Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)

The Largest Study of Third-Party Remote Intercessory Prayer Suggests
Prayer Not Effective in Reducing Complications Following Heart Surgery

Study Manuscript
Press Release

Official Statement from the John Templeton Foundation

The John Templeton Foundation was the major funder of the Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP). This project applied a large-scale controlled randomized research model to contribute to a growing number of scientific studies about prayer. Previous studies had attracted widespread public attention and discussion due to claims of positive health outcomes for distant intercessory prayer in which patients were unaware of being prayed for in the context of a research study.

Analysts, however, had pointed to methodological weaknesses calling these results into question. In view of both the empirical uncertainties and the potential significance of a non-null result, the Foundation's advisory board advocated that substantial resources be put forth in order to advance methodological rigor in the design and execution of a new "blue ribbon standard" study. The results of the STEP project document the results of this experimental effort in a peer review journal.

The Foundation supports scientific rigor in all of its research-sponsorship endeavors and fully supports the findings as an example of the value of employing rigorous methodology in research on spiritual topics. Issues relating to the interpretation of the findings are discussed in an overview document which has been posted on this website since October 2002:

The Foundation encourages journalists and other interested persons to consider the various interpretive issues in depth. Prayer research is a fascinating topic and may well continue in additional modes to that presented as the outcome of the STEP project. However, the null results obtained by the methodologically rigorous STEP experiment appear to provide a clear and definitive contrasting result to an earlier published finding (Byrd study) of a positive effect for patient-blind distant intercessory prayer in a prayer experiment involving recovery of patients in a cardiac care unit.*   Result: The STEP project did not confirm these findings.

* Note: The Byrd study also involved randomization to receive or not receive patient-blinded distant intercessory prayer.

Articles in the Media

The Chronicle of Higher Education
April 14, 2006
Study of Prayer’s Healing Power on Surgery Patients Finds No Effect by Lila Guterman

The New York Times
April 11, 2006
Faith-Based Medicine by Raymond J. Lawrence

The Baltimore Sun
March 31, 2006
Distant prayer doesn't help heal, finds largest study yet by Jonathan Bor

The Chicago Tribune
March 31, 2006
In this study, prayers aren't the answer by Jeremy Manier

The Houston Chronicle
March 31, 2006
Study: Praying Won't Affect Heart Patients by Malcolm Ritter

The Los Angeles Times
March 31, 2006
Largest Study of Prayer to Date Finds It Has No Power to Heal by Denise Gellene and Thomas H. Maugh II

The New York Times
March 31, 2006
Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer by Benedict Carey

March 31, 2006
Study fails to show healing power of prayer by Michael Conlon

Time Magazine
March 30, 2006
Do Heartfelt Prayers Help the Heart? by Sora Song

USA Today
March 31, 2006
Study shrugs off prayer’s power to heal by Liz Szabo

The Washington Post
March 31, 2006
Prayer Doesn't Aid Recovery, Study Finds by Rob Stein