Ever since the first study on the effectiveness of prayer was done in the 1960’s, prayer has been a focus of numerous studies. The results are inconclusive at best.
Each study attempts to determine if prayer by a third party has a positive outcome for the one being prayed for. They measured different denominations and types of prayer, and no clear, consistent outcome was found. And like most scientific studies, there are numerous problems with methodology, leading to further confusion over the results.
To try and solve this, the largest study yet was carried out. Called, STEP, Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer, it followed 1,802 bypass surgery patients from six major hospitals in the U.S. Patients were divided into three groups: those who were not prayed for, those who were prayed for either knowingly or unknowingly. Those prayering were either Catholic or Protestant (other denominations were not able to make the time commitments), and a standardized prayer was used, including ” for a “successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications.”
The study was published in the Am Heart J. 2006 Apr;151(4):934-42.
Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer.
Surprisingly, those who knew they were being prayed for experienced more major complications than the group without additional prayer.
In other words, the study seemed to show that prayer — at least prayer from strangers — might be bad for one’s health! Strangely, those who knew they were being prayed for showed higher levels of stress hormones than those who didn’t know. It is theorized that perhaps they felt ‘obligated’ to have an easier recovery, and the stress of that itself, caused the complications.
What is not discussed in the study, is that, the prayers were for a quick, healthy recovery free of complications. If we only look to the desired outcome, “free of complications,” prayer failed. The study expected that “god” would perform as desired. It is also possible, that using formalized prayers in this way, is attempting to control cosmic forces, which cannot be controlled. Perhaps this is against the very nature of “god,” where we expect a prayer of ritual formula will always have such and such effect.
Scientifically there may have been a control group to compare prayer and no prayer, yet we cannot know the potential outcomes for the same subjects under different conditions. It again assumes people and “god” operate in a concrete way to always give the same result.
That is what they call the scientific method, but the universe may not work on a scientist’s agenda. Other variables,karma, or cause & effect cannot be accounted for. There is also no allowance for individual differences in prayer, intent, care/love, or whether the patient truly wants to recover.
It is impossible to know what the outcome would have been for the same patient if they were placed in another group. To truly study that would require parallel universes. It is possible they may have had a worse outcome in another group. In this light, prayer was successful. Some complications is a better outcome than death – and we do not know if they may have died under other conditions.
Another complication is that 96% of all patients reported having others praying for them which were not included in the study. There is no way to know how this affected outcome, either.
Perhaps one additional issue is that of formalized prayer, itself. These are rituals, set words expected to have a given effect, like a magic incantation or mathematical formula. This is not necessarily a prayer from the heart, which gives something of the self to the one being prayed for. Many stories of saints and sages speak to the fact that a simple prayer from the heart can mean more than all the ‘right’ words and mediations said mechanically try this website.
We do not know, and cannot measure, the intent and love of the one doing the praying.