Are There Demonstrable Effects of Distant Intercessory Prayer? A Meta-Analytic Review

Department of Psychology, Syracuse University, NY 13244-2340, USA.
Annals of Behavioral Medicine (Impact Factor: 4.2). 09/2006; 32(1):21-6. DOI: 10.1207/s15324796abm3201_3
Source: PubMed


The use of alternative treatments for illness is common in the United States. Practitioners of these interventions find them compatible with personal philosophies. Consequently, distant intercessory prayer (IP) for healing is one of the most commonly practiced alternative interventions and has recently become the topic of scientific scrutiny.
This study was designed to provide a current meta-analytic review of the effects of IP and to assess the impact of potential moderator variables.
A random effects model was adopted. Outcomes across dependent measures within each study were pooled to arrive at one omnibus effect size. These were combined to generate the overall effect size. A test of homogeneity and examination of several potential moderator variables was conducted.
Fourteen studies were included in the meta-analysis yielding an overall effect size of g = .100 that did not differ from zero. When one controversial study was removed, the effect size reduced to g = .012. No moderator variables significantly influenced results.
There is no scientifically discernable effect for IP as assessed in controlled studies. Given that the IP literature lacks a theoretical or theological base and has failed to produce significant findings in controlled trials, we recommend that further resources not be allocated to this line of research.

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    • "We decided not to include some studies on intercessory prayer given its major and intractable methodological flaw, namely, that receipt of prayer cannot be controlled and therefore it is impossible to ascertain to what degree individuals in the control groups were actually the recipients of the “intervention” from loved ones, family members, clergy, or others, besides the research intercessors. For further reading, consult the recommended literature [24]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Spiritism is the third most common religion in Brazil, and its therapies have been used by millions worldwide. These therapies are based on therapeutic resources including prayer, laying on of hands, fluidotherapy (magnetized water), charity/volunteering, spirit education/moral values, and disobsession (spirit release therapy). This paper presents a systematic review of the current literature on the relationship among health outcomes and 6 predictors: prayer, laying on of hands, magnetized/fluidic water, charity/volunteering, spirit education (virtuous life and positive affect), and spirit release therapy. All articles were analyzed according to inclusion/exclusion criteria, Newcastle-Ottawa and Jadad score. At present, there is moderate to strong evidence that volunteering and positive affect are linked to better health outcomes. Furthermore, laying on of hands, virtuous life, and praying for oneself also seem to be associated to positive findings. Nevertheless, there is a lack of studies on magnetized water and spirit release therapy. In summary, science is indirectly demonstrating that some of these therapies can be associated to better health outcomes and that other therapies have been overlooked or poorly investigated. Further studies in this field could contribute to the disciplines of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by investigating the relationship between body, mind, and soul/spirit.
    Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 05/2011; 2011(3):835945. DOI:10.1155/2011/835945 · 1.88 Impact Factor
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    • "Bluemke, & Unkelbach, 2009; Martin, 1986; Sparrow & Wegner, 2006). Together, these findings suggest that the role of priming processes may be limited in everyday religious behavior, given that many religious practices require the conscious and active involvement of individuals. "
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    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 03/2011; 37(6):830-7. DOI:10.1177/0146167211402215 · 2.52 Impact Factor
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    • "And the opposite stance appears to have somewhat muddled the research on the effects of intercessory prayer. The first reports of positive effects in controlled clinical trials led several researchers enthusiastically to conclude that the received " paradigms " had been refuted, whereas, in fact, subsequent studies on the alleged phenomenon have not been able to reproduce the initial findings (Masters et al., 2006). Thus, further inquiry, both experimental and theoretical, is needed before sound conclusions can be drawn. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Scientific research on controversial subjects, such as spirituality-and-health, raises several issues about scientific activity that should be properly clarified for an adequate conduction of the investigations. Objectives: To highlight some topics of philosophy of science that can be useful in the exploration of unknown, or poorly known, aspects of reality. Methods: By reviewing briefly the concepts of paradigm, normal science and scientific revolution, introduced by Thomas Kuhn, we discuss a set of criteria for evaluating scientific hypotheses, and present some general epistemological guidelines for the scientific exploration of new fields. Results: Scientific activity should be based on theories exhibiting empirical adequacy, falseability, predictive accuracy, broadness of scope, simplicity, theoretical integration, theoretical ordering, and capacity to predict new kinds of phenomena. The proposed guidelines are: to take experimental findings seriously, even when they do not fit into the current paradigm; to search for a theory capable of guiding investigation; to avoid both the dogmatic rejection and the hasty acceptance of new hypotheses; and, in theory evaluation, to take care in not attributing undue value to the context in which the theory was first conceived, or to the authority of the persons who profess or reject it. Conclusion: The scientific exploration of new areas is rendered more fruitful by a thorough understanding of the nature of scientific activity, specially of what Kuhn has called "extraordinary science" (in contrast with "normal science").
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