What Science Says About ‘Thoughts and Prayers’

Source: The Atlantic


After the deadliest gun attack in modern U.S. history left 59 dead and hundreds injured in Las Vegas, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, both Nevadasenators, and many of their peers on the Hill took to Twitter to express—with some variation—that their “thoughts and prayers” were with the victims. Their use of the platitude, or a derivative, was not without precedent: Since the start of the legislative session on January 4, 1995, the Congressional Record identifiessome 4,139 instances in which a congressperson took to the Senate or House floor to express their “thoughts and prayers.” Given that the House has averaged 138 days in session a year and the Senate 162 since 2001, this equates to close to one “thoughts and prayers” entered into the record per workday on the Hill.

Some congresspeople, notably Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, took offense to this outpouring. Echoing the sentiment expressed by President Barack Obama in 2015 that “thoughts and prayers [were] not enough” after a mass shooting in Oregon—a claim which itself echoed the appeals of many after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting and, in turn, those of still others after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, ad infinitum—Murphy tweeted, “To my colleagues: Your cowardice to act cannot be whitewashed by thoughts and prayers. None of this ends unless we do something to stop it.”

Academic research indicates that the “thoughts and prayers” response is a uniquely American phenomenon—in Norway, by contrast, political elites’ reactions to the 2011 mass shooting of a summer camp centered not around spiritual engagement but appealing to social cohesion and collective action. Mass gun violence is also a uniquely American phenomenon, so it is self-evident that our platitude fails to prevent tragedy. One might wonder why “thoughts and prayers” has not worn out its use.

Part of the platitude’s persistence relates to the fact that “thoughts and prayers,” as an all-encompassing and simple phrase, is easily articulated in a state of shock when other words are hard to come by. For the religious and for the many atheists who do partake in prayer, the response of prayer after tragedy is intuitive. Experiencing shock, according to Kevin Ladd, a coauthor of The Psychology of Prayer: a Scientific Approach and a professor at Indiana University South Bend, takes away the breath and limits the range of speech responses. “Most immediate expressions of tragedy are monosyllabic,” Ladd told me. “We still are not sure what type of language will allow us to interpret what has taken place, so we default back to the most central practices for us. Prayer steps in and fills a void—creates a common kind of language.”

Read more: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/10/thoughts-and-prayers-vs-policy/542076/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=48d70ab67d-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_10_05&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-48d70ab67d-400098637


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