Economists find mixed values of 'thoughts and prayers'

September 16, 2019

Groundbreaking research by a University of Wyoming economist has shed new light on the controversial topic of the value of "thoughts and prayers" in response to natural and human-caused disasters.

An experiment led by Assistant Professor Linda Thunstrom, of the Department of Economics in UW's College of Business, found that Christians who suffer such adversity value thoughts and prayers from religious strangers, while atheists and agnostics believe they are worse off from such gestures. The research appears in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The net effect on recipient welfare from thoughts and prayers depends on how recipients perceive to benefit from such intercessory gestures," says Thunstrom, who conducted the research in conjunction with former UW sociology faculty member Shiri Noy, now with Denison University in Ohio.

The debate over the value of "thoughts and prayers" has come to the forefront as a result of the verbal responses of political and other leaders to mass shootings and natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. Some critics argue that expressing sympathy through thoughts and prayers is a meaningless gesture in response to tragedy -- and that, in some cases, it's an excuse to not take action.

Thunstrom and Noy's study placed actual economic values on thoughts on prayers through an experimental survey of victims of hurricane Florence in North Carolina last year. They found that, from the perspective of Christian hurricane victims, the monetary value of prayers by others on their behalf was significant. Meanwhile, atheists and agnostics were actually "prayer-averse," placing a negative monetary value on prayers on their behalf by others.

"Our results suggest that thoughts and prayers for others should ideally be employed selectively," Thunstrom and Noy wrote. "While Christians value such gestures from fellow believers, non-religious people negatively value such gestures from Christians and are indifferent to receiving them from other non-religious people."

Specifically, the study found that, on average, Christian hurricane victims value prayers from a Christian stranger at $4.36, and $7.17 from a priest. In contrast, non-religious people are willing to pay $3.54 for a Christian stranger and $1.66 for a priest to not pray for them.

Likewise, Christians value thoughts from a religious stranger at $3.27, while non-religious people negatively value the same gesture (-$2.02).

Suggesting more research on the perceived value of thoughts and prayers in response to catastrophes, Thunstrom says consideration of the findings could temper the public debate over the issue.

"The finding that Christians benefit from intercessory prayers, while the welfare of atheists/agnostics is reduced by such gestures, underscores the divide in this popular response to hardships," Thunstrom says. "Our results might also reflect the political and religious polarization in the United States. We find that it matters who sends the gesture -- Christians value gestures from other religious Christians, while non-religious attach a higher value to supportive gestures from other non-religious. A deeper understanding of the values and beliefs of different groups with respect to thoughts and prayers may, however, reduce some of the animosity surrounding thoughts and prayers in the public debate."
-end-


University of Wyoming

Related Gestures Articles from Brightsurf:

Guiding light: Skoltech technology puts a light-painting drone at your fingertips
Skoltech researchers have designed and developed an interface that allows a user to direct a small drone to light-paint patterns or letters through hand gestures.

​NTU Singapore scientists develop artificial intelligence system for high precision recognition of hand gestures
Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that recognises hand gestures by combining skin-like electronics with computer vision.

Children improve their narrative performance with the help of rhythmic gestures
Gesture is an integral part of language development. Recent studies carried out by the same authors in collaboration with other members of the Prosodic Studies Group (GrEP) coordinated by Pilar Prieto, ICREA research professor Department of Translation and Language Sciences at UPF, have shown that when the speaker accompanies oral communication with rhythmic gesture, preschool children are observed to better understand the message and improve their oral skills.

Gestures heard as well as seen
Gesturing with the hands while speaking is a common human behavior, but no one knows why we do it.

Oink, oink makes the pig
In a new study, neuroscientists at TU Dresden demonstrated that the use of gestures and pictures makes foreign language teaching in primary schools more effective and sustainable.

New dog, old tricks? Stray dogs can understand human cues
Pet dogs are highly receptive to commands from their owners.

Sport-related concussions
Concussions are a regular occurrence in sport but more so in contact sports such as American football, ice hockey or soccer.

Economists find mixed values of 'thoughts and prayers'
Christians who suffer from natural and human-caused disasters value thoughts and prayers from religious strangers, while atheists and agnostics believe they are worse off from such gestures.

Do as i say: Translating language into movement
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a computer model that can translate text describing physical movements directly into simple computer-generated animations, a first step toward someday generating movies directly from scripts.

Gestures and visual animations reveal cognitive origins of linguistic meaning
Gestures and visual animations can help reveal the cognitive origins of meaning, indicating that our minds can assign a linguistic structure to new informational content 'on the fly' -- even if it is not linguistic in nature.

Read More: Gestures News and Gestures Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.