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The power of prayer has long been controversial, but a new study in a leading psychological journal finds some of the first scientific evidence that it truly works – at least on the person doing the praying.

While previous studies have looked largely at the people being prayed for, investigators flipped the research model to examine those who personally engage in the religious practice. They found that even a single prayer for a loved one led to increased self-reported willingness to be forgiving of that person.

Though the research leaves open the possibility of divine intervention, investigators don’t claim any “miraculous event.” They instead focus on scientifically quantifiable factors, such as prayer’s ability to prime a more selfless state of mind. “This is not an attempt to proselytize; our position is one of absolute neutrality,” says study co-author Frank Fincham, a world expert on relationship science. “What seems to be operative here is that people experience a selfless love when they pray; they appear to be connecting more with humanity and feeling more positively toward humanity as a whole. That’s what leads them to be more willing to forgive.”

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