The Guardian reports:
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on 436 residents of North Carolina, the state most affected by Hurricane Florence last year. The participants were given $5 “in support of their hardship” and asked how much, if any, they were willing to exchange to receive thoughts and prayers from strangers, most of whom were recruited over the internet.
When a participant agreed to a price for a gesture, one of the strangers received a note outlining the participant’s struggles and asking them to either pray or have them in their thoughts. Prayers from a priest were worth $7.17 to the average Christian in need.
Prayers from less exalted Christians were valued at $4.36, while mere thoughts from another Christian were cheaper still at $3.27. The researchers used statistical models to estimate prices people would pay above the $5 they had.
Atheists and agnostics, meanwhile, were averse to “thoughts and prayers”. On average, they were willing to pay a priest $1.66 not to pray for them, and more than twice that, $3.54, to ensure a run-of-the-mill Christian similarly refrained.
Hemant Mehta reacts at The Friendly Atheist:
The point? Thoughts and prayers weren’t just meaningless for atheists. They were literally worth avoiding. It’s the difference between listening to a song you’ve never heard before and having to sit through the most annoying song in the world. You can deal with the former, but you just might pay money to avoid the latter.
What’s the takeaway here? If you take the study seriously, then the next time a tragedy occurs, don’t just offer victims thoughts or prayers as if those words will be taken as a heartfelt gesture by everyone. Think about who you’re talking to. Find out what they actually need. Stop reflexively saying that phrase.
As every gay person knows, being told “I’ll pray for you” is often meant as a condemnation, not a gesture of love.