How is it that prayer helps you — even if you’re an atheist?

I’m not religious, so this is not an attempt to convert anyone. A few months ago I posted from an abstract showing that the act of prayer can be beneficial — even if you don’t believe. Why is that? A new study gives some good insight:

Many individuals use prayer to manage negative emotions, but scholars know little about how prayer accomplishes this task. Using in-depth interview data from victims of intimate partner violence, I argue that prayer is an imaginary social support interaction that provides individuals with resources they use to perform individual emotion management strategies. In particular, interactions with God through prayer provide individuals (1) an other to whom one can express and vent anger; (2) positive reflected appraisals that help maintain self-esteem; (3) reinterpretive cognitions that make situations seem less threatening; (4) an other with whom one can interact to “zone out” negative emotion-inducing stimuli; and (5) an emotion management model to imitate. Most of these resources help individuals deal primarily with a particular type of emotion and have an appreciable influence on social action. The analysis presented suggests that scholars should investigate how interactions with imagined others help individuals manage emotions.

Source: “How Does Prayer Help Manage Emotions?” from Social Psychology Quarterly

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