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Studies show prayer has positive emotional effects

Two independent studies show prayerful people have better self control and better outcomes in psychiatric treatment.

"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," according to the Daily Mail's report on a study by German researchers.

The researchers from Saarland University and the University of Mannheim recruited 79 people — 41 Christians, 14 atheists, 10 agnostics and 14 belonging to other religions — and had half of them pray before embarking on self-control exercises.

"A brief period of personal prayer buffered the self-control depletion effect," the Mail quoted from the research team's findings published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. "These results are consistent with and contribute to a growing body of work attesting to the beneficial effects of praying on self-control."

A separate study by investigators at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., concluded that psychiatric patients who used positive religious coping methods, such as prayer, fared better in treatment.

The study published in Psychiatric Research looked at 47 patients who were measured in areas of religious involvement, religious coping and suicidality prior to treatment. Psychosis, depression, anxiety and psychological well-being were assessed over the course of treatment.

"The outcomes that we saw suggest that people who use negative religious coping such as thinking that God is punishing them or that the devil is behind their condition were at much greater risk for suicide prior to treatment," David H. Rosmarin, McLean Hospital clinician and instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said in a press statement from the hospital. "However, people who use positive religious coping techniques such as prayer and acceptance of 'God's plan' performed significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those who do not use it."

Researchers also found that even though only 20 percent of the participating patients called themselves religious, more than 80 percent used spirituality in some way as a coping mechanism for dealing with their illness or stress, according to the hospital.

"We were surprised to find that religious coping was so common in our sample, even among those who are not themselves religious in any way," Rosmarin said. "This is one of the first studies looking at religious coping among psychiatric patients, and we are hopeful that this will lead to further study of religion and spirituality with larger samples. Harnessing spiritual resources in treatment may lead to lower suicide rates and better treatment outcomes in this population."

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com Twitter: @deseretbrown