Think about who you offer ‘thoughts and prayers' to following a tragedy or disaster, study suggests

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become so commonly used following tragic events and natural disasters that there are now countless memes mocking the gesture.

But how do people really feel about it? A study conducted by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published on Monday showed that some people, especially nonreligious folk, are willing to pay to avoid the phrase.

While there is no monetary value attached to the gesture, researchers assessed how people felt based on “willingness to pay, a measure that captures the net monetary value of perceived costs and benefits.”

The experiment was conducted following the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which heavily damaged many parts of North Carolina in September 2018.

Researchers spoke with 482 residents and paid them a fee plus an additional $5 to be used in the experiment, according to the study’s abstract. Those participants identified themselves as Christians and believers in God and either atheist or agnostic.

The participants were then asked if they were affected by Florence and about 30 percent indicated they were, according to the study.

Researchers asked the religious and nonreligious participants were then told they could exchange some or all of the $5 to receive supportive thoughts from a Christian stranger, supportive thoughts from a nonreligious stranger, prayers from a priest and prayers from a Christian stranger.

The experiment showed that Christians or religious participants valued prayers from a priest the most, bringing the cost to an average of $7.17. They were also willing to pay on average $3.46 to receive prayers from a Christian stranger.

Christians or religious participants also appeared to negatively value thoughts from a nonreligious stranger, according to the results.

The results also showed that nonreligious participants were “prayer averse” and would pay the most, an average of $3.54, to avoid receiving prayers from a Christian stranger. They were also willing to pay a priest an average of $1.66 not to pray for them.

“Nonreligious people appeared to be indifferent to thoughts from a secular stranger,” according to the study.

Researchers suggested that if people decide to offer their “thoughts and prayers” that they consider who they are addressing and if that person would truly value the sentiment.

“Our results suggest that thoughts and prayers for others should be employed selectively,” the study concluded.