o>B)2A scores from time one to time two (there was no
statistically significant difference between the groups, though). 'he prayer and control groups were
compared at time one to ensure that there was no bias regarding group assignment. Prayer and control
groups did not significantly differ at time one on the mean )9F 'otal difficulty scores, which indicates
that the group selection was evenly dispersed and that sub"ects, scores did not confound the results. 'he
@o>B)2A and )9F results from the follow*ups were not statistically significant, thus the study did
not show that prayer produced additional benefits for patients who were in the prayer group when
compared to those in the control group.
+esearchers in the Palmer, Gaterndahl, and :organ*Gidd (20) study recruited sub"ects from
!4*44 years of age and placed them into a group receiving prayer and a group not receiving prayer.
)even Presbyterian churches interested in scientific studies were contacted by the researchers, and si8
agreed to participate. #nterested parishioners completed a twenty minute Cuestionnaire and a five*
minute one month follow*up Cuestionnaire. 'o diversify the sample si$e, researchers also recruited non*
church members who used the church facilities. :ost sub"ects were 2aucasian, married, and well*
educated. 3roup members had no significant demographic differences. 'hose who prayed for the
sub"ects were selected from a 2hristian retirement home and a local church prayer group. People who
prayed kept a prayer log and prayed for three minutes about two times a day.
Participants were told that the researchers were interested in studying the association between
health and religious behaviors and were not informed about the prayer component of the study during
the pre*Cuestionnaire briefing. )ub"ects completed a 2/*item Eikert*type response Cuestionnaire
composed of the :edical Butcomes )tudy )=*2 and religious and spirituality scales. After these
Cuestionnaires, sub"ects were asked to answer an open*ended Cuestion about a current difficult life
situation. )ub"ects rated their degree of concern about the life situation from ! (none) to -
(overwhelming) and then rated the degree to which they believed the situation could be resolved. #n a
follow*up survey after one month, sub"ects were asked to rate the degree to which the original problem
had been solved. Bf the !2 surveyed participants, /0 were not randomi$ed to a group because no life
problem was revealed or the problem was not rated as being of great concern. Hsing a random number
generator of odd and even numbers, sub"ects were randomi$ed into two groups and a coin was flipped
to determine which group received prayer and which did not.
After the prayer had concluded and sub"ects answered Cuestions on follow*up Cuestionnaires,
researchers found no statistically significant difference in problem resolution between the group that
was prayed for and the control group. Among secondary results, researchers discovered that a lower
belief in prayer yielded positive outcomes in the mental health domain and significantly worse
outcomes in the physical domain, although a higher belief yielded positive results for physical function.
1etter mental health scores were also found in members of the control group who had low belief in the
efficacy of prayer. +esearchers note that the 6power of prayer7 does not necessarily have anything to do
with supernatural forces and that individual belief factors are a critical component of prayer efficacy.
)ch"oedt et al. (2!!) utili$ed /( sub"ects, half of whom were devoted 2hristians and half of
whom were secular participants with no e8perience of practicing prayer and no belief in the healing
power of prayer, to measure the power of charisma speakers had on sub"ects. )ub"ects were told that
they were going to be participating in a study investigating the neural substrates of intercessory prayer
and received no mention of our particular interest in the effects of speakers, religious status. )ub"ects
were told ** before hearing prayers from speakers ** whether the speakers were non*2hristian,
2hristian, or 2hristians known for their healing powers although speakers were actually run*of*the*mill
2hristians whose prayers were randomly distributed into the three categories. )ub"ects then received
f:+# scans.
+esearachers concluded, after interpreting the f:+# scans, that the 2hristian sub"ects displayed
a significant increase in brain activity based on their assumptions about the praying speakers.
9ifferences in activity were found when comparing the low brain activity response elicited by the
speakers 2hristian sub"ects believed were non*2hristian to the high brain activity response elicited by
the speakers 2hristian sub"ects believed were known for their healing abilities.
Walach et al. (24) recuited 0& sub"ects with chronic fatigue syndrome to investigate the
effectiveness of distant healing. )ub"ects were assigned to an immediate treatment group or a deferred
treatment group. Bf the two groups assigned to immediate treatment, one was informed that they were
being healed and the other was not. 'wo further groups were assigned to deferred treatment. Bf the two
further groups, one was informed that they would have to wait si8 months for treatment and the other
was not. @ealers were from many different healing traditions utili$ing prayer or imagining the
transmission of ,healing energy,, ,light,, or ,healing power., +esearchers concluded that distant healing
had no significant effect on mental or physical health. Post*hoc analysis, the researchers note, suggests
that the most important clinical effects of distant healing may be related to patients, beliefs about
whether they received treatment.
A large amount of Americans are religious and believe that a god who can and does intervene in
human affairs via intercessory prayer e8ists. #ntercessory prayer, though, has been largely shown, when
implemented in studies, to not improve the health of humans. +esearchers in these studies recommend
that further research in this area be performed considering that a large body of research does not e8ist
in this area. 'he present research is designed to e8amine the effectiveness of intercessory prayer.
:ethod
Subjects
)ub"ects will be recruited from populations of cancer patients in cancer treatment centers across
the Aast coast of the Hnited )tates. =liers will be placed throughout treatment centers notifying patients
of a new intervention in which they can voluntarily participate. 9ue to the nature of cancer treatment
centers, the population will be specific (limited to hospitali$ed persons, persons with varying grades of
cancer, and a higher median age when compared with the general population).
Materials
)ub"ects will be evaluated according to the )pirituality )cale ())) designed by 9elaney in 2/.
'he )) is a 2/*item instrument measuring the human spiritual dimension including beliefs, intuitions,
lifestyle choices, practices, and rituals. 9elaney views spirituality as a tri*dimensional phenomenon
which includes self*discovery (the search for meaning), the e8perience of relationships, and eco*
awareness (a connection to the environment and cosmos). 'he )) is designed to assess spirituality in a
manner that may be used to guide spiritual interventions.
)ub"ects will also be evaluated according to the AB+'2 FEF*2/ (version /) Cuestionnaire
which is designed to assess the Cuality of life of cancer patients. 'his Cuestionnaire will ask sub"ects
Cuestions such as 69o you need to stay in bed or a chair during the dayD7 and 69o you have any
trouble taking a long walkD7 and allow patients to respond from a scale of ! (not at all) to 0 (very
much). Also included in this Cuestionnaire are two Cuestions < 6how would you rate your overall health
during the past weekD7 and 6@ow would you rate your overall Cuality of life during the past weekD7 <
in which sub"ects can respond from a scale of ! (very poor) to % (e8cellent).
Procedure
)ub"ects will be told and led to believe that they will be randomi$ed into two different groups
receiving intercessory prayer. )ub"ects will then be randomi$ed into two groups, unbeknownst to them,
one which will receive intercessory prayer and one which will not be receiving intercessory prayer.
)ub"ects will, after randomi$ation, before any intercessory prayer starts, be evaluated according to the
)pirituality )cale and the AB+'2 FEF*2/ (version /) Cuestionnaire. #ntercessory prayer will
commence at a rate of one day a week, at an interval of ten minutes per session, for twelve weeks. At
each three week point following the first Cuestionnaire evaluations, sub"ects will again be evaluated
according to the )pirituality )cale and the AB+'2 FEF*2/ Cuestionnaire.
'en intercessors will be recruited from church congregations in 2alifornia (in order to avoid
accidental contact between the intercessors and cancer center treatment patients) via announcements in
church bulletins and will, after recruitment, be instructed to pray and keep prayer "ournals. #ntercessors
will be given the first name and last initial of the cancer patients.
Results
)ub"ects evaluated according to the AB+'2 FEF*2/ Cuestionnaire < when comparing the
group receiving intercessory prayer and the group not receiving intercessory prayer < demonstrated no
statistically significant differences despite the implementation of intercessory prayer in this study5 a
comparison of scores on the AB+'2 FEF*2/ Cuestionnaire for those who received intercessory
prayer to those who did not receive intercessory prayer did not yield statistically significant results.
Additionally, sub"ects in both groups who scored high on the )pirituality )cale < when
compared to sub"ects of both groups who scored low on the )pirituality )cale < had similar results on
the AB+'2 FEF*2/ Cuestionnaire.
Discussion
)imilar to results in previous studies e8amining the implementation of intercessory prayer in
medical settings, this research coheres with the conclusion researchers often draw which is that
intercessory prayer has no statistically significant effect on sub"ects when considering improvement
after surgery, impact on surgery, Cuality of recovery, etc. #n this study, though, belief in the power of
prayer, a deity or force which intervenes in human affairs, etc. < as gauged by the )pirituality )cale <
was not associated with improvement in Cuality of life. Previous research shows that e8pectation may
have something to do with recovery regardless of whether the mechanism (intercessory prayer, for
instance) is efficacious or not.
'his study has several limitations in which future researchers can consider in order to improve
their studies. 'hree groups do not e8ist in this study. =or instance, previous studies involving
intercessory prayer have groups which are not informed of intercessory prayer and do not receive
intercessory prayer. 'he population of this study was not very diverse and was largely geographically
limited (although some sub"ects was not from the Aast 2oast). Persons in different continents,
especially those with beliefs associated non*monotheistic religions, would allow for a better diversity in
regards to religious belief and many other factors.
+esearchers and readers of studies involving intercessory prayer, as some researchers and
commentators warn, should be wary of formulating theological conclusions based on the outcomes of
these studies. A lack of improvement in the Cuality of life of medical patients during and after surgery
for e8ample, should not lead one to the wide conclusion that no deities e8ist or that intercessory prayer
has no efficacy on a global scale. Eikewise, people who receive intercessory prayer and happen to show
statistically significant results when compared to those who did not may improve because of several
factors apart from intercessory prayer such as e8pectation that intercessory prayer will heal them, stress
reduction, etc. A meta*analysis showing that intercessory prayer largely has no effect in studies should
lead researchers to conclude "ust that.

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