Moreover, Dr. Powell says that she and her colleagues excluded from their review any study that failed to control for the social benefits of church attendance as well as the healthier habits of those who go regularly. Even after excluding those factors, they found a significant health and mortality benefit from regular attendance. "There's an unknown mechanism" contributing to the benefit, she says, adding that she doesn't believe that that mechanism is God.

Dr. Powell says that a continuing study of hers is suggesting that that mechanism might be the practice, encouraged in nearly all religions, of turning to prayer or meditation in moments of anger and distress, thereby diminishing the harmful effects of negative emotion. She tells of a Sikh cab driver who told her that any time another driver cuts him off, he reaches for his prayer beads. In doing so, he told her, "I feel closer to God."

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