Piercarlo Valdesolo, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Claremont McKenna College reports in Scientific American magazine on a recent study conducted and soon to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology about using prayer to increase self-control. Based upon the theory that mental resources need to be replenished similar to physical resources, researchers found that prayer served as a way to uphold an individual’s will. Dr. Valdesolo reports that Malt Friese and Michaela Wanke find statistical evidence supporting individuals who comprehend prayer as a “social interaction with God” provide “cognitive resources necessary to avoid temptation”.
Chittaranjan Andrade, Professor of Psychopharmacology outlines several reason why the healing power of prayer cannot be scientifically studied through randomized controlled trials due to scientific constraints in his extensive review. His take home lesson of the story is, “The aim of science is not to open a door to infinite wisdom but to set a limit to infinite error” (Bertolt Brecht, Life of Galileo). However, the Friese and Wanke study is interesting in that they connect prayer with increasing cognitive function, much like a social interaction with a friend can bolster resources necessary to avoid temptation.
Valdesolo writes that atheists can also benefit from these findings, as the source of self control has it’s basis in social connectedness. Whether or not you believe in God, this same wisdom is found in the Bible countless times. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17.
As a Christian, I feel science has further validated, even if it’s wrought with constraints, the peace that envelopes me when I spend time talking with God in prayer. It’s also a reminder that from our origins, we are meant to be social. Not only with other individuals but also with the Creator. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4.