Studies of intercessory prayer and healing

Over the past three decades, a number of scientific studies have been undertaken by medical researchers to try to determine if intercessory prayers (or ‘distant therapies’, which include prayer) have any impact on the medical outcomes being prayed for (often recovery from an operation or medical intervention). The tables below summarises a number of these studies, and the conclusions of researchers who have drawn together the results of individual studies. For discussion of these studies, see can prayer assist healing?

Studies which found a positive response to prayer

Date Study Size of sample Result Reference
1965 The objective efficacy of prayer: A double-blind clinical trail. Joyce and Welldon 32 Almost no difference, but some suggestions of positive effect In Hodge (2007).
1969 The efficacy of prayer: A triple blind study. Collipp 18 Borderline significant improvements In Hodge (2007).
1988 Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population. R Byrd, San Francisco Medical Center 393 “These data suggest that intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God has a beneficial therapeutic effect in patients admitted to a CCU.” July 1988. SOUTHERN MEDICAL JOURNAL. Vol. 81, No. 7.
1997 An experimental study of the effects of distant, intercessory prayer on self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. S O’Laoire 496 “Subjects improved significantly on all 11 measures.” National Center for
Biotechnology Information
1998 A Randomized Double-Blind Study of the Effect of Distant Healing in a Population With Advanced AIDS: Report of a Small Scale Study. F Sicher et al, Geraldine Brush Cancer Research Institute, California 40 “a positive therapeutic effect of distant healing” Western Journal of Medicine
1999 Phase 1 (feasibility) of MANTRA (Monitoring and Actualization of Noetic TRAinings) Project. Duke Uni Medical Center 150 “Cardiac patients who received intercessory prayer in addition to coronary stenting appeared to have better clinical outcomes.” Note: Phase 2 (below) found no improvement. Charity Wire
1999 A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit. Harris et al, Saint Luke’s Hospital, Kansas City 990 “Remote, intercessory prayer was associated with lower CCU course scores. This result suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.” Archives of Internal Medicine
2000 Does prayer influence the success of in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer? Cha & Wirth, Cha Hospital, Seoul, South Korea. 219 “A statistically significant difference was observed for the effect of IP on the outcome of IVF-ET, though the data should be interpreted as preliminary.” Note: some doubts have been expressed about this study. National Center for Biotechnology Information
2000 Effects of intercessory prayer on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Matthews, Marlowe, and MacNutt 40 “Patients receiving in-person intercessory prayer showed significant overall improvement. No additional effects from supplemental, distant intercessory prayer were found.” National Center for Biotechnology Information
2000 The efficacy of “distant healing”: a systematic review of randomized trials. Astin, Harkness & Schlitz, Uni of Maryland School of Medicine Review of 23 trials “57% of trials showed a positive treatment effect” National Center for Biotechnology Information
2000 Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection: randomised controlled trial. L Leibovici, Rabin Medical Center, Israel 3393 “Remote, retroactive intercessory prayer said for a group is associated with a shorter stay in hospital and shorter duration of fever in patients with a bloodstream infection and should be considered for use in clinical practice.” National Center for Biotechnology Information
2002 Does prayer really help? Furlow & O’Quinn, Uni of Texas 38 “significantly shorter stays in the hospital” Journal of Christian Nursing
2003 A systematic review of the quality of research on hands-on and distance healing: clinical and laboratory studies. Crawford, Sparber, Jonas, Samueli Institute for Information Biology, Alexandria, Va. 90 studies The majority (66%) of studies reported positive outcomes and 21% reported negative outcomes. Many methodological problems were found, but overall the studies were considered to be reasonably valid (internal validity of 75%). PubMed, NCBI
2004 A Randomized Trial of the Effects of Remote Intercessory Prayer: Interactions with Personal Beliefs on Problem-Specific Outcomes and Functional Status. Palmer, Katerndahl & Morgan-Kidd, University of Texas 86 “No direct intervention effect on the primary outcomes was found. A marginally significant reduction [in several other outcomes].” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
2006 The effect of intercessory prayer on wound healing in nonhuman primates. K Lesniak, Department of Psychology, Loma Linda University. 22 Prayer group animals recovered from wounds significantly better than the non-prayer group. PubMed, NCBI
2007 A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature on Intercessory Prayer. D Hodge, Arizona State University Review of 17 studies “prayer offered on behalf of another yields positive results” ASU News. Sage Publications
2010 Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique. Candy Gunther Brown, Indiana University 25 “Subjects exhibited improved hearing and vision that was statistically significant after PIP [proximal intercessory prayer] was administered.” Indiana University

Studies which found no significant positive response to prayer

Date Study Size of sample Result Reference
1997 Intercessory prayer in the treatment of alcohol abuse and dependence: A pilot investigation. Walker, Tonigan, Miller, Comer, and Kahlich 40 “No significant differences emerged between the experimental or the control group” In Hodge (2007)
2001 Monitoring and Actualization of Noetic TRAinings (MANTRA) II study. Krucoff et al, Duke University Medical Center 748 “prayer made no significant difference to the long term health of the patients involved” (though a subgroup had significant improvements – Hodge) Duke medicine. National Center for Biotechnology Information
2001 Intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease progression in a coronary care unit population: a randomized controlled trial. Aviles et al, Mayo Clinic 799 “intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit” (but some outcomes improved – Hodge) National Center for Biotechnology Information
2003 Intercessory Prayer, Visualization, and Expectancy for Patients with Severe Illnesses: Implications for Pyschotherapy. W. J. Matthews, Conti, and Sireci 95 “the effects of intercessory prayer and transpersonal positive visualization cannot be distinguished from the effect of expectancy, and thus do not appear to be effective treatment interventions” Questia
2004 Beneficial effects of noetic therapies on mood before percutaneous intervention for unstable coronary syndromes. Seskevich, Crater, Lane, & Krucoff 150 “prayer was unrelated to outcomes” In Hodge (2007)
2004 Pilot study investigating the effect of intercessory prayer in the treatment of child psychiatric disorders. Mathai and Bourne 33 No difference in outcome In Hodge (2007)
2005 Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients – A Multi-Center Randomized Trial of Uncertainty and Certainty of Receiving Intercessory Prayer. Benson et al, for the Templeton Foundation 1802 “Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.” Templeton Foundation
2006 Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review. Masters, Spielmans & Goodson Review of 14 studies “There is no scientifically discernable effect for IP as assessed in controlled studies.” Annals of Behavioural Medicine
2009 Intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health.
Roberts, Ahmed, Hall, Davison
Review of 10 studies “due to various limitations in the trials included in this review …. it is only possible to state that intercessory prayer is neither significantly beneficial nor harmful for those who are sick.” The Cochrane Collaboration

A summary and discussion of these studies is at Can prayer assist healing?

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