This article reviews the empirical research on prayer and health and offers a research agenda to guide future studies. Though many people practice prayer and believe it affects their health, scientific evidence is limited. In keeping with a general increase in interest in spirituality and complementary and alternative treatments, prayer has garnered attention among a growing number of behavioral scientists. The effects of distant intercessory prayer are examined by meta-analysis and it is concluded that no discernable effects can be found. The literature regarding frequency of prayer, content of prayer, and prayer as a coping strategy is subsequently reviewed. Suggestions for future research include the conduct of experimental studies based on conceptual models that include precise operationally defined constructs, longitudinal investigations with proper measure of control variables, and increased use of ecological momentary assessment techniques.
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In considering prayer as a form of alternative medicine it is useful to distinguish between voluntary prayer initiated by patients and their families or friends versus prayer used by a health care provider as an active intervention. The ethics of the latter are a contentious topic that lie beyond the scope of this paper but others, most notably Richard Sloan (Sloan n.d.; Sloan et al. 1999) who argues for separation of prayer and medicine, have written extensively on this subject.
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An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10865-007-9120-9
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Masters, K.S., Spielmans, G.I. Prayer and Health: Review, Meta-Analysis, and Research Agenda. J Behav Med 30, 329–338 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-007-9106-7
- Complementary and alternative treatment