Praying is usually a social interaction between one person and God. For over thousands of years, religious people have used prayer as a way to find power from their chosen God or deities. If you were to ask a person why they choose to pray, they might explain that divine interaction gives them power or heals them. If you were to ask a scientist why people pray, they would now tell you something different.
Scientists have figured out that praying gives people more self-control. However, this power doesn’t seem to be coming from above. Those studying this theorize that frequently praying gives someone “cognitive endurance,” or brain fuel required for curbing temptations. Scientists have also found that ingesting glucose, like Gatorade or pasta, can increase your will power. So, why does praying also allow people to successfully avoid eating that last cookie (or robbing a bank)? According to the Scientific American,
“people interpret prayer as a social interaction with God, and social interactions are what give us the cognitive resources necessary to avoid temptation. Past research has found that even brief social interactions with others can promote cognitive functioning, and the same seems to hold true for brief social interactions with deities.”
It appears that social interaction alone can increase our ability to resist temptation. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that prayer is just as good as interacting with your neighbor. There could very well be some other, high-powered divine (or placebo) effect, causing individuals to believe that their temptations are now fully under control due to God’s help.