Co-Principal Investigator for project is Galen Bodenhausen.
The current research brings together research on prayer, which has benefited from an expansion of the concept of prayer from a singular to a multifaceted entity (Ladd & Splika, 2002; Poloma & Pendleton, 1989) and research on cognition, which has benefited from an expansion of a view of cognition from a singular to multifaceted entity (Bargh 2007). It is proposed that different kinds of prayer will activate different kinds of cognitive processes and will thus have unique implications for moral and ethical decision making.
The proposed research will examine the cognitive underpinnings and implications of three kinds of prayer. The first kind of prayer involves petitioning God for direction in decision making (Bade & Cook, 2008). When praying for guidance, individuals are likely to adopt a monitoring orientation in which they seek evidence of a divine response. Such responses must presumably be intuited by the petitioner. We propose that this intuitive monitoring orientation will lead individuals to pay undue attention to automatic mental associations activated by their cognitive system and thus will lead them to misattribute their own automatic associations to a divine source. The second kind of prayer involves a view of God as relatively more passive and benevolent and thus addresses God not with specific requests but instead with gratitude (Paloma & Pendleton, 1989). Unlike prayer for guidance, prayers of gratitude should not activate an intuitive monitoring orientation. Instead, this form of prayer will elicit more active, analytical thought processes, in which individuals actively deliberate about the blessings in their lives and contemplate their reasons for being grateful. We predict that this active reasoning orientation will lead to more complex and deliberative processing that is less influenced by automatic mental associations. Our prediction regarding the third form of prayer, prayers of praise, is offered more tentatively. This form of prayer is not expected to be systematically associated with intuitive monitoring, nor should it necessarily elicit more extensive deliberative thinking. As such, prayers of praise may elicit a level of implicit bias that is intermediate between that of prayers for guidance (high bias) and prayers of gratitude (low bias)
Four studies will utilize cutting edge research and theory on automatic cognition to understand how prayer affects moral and ethical decision making. Our research will directly address how prayer is similar to and related to automatic and deliberate mental processes by comparing the three kinds of prayers to two kinds of prayer-independent decision making processes. The first three studies will be experiments looking at the effects of prayer on use of automatic attitudes (Study 1), implicit bias (Study 2) and unconscious goals (Study 3). The fourth and final study will be a correlational study examining cognitive styles associated with the tendency to use each kind of prayer.
Intellectual Merit The proposed studies will bring together cutting-edge research in prayer and in automatic social cognition and will be the first work to look at the unique cognitive styles associated with different kinds of prayers, increasing intellectual understanding of both prayer and automatic cognition. Furthermore, the proposed research utilizes cutting-edge social cognitive techniques to look at prayer and thus pushes the boundaries of methodological approaches to the study of prayer.
Broader Applications The current work will be the first to look at the implications of prayer for decision making, setting the stage for research on all areas of decision making: in business, the court system, politics, and even personal relationships. The research will suggest that, when used wisely, prayer has the power to reduce prejudice, increase effective decision making, and help people make decisions that most strongly reflect their best interest