Science Attempts to Unravel the Psychological Benefits of Prayer

Research supports the existence of the mysterious mind-soul connection.

Americans are turning to prayer during the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the Pew Research Center reported that in a survey, 55% of U.S. adults said they had prayed for an end to the spread of coronavirus. In another Pew survey from April, one quarter of U.S. adults (24%) reported that their faith has become stronger because of the coronavirus pandemic, while just 2% said that their faith has become weaker.

While Americans who prayed daily prior to the COVID-19 crisis have turned to prayer during the outbreak, so too have those who seldom or never pray. Even people who didn't belong to any religion have started praying.

"People often turn to prayer in situations where they experience intense negative feelings, such as anger, grief or fear," Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at The Ohio State University, explained to CNN. "All of these things are common during a pandemic. People also pray when they feel like something is out of their control, and they need help from a 'higher power.'"

While research on the health benefits of prayer is limited, science has shown that it might aid in reducing stress, loneliness, and fear. According to a 2019 study, active members of a religious community are more likely to describe themselves as "very happy" than those without strong religious ties. Prayer has also been shown to reduce anger and aggression.

"Rituals in general serve a calming function," Ryan Bremner, an associate professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, told CNN. "They distract the mind which might otherwise go down one of those rabbit holes of useless worry, and they give us a sense of influence or control over something that may not be ultimately controllable."

"Prayer may help people see situations 'in a new light' or from a different perspective," Bushman added.

For Carol Kochon, who leaned heavily on her Christian faith during her husband's 42-day hospitalization for COVID-19, prayer wasn't about changing God's mind.

"It calmed me at moments. ... I think it centered me back again and reminded me that I was not in charge," she recalled to CNN. "God was in control of this before it happened."

"I know it's a two-way conversation," Kochon continued. "I really felt the peace of God telling me that I wasn't even supposed to worry about that. So, I did not worry. I'm usually a planner, but I knew that God had a plan."

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