Perceptions of the Efficacy of Prayer and Conventional Medicine for Health Concerns

  • Albert L. LyEmail author
  • Anondah R. Saide
  • Rebekah A. Richert
Original Paper


Previous research has associated prayer practices with positive health outcomes, but few studies have examined: (a) the perceptions of prayer in relation to perceptions of the efficacy of conventional medicine, and (b) whether the perceptions of prayer efficacy differ based on illness type, context of prayer, and whether prayer is for the self or someone else. The current study surveyed 498 emerging adults at a public university. Conventional medicine was perceived as more effective for alleviating health concerns overall, but participants perceived prayer as most effective when performed in a group setting for someone else. Individuals perceived prayer as more effective than conventional medicine when they reported greater religious activity, lower health locus of control, and higher spiritual locus of control.


Perceived efficacy Prayer Conventional medicine Health concerns 


  1. Ai, A. L., Peterson, C., Rodgers, W., & Tice, T. N. (2005). Effects of faith and secular factors on locus of control in middle-aged and older cardiac patients. Aging & Mental Health, 9(5), 470–481. Scholar
  2. Ang, D. C., Ibrahim, S. A., Burant, C. J., Siminoff, L. A., & Kwoh, C. K. (2002). Ethnic differences in the perception of prayer and consideration of joint arthroplasty. Medical Care, 40(6), 471–476. Scholar
  3. Arcury, T. A., Quandt, S. A., McDonald, J., & Bell, R. A. (2000). Faith and health self-management of rural older adults. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 15(1), 55–74. Scholar
  4. Barna. (2016). Most Americans believe in supernatural healing. Retrieved from
  5. Barrett, J. L. (2001). How ordinary cognition informs petitionary prayer. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 1(3), 259–269. Scholar
  6. Barry, C. M. N., & Abo-Zana, M. M. (2014). Emerging adults’ religiousness & spirituality: Meaning-making in an age of transition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bell, R. A., Suerken, C., Quandt, S. A., Grzywacz, J. G., Lang, W., & Arcury, T. A. (2005). Prayer for health among US adults: The 2002 national health interview survey. Complementary Health Practice Review, 10(3), 175–188. Scholar
  8. Bosma, H., Schrijvers, C., & Mackenbach, J. P. (1999). Socioeconomic inequalities in mortality and importance of perceived control: Cohort study. British Medical Journal, 319(7223), 1469–1470. Scholar
  9. Brooks, A. C. (2006). Who really cares: The surprising truth about compassionate conservatism. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  10. Buttrick, G. A. (1942). Prayer. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury.Google Scholar
  11. Debnam, K., Holt, C. L., Clark, E. M., Roth, D. L., Foushee, H. R., Crowther, M., et al. (2012). Spiritual health locus of control and health behaviors in African Americans. American Journal of Health Behavior, 36(3), 360. Scholar
  12. Ellison, C. G. (1992). Are religious people nice people? Evidence from the national survey of black Americans. Social Forces, 71(2), 411–430. Scholar
  13. Francis, L. J., & Kaldor, P. (2002). The relationship between psychological well-being and Christian faith and practice in an Australian population sample. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(1), 179–184. Scholar
  14. Franklin, M. D., Schlundt, D. G., & Wallston, K. A. (2008). Development and validation of a religious health fatalism measure for the African-American faith community. Journal of Health Psychology, 13(3), 323–335. Scholar
  15. Harris, F. (1999). Something within: Religion in African-American political activism. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Heiler, F. (1958). Prayer: A study in the history and psychology of religion. New York: Oxford University Press. (Original work published 1932).Google Scholar
  17. Hill, T. D., Ellison, C. G., Burdette, A. M., & Musick, M. A. (2007). Religious involvement and healthy lifestyles: Evidence from the survey of Texas adults. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 34(2), 217–222. Scholar
  18. Holt, C. L., Clark, E. M., Kreuter, M. W., & Rubio, D. M. (2003). Spiritual health locus of control and breast cancer beliefs among urban African American women. Health Psychology, 22(3), 294. Scholar
  19. Holt, C. L., Roth, D. L., Clark, E. M., & Debnam, K. (2014). Positive self-perceptions as a mediator of religious involvement and health behaviors in a national sample of African Americans. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(1), 102–112. Scholar
  20. Kinney, A. Y., Emery, G., Dudley, W. N., & Croyle, R. T. (2002). Screening behaviors among African American women at high risk for breast cancer: Do beliefs about god matter? Oncology Nursing Forum, 29(5), 835–844. Scholar
  21. Lam, P. (2002). As the flocks gather: How religion affects voluntary association participation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(3), 405–422. Scholar
  22. Loveland, M. T., Sikkink, D., Myers, D. J., & Radcliff, B. (2005). Private prayer and civic involvement. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 44(1), 1–14. Scholar
  23. Maltby, J., Lewis, C. A., & Day, L. (1999). Religious orientation and psychological well-being: The role of the frequency of personal prayer. British Journal of Health Psychology, 4(4), 363–378. Scholar
  24. Mansfield, C. J., Mitchell, J., & King, D. E. (2002). The doctor as God’s mechanic? Beliefs in the Southeastern United States. Social Science and Medicine, 54(3), 399–409. Scholar
  25. Maselko, J., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2006). Gender differences in religious practices, spiritual experiences and health: Results from the US general social survey. Social Science and Medicine, 62(11), 2848–2860. Scholar
  26. McCaffree, K. (2017). The secular landscape: The decline of religion in America. Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McCaffrey, A. M., Eisenberg, D. M., Legedza, A. T., Davis, R. B., & Phillips, R. S. (2004). Prayer for health concerns: Results of a national survey on prevalence and patterns of use. Archives of Internal Medicine, 164(8), 858–862. Scholar
  28. McCullough, M. E., Friedman, H. S., Enders, C. K., & Martin, L. R. (2009). Does devoutness delay death? Psychological investment in religion and its association with longevity in the Terman sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(5), 866. Scholar
  29. McCullough, M. E., Hoyt, W. T., Larson, D. B., Koenig, H. G., & Thoresen, C. (2000). Religious involvement and mortality: A meta-analytic review. Health Psychology, 19(3), 211. Scholar
  30. Meisenhelder, J. B., & Chandler, E. N. (2002). Spirituality and health outcomes in the elderly. Journal of Religion and Health, 41(3), 243–252. Scholar
  31. NORC. (2014). General social survey. Illinois: NORC.Google Scholar
  32. Park, J. Z., & Smith, C. (2000). ‘To whom much has been given…’: Religious capital and community voluntarism among churchgoing protestants. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39(3), 272–286. Scholar
  33. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2014). U.S. religious landscape study. Retrieved from
  34. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2015). U.S. public becoming less religious. Retrieved from
  35. Poloma, M. M., & Gallup, G. H. (1991). Varieties of prayer: A survey report. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International.Google Scholar
  36. Poloma, M. M., & Pendleton, B. F. (1989). Exploring types of prayer and quality of life: A research note. Review of Religious Research. Scholar
  37. Putnam, R. D., & Campbell, D. E. (2010). American grace: How religion divides and unites us. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  38. Richert, R. A., & Saide, A. R. (2018). Religious engagement. Invited chapter to appear in P. Leman (Ed.), The encyclopedia of child and adolescent development. London: Wiley.Google Scholar
  39. Rippentrop, A. E., Altmaier, E. M., Chen, J. J., Found, E. M., & Keffala, V. J. (2005). The relationship between religion/spirituality and physical health, mental health, and pain in a chronic pain population. Pain, 116(3), 311–321. Scholar
  40. Ross, L. E., Hall, I. J., Fairley, T. L., Taylor, Y. J., & Howard, D. L. (2008). Prayer and self-reported health among cancer survivors in the United States, National Health Interview Survey, 2002. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14(8), 931–938. Scholar
  41. Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 80(1), 1. Scholar
  42. Schnall, E., Kalkstein, S., Fitchett, G., Salmoirago-Blotcher, E., Ockene, J., Tindle, H. A., et al. (2012). Psychological and social characteristics associated with religiosity in women’s health initiative participants. Journal of Religion and Health, 51(1), 20–31. Scholar
  43. Sharp, S. (2013). When prayers go unanswered. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 52(1), 1–16. Scholar
  44. Somlai, A. M., Kelly, J. A., Kalichman, S. C., Mulry, G., Sikkema, K. J., McAuliffe, T., et al. (1996). An empirical investigatio of the relationship between spirituality, coping, and emotional distress in people living with HIV infection and AIDS. The Journal of Pastoral Care, 50(2), 181–193. Scholar
  45. Stürmer, T., Hasselbach, P., & Amelang, M. (2006). Personality, lifestyle, and risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer: Follow-up of population based cohort. British Medical Journal, 332(7554), 1359. Scholar
  46. Wachholtz, A. B., & Pargament, K. I. (2008). Migraines and meditation: Does spirituality matter? Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(4), 351–366. Scholar
  47. Wallston, K. A., Malcarne, V. L., Flores, L., Hansdottir, I., Smith, C. A., Stein, M. J., et al. (1999). Does God determine your health? The God locus of health control scale. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 23(2), 131–142. Scholar
  48. Wallston, K. A., Strudler Wallston, B., & DeVellis, R. (1976). Development of the multidimensional health locus of control (MHLC) scales. Health Education Monographs, 6(1), 160–170. Scholar
  49. Wuthnow, R. (2004). Saving America?: Faith-based services and the future of civil society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Albert L. Ly
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anondah R. Saide
    • 2
  • Rebekah A. Richert
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLoma Linda UniversityLoma LindaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

Personalised recommendations