In a new Brandeis study, researchers analysed 683 prayers written in a public prayer book placed in the rotunda of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital between 1999 and 2005. It was found that prayer writers seek general strength, support, and blessing from their prayers, rather than explicit solutions to life's difficult situations. And on many occasions they frame their prayers broadly enough to allow multiple outcomes to be interpreted as evidence of their prayers being answered.
Lead author Wendy Cadge, a sociologist, found that the prayers fell into one of three categories: about 28 percent of the prayers were requests of God, while 28 percent were prayers to both thank and petition God, while another 22 percent of the prayers thanked God.
The study gives an insight of the psychology of the people behind the prayers.
Most writers anthropomorphized God, addressing God as they would a relative, friend, or parent, preferring familiarity over deference.
"Most prayer writers imagine a God who is accessible, listening, and a source of emotional and psychological support, who at least sometimes answers back," said Cadge.
She added: "Prayer writers also tend to frame their prayers broadly, in abstract psychological language, and this allowed them to make many interpretations of the results of their prayers."
She explained it by saying that the study found that prayer provides a means through which people can reflect on and reframe difficult events in an effort to understand those events in the context of their beliefs.
The study complements other recent research that focuses on whether prayer has any measurable influence on health.
The study is published in the current issue of Poetics.