Praying helps people stay in control of their emotions and behaviour, according to a new study. People turn to prayer ‘as a coping response to the high demands in life’ and are rewarded with increased strength and ability to resist temptation, researchers said
Previous findings have shown that when people try hard to control their emotions and thoughts, the risk of aggressive outbursts and binge drinking or eating rises.
But the latest study, by German psychologists at Saarland University and the University of Mannheim, found that praying helps people maintain self-control.
‘A brief period of personal prayer buffered the self-control depletion effect’, wrote the team, whose findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology online.
‘These results are consistent with and contribute to a growing body of work attesting to the beneficial effects of praying on self-control.’
Praying has already been linked in the past to reduced levels of infidelity and alcohol consumption.
The German authors recruited 79 people, of whom 41 were Christian, 14 atheists, 10 agnostic and 14 belonged to other religions.
Participants were each left alone for five minutes and asked to either pray or think freely about one thing as intensely as possible.
Next they all watched a funny film clips with half told to react normally and half required to try to suppress their emotions and control their facial reactions.
Finally, they took part in Stroop tests, where words describing colours appear in different coloured inks, such as the word blue written in red ink.
Participants must respond to the ink colour, not the written word, which requires self-control as our instinct is to read the word in front of us.
Those who thought freely in the first part of the test and then tried to suppress their emotions during the film clips were found to struggle with the Stroop task.
But this was not the case for participants who prayed at the start of the study – showing they still had high levels of self-control at the end.
The authors also found those who first prayed had tried just as hard to suppress emotions during the film clips ‘but did not become depleted’.