While many studies have suggested that praying for oneself may reduce stress, research into praying for others who may not even know they are the subject of prayers has been much more controversial. Several studies that claimed to show a benefit have been criticized as deeply flawed. And several of the most recent findings have found no benefit.
The new $2.4 million study, funded primarily by the John Templeton Foundation, was designed to overcome some of those shortcomings. Dusek and his colleagues divided 1,802 bypass patients at six hospitals into three groups. Two groups were uncertain whether they would be the subject of prayers. The third was told they would definitely be prayed for.
The researchers recruited two Catholic groups and one Protestant group to pray "for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications" for 14 days for each patient, beginning the night before the surgery, using the patient's first name and the first initial of the last name.
Over the next month, patients in the two groups that were uncertain of whether they were the subject of prayers fared virtually the same, with about 52 percent experiencing complications regardless of whether they were the subject of prayers.
Surprisingly, however, 59 percent of the patients who knew they were the targets of prayer experienced complications.
Because the most common complication was an irregular heartbeat, the researchers speculated that knowing they were chosen to receive prayers may have inadvertently put them under increased stress.
Maybe God doesn't like being tested.