Don’t Bother Praying Before That Exam

April 7, 2012

It's only natural to think that religious people could benefit a little from some religious practices. 

Not because some God will answer the call -- nope, that isn't happening -- but only because inner psychological forces might possibly deliver some help.  Perhaps religious cues energize a few cognitive systems for believers, or perhaps religious practices calm a few distracting stresses and anxieties. 

Other effects of religious practices have been detected, such as meditation, for example.  But what about getting help with entirely intellectual tasks, like taking a tough exam?

It turns out that no cognitive benefit is showing up.  Getting a person into a religious state of mind, or even having them to pray first, has no effect on test performance.  A new study, published as "Does Religious Faith Improve Test Performance?" by Mara Aruguete et al (North American Journal of Psychology, March 2012), can't find any help from even prayer.

The article abstract explains,

"In two related studies we sought to determine if reminding persons of one’s religious faith would cue an increase in self-efficacy and perseverance that would lead to better performance on an intellectual task. In experiment one college students were randomly assigned to a group that filled out a religious orientation scale or one that filled out a distracter scale. Both groups responded to a self-efficacy scale, then, took a logical reasoning test. Results showed that completing the religious orientation scale did not influence self-efficacy, perseverance, or logical reasoning. In experiment two we used a stronger religious cue (prayer). Similar to experiment one, we found no significant differences among those who did or did not pray on either self-efficacy, perseverance, or logical reasoning. Results were discussed from the framework of recent research showing that superstitions “work” by raising task-related self efficacy, which in turn, leads to greater perseverance and improved performance."

Other sorts of superstitions remain to be investigated, but it looks like there's no hope for prayer.  Bad news for Faithers -- they have to rely on their own brains for taking those tests.