Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review

Abstract

Background: 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.Purpose: 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.Methods: 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.Results: 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.Conclusions: 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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. (1)

    Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R:CDC Advance Data Report#343:Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002. Washington, DC: National Center for Complimentary And Alternative Medicine, 2002.

    Google Scholar 

  2. (2)

    Astin JA: Why patients use alternative medicine: Results of a national study.Journal of the American Medical Association. 1998,279:1548–1553.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. (3)

    Krucoff MW, Crater SW, Gallup D, et al.: Music, imagery, touch, and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: The Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II randomized study.The Lancet. 2005,366:211–217.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. (4)

    Powell LH, Shahabi L, Thoresen CE: Religion and spirituality: Linkages to physical health.American Psychologist. 2003,58:36–52.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. (5)

    Sloan RP:Field analysis of the literature on religion, spirituality, and health. Retrieved July 2005 from http://www.metanexus. net/tarp

  6. (6)

    Roberts L, Ahmed I, Hall S: Intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health.The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Reviews 2000. Article No. CD000368. Retrieved July 2005 from http://www.mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/ clsysrev/articles/CD000368/frame.html

  7. (7)

    Astin JA, Harkness E, Ernst E: The efficacy of “distant healing”: A systematic review of randomized trials.Annals of Internal Medicine. 2000,132:903–910.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. (8)

    Ernst E: Distant healing—An “update” of a systematic review.Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift. 2003,115:241–245.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. (9)

    Townsend M, Kladder V, Ayele H, Mulligan T: Systematic review of clinical trials examining the effects of religion on health.Southern Medical Journal. 2002,95:1429–1434.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. (10)

    Leibovici L: Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection: randomized controlled trial.British Medical Journal. 2001,323:1450–1451.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. (11)

    Hedges LV, Olkin I:Statistical Methods for Meta-Analysis. San Diego, CA: Academic, 1985. 26

    Google Scholar 

  12. (12)

    Hasselblad V, Hedges LV: Meta-analysis of screening and diagnostic tests.Psychological Bulletin. 1995,17:167–178.

    Google Scholar 

  13. (13)

    Biostat:Comprehensive Meta-Analysis Version 2.2. Englewood, NJ: Biostat, 2002.

    Google Scholar 

  14. (14)

    Hedges LV: Fixed effects models. In Cooper H, Hedges LV (eds),The Handbook of Research Synthesis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1994, 285–300.

    Google Scholar 

  15. (15)

    Hedges LV, Pigott TD: The power of statistical tests in meta-analysis.Psychological Methods. 2001,6:203–217.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. (16)

    Palmer RF, Katerndahl D, Morgan-Kidd J: A randomized trial of the effects of remote intercessory prayer: Interactions with personal beliefs on problem-specific outcomes and functional status.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2004,10:438–448.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. (17)

    Lipsey MW, Wilson DB:Practical Meta-Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001.

    Google Scholar 

  18. (18)

    Tloczynski J, Fritzsch S: Intercessory prayer in psychological well-being: Using a multiple-baseline, across-subjects design.Psychological Reports. 2002,91:731–741.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. (19)

    Joyce CRB, Welldon RMC: The objective efficacy of prayer: A double-blind clinical trial.Journal of Chronic Diseases. 1965,18:367–377.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. (20)

    Matthews DA, Marlowe SM, MacNutt FS: Effects of intercessory prayer on patients with rheumatoid arthritis.Southern Medical Journal. 2000,93:1177–1186.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. (21)

    Byrd RC: Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population.Southern Medical Journal. 1988,81:826–829.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. (22)

    Collipp PJ: The efficacy of prayer: A triple-blind study.Medical Times. 1969,97:201–204.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. (23)

    Harris WS, Gowda M, Kolb JW, et al.: A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit.Archives of Internal Medicine. 1999,159:2273–2278.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. (24)

    Walker SR, Tonigan JS, Miller WR, Comer S, Kalich L: Intercessory prayer in the treatment of alcohol abuse and dependence: A pilot investigation.Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 1996,3:79–87.

    Google Scholar 

  25. (25)

    Cha KY, Wirth DP: Does prayer influence the success ofin vitro fertilization-embryo transfer?The Journal of Reproductive Medicine. 2001,46:781–787.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. (26)

    Guterman L:Author of disputed Columbia U. study on pregnancy and prayer pleads guilty to unrelated fraud charges. Retrieved March 15, 2005 from http://chronical.com/free/2004/ 06/2004060801n.htm

  27. (27)

    Lyons JS: Research into prayer, fertility link now doubted. Retrieved January 18, 2005 from http://www.mercurynews.com/ mld/mercurynews/living/health/10553703.htm?1c

  28. (28)

    Chibnall JT, Jeral JM, Cerullo MA: Experiments on distant intercessory prayer.Archives of Internal Medicine. 2001,161:2529–2536.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. (29)

    Masters KS: Research on the healing power of distant intercessory prayer: Disconnect between science and faith.Journal of Psychology and Theology. 2005,33:268–277. Other references included in the meta-analysis but not cited earlier

    Google Scholar 

  30. (30)

    Aviles JM, Whelan SE, Hernke DA, et al.: Intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease progression in a coronary care unit population: A randomized controlled trial.Mayo Clinical Proceedings. 2001,76:1192–1198.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. (31)

    Mathai J, Bourne A: Pilot study investigating the effect of intercessory prayer in the treatment of child psychiatric disorders.Australian Psychiatry. 2004,12:386–389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. (32)

    Matthews WJ, Conti JM, Sireci SG: The effects of intercessory prayer, positive visualization, and expectancy on the well-being of kidney dialysis patients.Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2001,7:42–52.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. (33)

    O’Laoire S: An experimental study of the effects of distant intercessory prayer on self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 1996,3:38–53.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kevin S. Masters Ph.D..

Additional information

Jason T. Goodson is now a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth University. A previous version of this study was presented at the 113th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, August 2005, Washington, DC.

About this article

Cite this article

Masters, K.S., Spielmans, G.I. & Goodson, J.T. Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review. ann. behav. med. 32, 21–26 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1207/s15324796abm3201_3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Behavioral Medicine
  • Weighted Little Square
  • Southern Medical Journal
  • Faith Tradition
  • Intercessory Prayer