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The Perceived Prayers of Others, Stress, and Change in Depressive Symptoms Over Time

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to see if believing that others are praying for them reduces the noxious effect of living in a rundown neighborhood on change in depressive symptoms among older people. Findings from a longitudinal nationwide survey of older adults reveal that the deleterious effect of living in a dilapidated neighborhood on depressive symptoms is significantly reduced for older individuals who believe others often pray for them. Further analyses suggest that the stress-buffering properties of beliefs about being prayed for by others remain virtually unchanged after emotional support from family members and close friends is taken into account. The findings have potentially important implications for studying church-based prayer groups as well as assessing the ways in which individuals might support each other during difficult times.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Imputation procedures can also be used to deal with missing values on the item that measures beliefs about being prayed for by others. The EM procedure was used for this purpose. The findings generated by the EM procedure were virtually identical to those that were derived with list wise deletion. For example, the imputed data indicate that beliefs about being prayed for by others buffers the effects of living in a rundown neighborhood on depressive symptoms (β = −.090; p < .005). Even so, results based on imputed data are not reported in this study because research with the EM technique reveals that it tends to produce biased standard errors (and therefore inaccurate tests of significance, see Graham 2009).

    Preliminary analyses were conducted to see if study participants with missing data on the measure that assesses beliefs about being prayed for by others differ from those who provide valid data. A binary variable was created that contrasts those who have missing values (scored 1) with those who have complete data (scored 0). This binary outcome was regressed on age, sex, marital status, education, the frequency of church attendance, how often study participants prayed when they were alone, and emotional support. The findings indicate that study participants with missing values attend church less often (odds ratio = .900; p < .01), pray less often when they are alone (odds ratio = .873; p = .01), and receive less emotional support from family members and friends (odds ratio = .899; p < .001). In contrast, statistically significant differences failed to emerge with respect to age, sex, marital status, and education.

  2. 2.

    The data were weighted so that information on age, sex, education and race matched the data in the most recent U.S. Census that was available at the time of the Wave 6 interviews. Groves et al. (2004) provide a detailed justification for using survey weights.

  3. 3.

    The bivariate correlation between beliefs about being prayed for by others and receiving emotional support from family members and close friends was .279 (p < .001). This suggests that people who are believe others are praying for them also tend to receive more emotional support from their social network members. However, the correlation between these two measures is not large enough to create statistical estimation problems when tests are performed to see if beliefs about being prayed for by others and emotional support offset the effects of living in a rundown neighborhood on depressive symptoms.

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Acknowledgments

This research was support by a grant from the National Institute on Aging (RO1 AG009221) and a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

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Correspondence to Neal Krause.

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Krause, N. The Perceived Prayers of Others, Stress, and Change in Depressive Symptoms Over Time. Rev Relig Res 53, 341–356 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-011-0016-3

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Keywords

  • Prayed for by others
  • Stress
  • Depression