Thursday, March 31, 2022

Rolf Degen summarizing... Christians value receiving a prayer in a hardship from a Christian stranger at an average of $2.34, while non-believers are willing to pay $1.56 not to be prayed for

Thunström L, Noy S (2022) What we think prayers do: Americans’ expectations and valuation of intercessory prayer. PLoS ONE 17(3): e0265836. Mar 31 2022.

Abstract: Praying for others in the wake of a disasters is a common interpersonal and public response to tragedy in the United States. But these gestures are controversial. In a survey experiment, we elicit how people value receiving a prayer from a Christian stranger in support of a recent hardship and examine factors that affect the value of the prayer. We find that people who positively value receiving the prayer do so primarily because they believe it provides emotional support and will be answered by God. Many also value the prayer because they believe it will improve their health and wealth, although empirical support of such effects is lacking. People who negatively value receiving the prayer do so primarily because they believe praying is a waste of time. The negative value is particularly large if people are offended by religion. Finally, the hardship experienced by the prayer recipient matters to the intensity by which recipients like or dislike the gesture, suggesting the benefit of prayers varies not only across people, but also across contexts.

Reasons people positively value prayers from religious strangers.

Participants who stated a positive WTP for receiving a prayer from a stranger (Christian: N = 375/451; non-believers: N = 56/166), were asked about the factors that contributed to the value of the prayer.

Large majorities of both Christians and non-believers who value the prayer do so because it gives them emotional comfort to know that the stranger is thinking of them. The answers to the open ended question provide additional information on the comfort people experience from receiving the prayer–e.g., one non-believer noted that they valued prayers positively because “someone is acknowledging the hardships I am going through and wishes for me to get through them successfully” (R_161) while a Christian participant explained: as “a Christian, prayer is invaluable and a source of personal comfort through faith” (R_282).

Further, a large majority of Christians (82 percent) believe that the prayer will result in God intervening to ease their emotional pain. While shares are smaller, many Christians also value the prayer because they believe God will help materially (36 percent) or improve their health (55 percent). Such expectations appear to be misplaced, given previous research shows that prayers for others have no effect on the recipient’s health [23], and therefore might bias the value of prayers upwards. They might also explain why prayers may reduce material aid [8]–if God is expected to intervene materially in response to prayers, the perceived need for material aid may be lower.

We also asked Christians who positively value prayers (N = 375/451) about the probability that the prayer from the stranger would be answered by God. Their average response was 78 percent. Amongst these participants, those who were more religious (as measured by frequency of church attendance), Republicans and those with low income (compared to high income) stated a higher probability that God would answer the prayer. For details, see Supplemental Online Material.

The share of non-believers who value the prayer and believe the prayer will result in help from God (whether emotional, material, or health) is not statistically significantly different from zero, i.e., even though some non-believers positively value receiving a prayer, they do not expect the prayer to generate benefits due to divine intervention. Finally, a large majority of both Christians and non-believers positively value the prayer because they think sending the prayer is a meaningful activity for the stranger. Hence, altruism could be an important part of the prayer’s value, to both Christians and non-believers–the recipient believes the sender of the prayer will benefit from undertaking the prayer.

While the results shown in Fig 2 indicate why people positively value prayers, it does not show how intensely each factor affects the positive value. Next, we examined the extent to which these factors, and covariates, affect the positive WTP. To do so, we regressed WTP for the prayer from the Christian stranger on agreement with each statement in Fig 2, a set of common demographics—gender, age, conservatism, religious belonging, religiosity (measured as frequency of church attendance) income and college attendance–as well as the type of hardship (issue) described in the experimental survey.


Fig 3 shows that the highest positive value for a prayer is generated if the recipient expects emotional comfort from the prayer. Although Fig 2 shows that many participants value the prayer because it benefits the sender to pray (altruism), the benefit to the sender does not contribute to the average positive value of a prayer (if anything, it brings down the mean positive value of the prayer). Further, beliefs that the prayer generates material help or improved health do not affect the mean positive value of the prayer.


The type of hardship addressed by the prayer also matters to the intensity by which a person values receiving a prayer. Around 30 percent of participants reported a health issue (for self or a loved one) as the hardship, around 30 percent reported a financial issue, between 15 and 20 percent reported a relationship issue, and around 20 percent an issue that does not fall into any of those categories. Recipients value the prayer more if the hardship they experience consists of a health or relationship issue (for themselves or a loved one), compared to if they or a loved one experience a financial issues (the benchmark in the model underlying Fig 3). These results are robust to the inclusion of covariates. Note that while being conservative significantly affects whether a prayer is positively valued (see above), more conservative people who value prayers do not assign a particularly high positive value to the prayer. This result is stable across our measurements of conservatism—it does not matter whether we use the SEC scale (the conservatism measure in Fig 3), the liberal-conservatism scale or political party belonging as a measure of conservatism.

The stability of beliefs in conspiracy theories is comparable to or higher than some of the most stable psychological attributes

Williams, Matt N., Mathew Ling, John R. Kerr, Stephen R. Hill, Mathew Marques, Hollie Mawson, and Edward J. R. Clarke. 2022. “To What Extent Do Beliefs in Conspiracy Theories Change over Time?.” PsyArXiv. March 31. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Recent years have seen an explosion in psychological research on beliefs in conspiracy theories. This research has produced a significant body of knowledge about the antecedents and consequences of inter-individual belief in conspiracy theories. What is less clear, however, is the extent to which individuals’ beliefs in conspiracy theories vary over time (i.e., intra-individual variation). In this descriptive and exploratory study we therefore aimed to describe intra-individual variability in belief in conspiracy theories. We collected data from 498 Australians and New Zealanders using an online longitudinal survey, with data collected at monthly intervals over six months (March to September 2021). Our measure of conspiracy theories included items describing ten unfounded conspiracy theories with responses on a 5-point Likert scale. While there was substantial variability in beliefs between different participants (i.e., inter-individual variability), there was much less intra-individual variability (intraclass r = 0.91). Indeed, it was common for participants to give exactly the same response to a given theory at every time point. Via power analyses, we demonstrate that the small quantity of intra-individual variation in beliefs in conspiracy theories has important consequences for sample size planning in longitudinal studies.