Nav: Home

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:

​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.
Telling stories using rhythmic gesture helps children improve their oral skills
For the first time it has been shown that a brief training session with rhythmic gestures has immediate benefits for narrative discourse in children of 5 and 6 years of age in a study published recently in Developmental Psychology led by Pilar Prieto, ICREA research professor and coordinator of the Prosodic Studies Group and of the Department of Translation and Language Sciences, together with her collaborators, Ingrid Vilà-Giménez and Alfonso Igualada (Cognition and Language Research Group, Open University of Catalonia).
More Gestures News and Gestures Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: IRL Online
Original broadcast date: March 20, 2020. Our online lives are now entirely interwoven with our real lives. But the laws that govern real life don't apply online. This hour, TED speakers explore rules to navigate this vast virtual space.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Falling
There are so many ways to fall–in love, asleep, even flat on your face. This hour, Radiolab dives into stories of great falls.  We jump into a black hole, take a trip over Niagara Falls, upend some myths about falling cats, and plunge into our favorite songs about falling. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.