The impact of prayer direction on emotional and cognitive responses to personal problems

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Psychology of Religion and Spirituality


prayer, coping, emotional acceptance


Past research has demonstrated the self-regulatory function of prayer in response to personal problems. In the present research, we examined whether the direction of prayer (inward, outward, or upward) impacts the effect of prayer on emotional acceptance and cognitive understanding of a personal problem when compared with an equivalent time of thought. Graduate students at a nondenominational Christian university were recruited to participate in an online study about dealing with personal problems. Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 conditions: thought, inward prayer, outward prayer, or upward prayer. We found that whereas participants who directed their prayers inward and outward felt more resolved, at peace, and content than those in the thought condition, participants’ emotional acceptance did not differ between the upward prayer and thought conditions. Cognitive understanding of the problem was significantly greater for those in the inward and outward prayer conditions. The importance of experienced social interaction for emotionally and cognitively processing negative personal experiences is discussed.