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Name: Simon Quellen Field
Location: Los Gatos, California, United States

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Pray for me

Herbert Benson believes in the power of prayer. He has reason to -- he's been studying it scientifically for years.

In a recent study, he and co-author Charles Bethea looked at whether there were any effects that could be traced to people undergoing surgery who had others praying for their speedy recovery without complications.

The study divided 1,800 patients into three groups. Six hundred patients were told that people were praying for them. Another six hundred were prayed for in the same way, but the patients were not informed. The last six hundred were not prayed for.

The last 600 had the fewest complications from their surgery. The group who were prayed for without the knowledge of the patients had an insignificantly higher number of complications.

The group that was aware that there was a group of people praying for them had significantly more complications. Fifty nine percent of them had complications, compared to fifty one percent in the first group, and fifty two percent in the second.

An earlier study of alcoholics who knew that people were praying for them found similar results. Those who knew people were praying for their success in sobriety ended up drinking significantly more after six months than those who thought no one was praying for them.

Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia, thinks such studies are a waste of resources that could be better spent elsewhere. But it seems to me that the $2.4 million dollar study, funded mainly by a group that supports research into spirituality, would have been spent on some other similar study if not for this one, and would probably not have found its way into HIV or cancer research anyway. The U.S. government has spent a similar amount of money on the subject, $2.3 million dollars, and come up with similar results. Demonstrating that intercessionary prayer is ineffective, and sometimes harmful, can be of benefit to people who might otherwise be told that people are praying for them. Over a significantly long period, that $4.7 million dollars might be saved by reducing the costs of complications brought about by the activity of well-wishers with the best of intentions.

So go ahead and pray for your sick friends. Just don't let them know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's only one very small study. I've seen data that suggests prayer works. In my own life, I was cured of terminal cancer.
Dr. Andrew Weil, noted Harvard-educated botanist, MD, and leader of Alternative Medicine program at University of AZ, also suggests that in his vast experience, prayer helps ameliorate illness.
Have you heard? 99% of statistics are made up on the spot...*grin*
Love your blog--fascinating!
xxoo, Karen in Los Angeles area

August 30, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger Simon Quellen Field said...

Actually, it was two studies.

What did you use as a control for your own (one person) study?

How many times did you get terminal cancer and not have someone tell you they prayed for you?

Remember, we are not talking about people who pray for their own recovery. We are talking about people who are told that others are praying for them. It also does not speak to terminal diagnoses. Telling someone they are going to die already does all the damage. What these studies speak to is telling someone who will eventually recover that a bunch of people think things are so bad that they are praying for you.

Dr. Weil would probably not recommend telling someone they were worse off than they actually are, or expect that doing so would help in recovery.

I could also make a case that every cured cancer that was diagnosed as terminal was an example of a misdiagnosis, by definition. That does not imply a miracle -- it is much easier to believe that the doctor made an error than to believe that a lucky rabbit foot performed a cure.

August 30, 2006 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. So the issue is not prayer, which was shown to have an insignificant effect, but telling the patient.

I wonder what would happen if the patient was told instead, "We're thinking about you."

September 12, 2006 11:48 AM  
Blogger CHQ said...

I have not seen any evedence that prayer helps at all, not even psychologically.

I agree with this study 100%.

Please don't pray for me.

July 28, 2007 2:52 PM  

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