Feeling angry? Say a prayer and the wrath fades away

Mar 21, 2011

Saying a prayer may help many people feel less angry and behave less aggressively after someone has left them fuming, new research suggests.

A series of studies showed that people who were provoked by insulting comments from a stranger showed less and aggression soon afterwards if they prayed for another person in the meantime.

The benefits of prayer identified in this study don't rely on divine intervention: they probably occur because the act of praying changed the way people think about a negative situation, said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.

"People often turn to prayer when they're feeling negative emotions, including anger," he said.

"We found that prayer really can help people cope with their anger, probably by helping them change how they view the events that angered them and helping them take it less personally."

The power of prayer also didn't rely on people being particularly religious, or attending church regularly, Bushman emphasized. Results showed prayer helped calm people regardless of their , or how often they attended church services or prayed in daily life.

Bushman noted that the studies didn't examine whether prayer had any effect on the people who were prayed for. The research focused entirely on those who do the praying.

Bushman said these are the first experimental studies to examine the effects of prayer on anger and aggression. He conducted the research with Ryan Bremner of the University of Michigan and Sander Koole of VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It appears online in the journal and will be published in a future print edition.

The project involved three separate studies.

In the first study, 53 U.S. college students were told they would be participating in a series of experiments. First, they completed a questionnaire that measured their levels of anger, fatigue, depression, vigor, and tension.

They then wrote an essay about an event that made them feel very angry. Afterwards, they were told the essay would be given to a partner, whom they would never meet, for evaluation.

But, in reality, there was no partner and all the participants received the same negative, anger-inducing evaluation that included the statement: "This is one of the worst essays I have ever read!"

After angering the participants, the researchers had the students participate in another "study" in which they read a newspaper story about a student named Maureen with a rare form of cancer. Participants were asked to imagine how Maureen feels about what happened and how it affected her life.

Then, the participants were randomly assigned to either pray for Maureen for five minutes, or to simply think about her.

Afterwards, the researchers again measured the students' levels of anger, fatigue, depression, vigor and tension. As expected, self-reported levels of anger were higher among the participants after they were provoked. But those who prayed for Maureen reported being significantly less angry than those who simply thought about her.

Prayer had no effect on the other emotions measured in the study.

Bushman said that in this study, and in the second one, there was no prior requirement that the participants be Christian or even religious. However, nearly all the participants said they were Christian. Only one participant refused to pray and he was not included in the study.

The researchers didn't ask participants about the content of their prayers or thoughts because they didn't want them to become suspicious about what the study was about, which might have contaminated the findings, Bushman said.

But the researchers did run several similar pilot studies in which they did ask participants about what they prayed or thought about. In those pilot studies, participants who prayed tended to plead for the target's well-being. Those who were asked to think about the target of prayers tended to express empathetic thoughts, saying they felt sad about the situation and felt compassion for those who were suffering.

The second study had a similar setup to the first. All the students wrote an essay, but half wrote about a topic that angered them and then received anger-inducing negative feedback, supposedly from their partner. The other half wrote about a neutral subject and received positive feedback, which they thought was from their partner.

Participants were then asked to either pray or think about their partner for five minutes. (They were told this was for a study about how people form impressions about others, and that praying for or thinking about their partner would help them organize the information that they had already received about their partner in order to form a more valid impression.)

Finally, the participants completed a reaction-time task in which they competed with their unseen "partner."

Afterwards, if participants won, they could blast their partner with noise through headphones, choosing how long and loud the blast would be.

Results showed that students who were provoked acted more aggressively than those who were not provoked – but only if they had been asked to simply think about their partner. Students who prayed for their partner did not act more aggressively than others, even after they had been provoked.

The third study took advantage of previous research that found that angry people tend to attribute events in their lives to the actions of other people, while those who aren't angry more often attribute events to situations out of their control.

This study was done at a Dutch university, and all participants were required to be Christian because the Netherlands has a large proportion of atheists.

Half the participants were angered (similar to the methods in the first two studies), while the other half were not.

They then spent five minutes praying for or thinking about a person they personally knew who could use some extra help or support.

Finally, they were asked to judge the likelihood of each of 10 life events. Half the events were described as caused by a person (You miss an important flight because of a careless cab driver). Angry people would be expected to think these kinds of events would be more likely.

The other events were described as the result of situational factors (You miss an important flight because of a flat tire).

Results showed that those who simply thought of another person were more likely to hold the anger-related appraisals of situations if they were provoked, compared to those who were not provoked.

But those who prayed were not more likely to hold the anger-related views, regardless of whether they were provoked or not.

"Praying undid the effects of provocation on how people viewed the likelihood of these situations," Koole said.

While the three studies approached the issue in different ways, they all pointed to the personal benefits of prayer, Bushman said.

"The effects we found in these experiments were quite large, which suggests that prayer may really be an effective way to calm anger and aggression," he said.

These results would only apply to the typical benevolent prayers that are advocated by most religions, Bushman said. Vengeful or hateful prayers, rather than changing how people view a negative situation, may actually fuel anger and .

"When people are confronting their own anger, they may want to consider the old advice of praying for one's enemies," Bremner said.

"It may not benefit their enemies, but it may help them deal with the ."

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User comments : 33

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jimbo92107
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2011
Unfortunately, saying a prayer does not solve the problem that caused your anger in the first place. But it's a good sheeple way of coping with oppression.

Any problem-solving prayers out there?
Skultch
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2011
But those who prayed for Maureen reported being significantly less angry than those who simply thought about her.


Have there been similar studies that compare these Christian pray-ers to Buddhists who are trained in meditation? I guess a skilled Buddhist could imagine themselves directly helping, and get the same, anger-reducing results. I suppose a Buddhist would be harder to antagonize, so that might be a challenge.

I wonder if it's the act of 'trying' to help others (as if they believed the prayer could help) as opposed to 'wishing' they could help, or imagining the person already being helped.
jmcanoy1860
5 / 5 (6) Mar 21, 2011
The noodly appendage insinuates itself into the very fabric of reality!!
kaasinees
3 / 5 (6) Mar 21, 2011
No a buddhist meditates to come to relaxation (nirvana).
Its a way to let go of emotions.
A true buddhist does not feel anger, he/she is calm and will help try to help people as much as possible.

I hate it when people think that buddhism is a religion, but it is not. But for that you can blame on Great Brittain enslaving buddhists and trying to destroy its culture!
For true buddhism look up Theravada.
Skultch
3 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2011
A true buddhist {tries not to} feel anger, he/she is calm and will help try to help people as much as possible.


fixed.

Obviously, the study I propose would not involve monks or Llamas; the angering stage would simply not work. It would have to use aspiring Buddhists who have yet to reach the level of control you speak of.

My purpose is not to compare belief and/or way of life systems. It is to get to the root of this phenomena. What, exactly, is going on in the brain of those that report lower negative emotions. Is it the 'knowledge' that the person will get helped? Is it the act of 'trying' to help? Is it imagery that the person was helped? etc, etc, etc.

Oh, IMHO, Tibetan Buddhism is certainly a religion if it teaches a mechanism of reincarnation and karma. But yes, generic Buddhism is not necessarily a religion.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (4) Mar 21, 2011

fixed.

No it is not fixed. A true Buddhist is in a state of nirvana and does not feel anger. Obviously you don't know alot of Buddhism.

Is it the 'knowledge' that the person will get helped? Is it the act of 'trying' to help? Is it imagery that the person was helped? etc, etc, etc.

No. In buddhism one lets go of thus emotions.

Oh, IMHO, Tibetan Buddhism is certainly a religion if it teaches a mechanism of reincarnation and karma.

Karma comes from kamma-vipaka which Basicly(!) means action-reaction.
Reincarnation come in different forms. There are people who believe in "spirits"/"ghosts" etc and believe those reincarnate. In buddhism there is no standard belief, so cannot be compared.
But yes, generic Buddhism is not necessarily a religion.

Generic Buddhism IS a religion because they believe in deities!
Therefore it is an ism therefor it is a religion!
Skultch
3 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2011
Kaas,

You still have not acknowledged that you understand my intentions. I don't care what an "expert" Buddhist can or can't do, for my proposed study. Nirvana is the goal, but is it immediately attained by a first day Buddhist? No. Therefore, there exists Buddhists that don't meet your definition of "true." I actually don't care about Buddhist theology and don't care to argue it; I care about how the brain actually works.

For my purposes, I will call these "Buddhists-in-training" just Buddhists, and they would meet the criteria for my proposed study; someone with the mental capacity for anger AND empathy AND the belief that they could help someone with their thoughts alone. (btw, I'm nobody, and this won't be done) :)

Kaas, again, I don't care about religion here. You are arguing with nobody about nothing. You must be a Atheist-Buddhist. ;) I'll be here all night, ladies and gents!
kaasinees
1 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2011
Therefore, there exists Buddhists that don't meet your definition of "true."

Ofcourse, otherwise i wouldn't have added the word "true".

I actually don't care about Buddhist theology and don't care to argue it; I care about how the brain actually works.

And there are people that can proove that they can let go of emotions. In meditation one doesn't think, so there cant be any visions of helping someone, or thinking about their suffering etc.

For my purposes, I will call these "Buddhists-in-training" just Buddhists

Buddhists are people who study buddhism. Buddhas are people who teach wisdom to help them relief there suffering or improve their quality of life and usually studies what we call psychology or reality.
True buddhists are in my definition buddhists who have achieved nirvana.
There is also a major difference between layman and monks.

The thing that bothers me is that you are comparing meditation with prayers, or somewhat?
MorituriMax
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2011
Or you could just count to ten in a language you are trying to learn. Make the time productive.
Skultch
3 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2011
The thing that bothers me is that you are comparing meditation with prayers, or somewhat?


Now we are getting somewhere. Why does it bother you? They have similarities, and those are what I seek to exploit in this comparison.

And why not? They are almost identical in practice. I think so, because I dispute your claim that meditation does not involve thinking. There are other forms of meditation other than practicing emptiness.

Forget Buddhists. I don't care what xxx-ism they practice. I just want to run this experiment again, with non-christians who believe they have the ability to positively affect people with thoughts alone. So, you can stop defending and teaching Buddhism now.
MorituriMax
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 21, 2011
I hate it when people think that buddhism is a religion, but it is not. But for that you can blame on Great Brittain enslaving buddhists and trying to destroy its culture!
For true buddhism look up Theravada.


Hmmm, you "hate" it? Doesn't sound like you are a Buddhist either, since you would then not feel anger or hate.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2011
Why does it bother you? They have similarities, and those are what I seek to exploit in this comparison.

Your ideas about meditation are very wrong.
And meditation goes beyond Buddhism, Kata(from martial arts) is a form of meditation, yoga etc.

I think so, because I dispute your claim that meditation does not involve thinking.

There are stages of meditation, which the last few a very dificult to obtain for most people. Thinking involves thoughts, meditation involves absolute control.

Forget Buddhists. I don't care what xxx-ism they practice.

So you admit that you have been wrong all along?

I just want to run this experiment again, with non-christians who believe they have the ability to positively affect people with thoughts alone.

Who believes that? Not buddhists if you think so.
wealthychef
5 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2011
So how about if they skipped the prayer and were simply told about the cancer victim and asked whether they think she should survive or not? The part of prayer has not been teased out very well from this study. Also, what if they avoid the use of the word "prayer" and use another description, such as "think kind thoughts?" Just curious.
Skultch
5 / 5 (4) Mar 21, 2011
Kaas, I'm done being your tool to explain/defend your particular brand of Buddhism. I don't care if I'm right or wrong about what Buddhists believe and don't. You should understand what I'm trying to say, instead you chose to pick a fight. For the last time, I don't care to discuss religion. Please address my proposal and quit with the water muddying if you wish to continue this conversation.
wealthychef
3.5 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2011

Hmmm, you "hate" it? Doesn't sound like you are a Buddhist either, since you would then not feel anger or hate.

That's ridiculous. A Buddhist is not someone who has achieved a state of complete emotional detachment. Buddhism is many things, but it's definitely not what your idiotic cartoon portrays.
Anyhow, your argument shows the problem with this study: it is at its base religiosity disguised as science.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (5) Mar 21, 2011
Kaas, I'm done being your tool to explain/defend your particular brand of Buddhism.

Then stop spouting non-sense about it and try to explain your point? Oh wait you dont have one.

For the last time, I don't care to discuss religion.

Theravada is not a religion.

Please address my proposal

So tell me what is your point? Without having a disfigured view about Buddhism?
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2011
Unfortunately, saying a prayer does not solve the problem that caused your anger in the first place. But it's a good sheeple way of coping with oppression.

Any problem-solving prayers out there?


Huh? What if being angry with the person was the problem in the first place? What if your anger caused the person to react negatively and then caused you to get even more flustered and angry? In that case it DID help with the problem.

Many times "the problem" isn't the problem....
Modernmystic
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 21, 2011
Mkay first of all any real Buddhist would be the first to tell you he's not an expert on the subject.

Secondly they're not judgmental people.

Thirdly they don't "let go" of emotions, they acknowledge them, respect them, they just don't let themselves be ruled by them. People are GOING to have emotions no matter how much eastern philosophy they have in their heads...

Lastly meditation is about not worrying about controlling anything. It's about acknowledging the stray thoughts that come into your head and then letting them pass, same for emotions. TRY to "control" anything in meditation and you're not only missing the point but you're going to fail miserably.

DON'T THINK ABOUT A PURPLE ELEPHANT!!!!

Bet you all just thought about a purple elephant :-)
kaasinees
1 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2011
Mkay first of all any real Buddhist would be the first to tell you he's not an expert on the subject.

I am just trying to get the wrong views of buddhism out of his head. And a "real" Buddhist will try to teach his wisdom to other people.
Secondly they're not judgmental people.

I agree. But would buddhists like it when people say things about it that are not true?
they acknowledge them, respect them, they just don't let themselves be ruled by them

Which to me means to let them go. semantics.
Lastly meditation is about not worrying about controlling anything.

You are right in meditation there is no worrying, but there is absolute control, which is not obtained by worrying, but by being englightened.
It's about acknowledging the stray thoughts that come into your head and then letting them pass

Which means to let go.
TRY to "control" anything in meditation

There is no trying in meditation, only being in absolute control.
hush1
not rated yet Mar 21, 2011
You can harbor anger and hope. And dwell on either anytime.
If you forget anger and hope, and 'look back'(reflect), your past will be regret-less.

That approach has consequences for the hypothetical:
If-I-had-the-chance-to-do-everything-again.
With or without what you know now.
MorituriMax
1 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2011

Hmmm, you "hate" it? Doesn't sound like you are a Buddhist either, since you would then not feel anger or hate.

That's ridiculous. A Buddhist is not someone who has achieved a state of complete emotional detachment. Buddhism is many things, but it's definitely not what your idiotic cartoon portrays.
Anyhow, your argument shows the problem with this study: it is at its base religiosity disguised as science.


Dude, I am going by their words, not mine. According to THEM they wouldn't feel hate or anger, but yet, they say they hate it.

THEIR definition, not mine. I myself AM a Buddhist. One with many flaws, yet at my core I don't want to harm anyone, not even wasps that regularly invade my home, I actually catch them and carry them outside. But again, I was pointing out that they couldn't follow their own brand of buddhism.
kaasinees
3 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2011
Max you have a good point altough that hate is not an emotion it brings emotions like anger and resentment.

I do have emotions, its just that i am in control of them and they are not in control of me, so you dont get the sensation that you feel hate against something or someone. I can choose to let go of loving someone.

In the end it is about how you use your emotions. For example using wise words to help your enemy instead of making war to them.
PoppaJ
4.8 / 5 (6) Mar 21, 2011
The word prayer is the first sign this report must be disregarded. It is a sad attempt to infuse a concept of God where it has no business. I am a little disappointed that I would see this article on Physorg. Please don't do this again.
MorituriMax
1 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2011
Max you have a good point altough that hate is not an emotion it brings emotions like anger and resentment.

I do have emotions, its just that i am in control of them and they are not in control of me, so you dont get the sensation that you feel hate against something or someone. I can choose to let go of loving someone.

In the end it is about how you use your emotions. For example using wise words to help your enemy instead of making war to them.

Sounds good to me.
Skepticus
3 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2011
So when the Pakistani muslim fanatics are feeling angry with the blasphemous, their wrath faded away and they were at peace again, after they prayed "Allah hu akbar"...

...and the offenders were shot full of holes?
soulman
5 / 5 (6) Mar 22, 2011
A Buddhist is not someone who has achieved a state of complete emotional detachment.

No, that would be a Vulcan.
frajo
not rated yet Mar 22, 2011
in this study, and in the second one, there was no prior requirement that the participants be Christian or even religious. However, nearly all the participants said they were Christian. Only one participant refused to pray and he was not included in the study.
Sounds suspicious to me. Why exclude someone who rejects the notion of "praying"?
Thus, this study represents only people who have a positive affinity to what's called "praying" and are prone to anger.

But how does a non-praying person deal with an anger situation?
First, the test subject would know that she's participating in a test. Second, the subject would know that she's not being told what she's really being tested for. Therefore, no anger, only curiosity.

Real life situation: Something happens that would anger "normal" people. But you are not angered. Because
1) in 90% of cases it's an error and no evil intention,
2) evil intent must not be rewarded.
sammilaw
1 / 5 (1) Mar 22, 2011
Anger and Prayer My Offering Part One

I categorize anger as a cunning form of denial. It is a reactionary emotion that is secondary to the real stimulus, which is generally a fear based relative or simply just fear of some kind of pain. So, from my perspective, that moves it into the irrational arena. Im not saying it isnt experienced as real just that it is more like a diversion from the truth.

Prayer, which could be said to be talking to God or just any serious thought, falls more clearly into the rational arena. Metaphysics aside that in itself is a good switch. Some may say that talking to God might be irrational. Im not one to do so. I consider a belief to be a serious thought blended with a strong emotion. Thats close enough to rational for me; basically because said emotion is commonly love based.

sammilaw
3 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2011
Anger and Prayer My Offering Part Two

As for Buddhism, Buddhist get angry. They are human, too. Yes, they practice letting go, emptying emotion and many more codes of healthy conduct. Plus, who knows what goes on inside. It is probably safe to say one will most likely not see a Buddhist monk act out in anger. My observation is they find almost everything funny; although I met a few with great capacity for sadness. (Maybe it was empathy, hard to tell really.)

As for Nirvana, the etymology of that word is that it comes from Sanskrit and was a household word in India for centuries. Moms cautioned wait nirvana too hot to eat now let cool down. It literally means to cool down.

So, if a prayer helps anger subside, it is moving a person towards nirvana.
bmh
5 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2011
I think think that language and how individual interpret different words plays a key role in these studies.

When someone is told to "think" regardless of their religion they view a situation as separate and not personal or emotional which removes a need to cope with the emotions related to the subject.

But when someone is told to "pray" those that have a belief in a loving caring controlling higher power they view a situation as related, causational which adds in a factor of control that originates from the prayer making it personal and associated with individuals emotions.

Now to say that just because someone is from the monotheist religions or even of any religion at all that religion or a belief in a power higher then oneself plays a factor at all. I wounder how the study would of come back if they just simply used the word think but instead of saying "pray they used the word "hope" or "wish".
89118a
3 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2011
Or you could just count to ten in a language you are trying to learn. Make the time productive.

I'm on my sixth language!!! lol
89118a
2.5 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2011
Despite being an avowed anti-theist the act of prayer helped me greatly when I needed it.
PaulieMac
5 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2011
Sounds suspicious to me. Why exclude someone who rejects the notion of "praying"?


Yeah... Essentialy, they demonstrated a variation on the placebo effect...

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