Fact: We all commit hurtful acts, violate trust and hope for forgiveness.
Fact: Nine out of 10 Americans say they pray, at least on occasion.
Florida State University psychologist Nathaniel Lambert put these two facts together and came up with a theory: Why not take all that prayer and direct it at the people who have wronged us? Is it possible that directed prayer might spark forgiveness in those doing the praying and in the process preserve relationships?
Study No. 1: A group of men and women prayed a single prayer for their romantic partner's well being. Others, who served as the experimental controls, simply described their partner, speaking into a tape recorder. The researchers then measured forgiveness, defining it as the diminishing of the initial negative feelings that arise when you've been wronged. Their results showed that those who had prayed for their partner harbored fewer vengeful thoughts and emotions. That is, they were more ready to forgive and move on.
If a single prayer can cause such a striking difference in feelings, then what could prayer over a period of time do for a relationship? The team embarked on a second study to find out.
Study No. 2: The researchers asked a group of men and women to pray for a close friend every day for four weeks. Others simply reflected on the relationship, thinking positive thoughts but not praying for their friend's well-being. The researchers also added another dimension. They used a scale to measure selfless concern for others--not any particular person, but rather other people in general. They speculated that prayer would increase selfless concern, which in turn would boost forgiveness. And that's just what happened.
How does prayer exert its healing effects? The psychologists have an idea: Most of the time, couples profess and believe in shared goals, but when they hit a rough patch, they often switch to adversarial goals, including retribution and resentment. These adversarial goals shift cognitive focus to the self, and it can be tough to shake that self-focus. Prayer appears to shift attention from the self back to others, which allows the resentments to fade.
The study findings were published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
--From the Editors at Netscape