According to a recently announced study, praying for close friends or romantic partners can lead to more forgiving and overall cooperative behavior.
Florida State University released the results of a report of five studies Wednesday, which concluded that individuals who prayed for a close friend or romantic partner were "less vengeful" and "more cooperative."
"Study 3 showed that, compared to partners of targets in the positive partner thought condition, the romantic partners of targets assigned to pray reported a positive change in their partner's forgiveness," reads the study's abstract.
"In Study 5, participants who prayed for a close relationship partner reported higher levels of cooperative tendencies and forgiveness."
The lead author of the research was Dr. Nathaniel Lambert of Brigham Young University. The other authors were Dr. Frank D. Fincham of FSU, Dr. Nathan C. DeWall and Dr. Richard Pond of the University of Kentucky, and Dr. Steven R. Beach of the University of Georgia.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Fincham explained that the "changes documented do not occur for prayer in general."
"The value of the current studies is that we have objective measures to show that colloquial, intercessory prayer focused on the partner changes observable behavior," said Fincham.
"In prior research, when participants were asked to pray as they usually do their relationship behavior did not differ from those asked to think positive thoughts about their partner. If there was any surprise, it was in relation to this finding."
The debate over the secular benefits of prayer has been a longstanding controversy, with differing opinions over how prayer can affect physical and mental health.
Roy Speckhardt, executive director for the American Humanist Association, told The Christian Post that there are "some intrinsic benefits to thoughtful contemplation which sometimes shows positive results for activities like prayer and meditation."
"It's only intuitive that such positive thoughts will help them empathize with those they are thinking about and feel compassion for them that helps them overcome conflict," said Speckhardt.
"Of course, the benefits here are gained by tapping very natural and very human emotions and thought processes – there's no need, or evidence, of any divine intervention from the prayers."
When asked by CP if other factors could have contributed to the change in relationships for the test subjects, Fincham responded that the researchers did their best to inhibit that possibility.
"We used rigorous research methods that included experimental data. That is, we randomly assigned participants to experimental conditions and specifically tested whether the results could be due to chance," said Fincham.
"Finally, the replication of findings across multiple studies makes 'coincidence' an implausible explanation."
In addition to being an author in the study, Fincham presently serves as director of the Florida State University Family Institute.