Monday, February 04, 2008

Belief in free will keeps us honest, study finds

Apparently, believing we have free will keeps us more honest. . In a recent study by psychologists Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota and Jonathan Schooler of the University of British Columbia,
The psychologists gave college students a mathematics exam. The math problems appeared on a computer screen, and the subjects were told that a computer glitch would cause the answers to appear on the screen as well. To prevent the answers from showing up, the students had to hit the space bar as soon as the problems appeared.
In fact, the scientists were observing to see if the participants surreptitiously used the answers instead of solving the problems honestly on their own. Prior to the math test, Vohs and Schooler used a well-established method to prime the subjects' beliefs regarding free will: some of the students were taught that science disproves the notion of free will and that the illusion of free will was a mere artifact of the brain's biochemistry whereas others got no such indoctrination.

The results were clear: those with weaker convictions about their power to control their own destiny were more apt to cheat when given the opportunity as compared to those whose beliefs about controlling their own lives were left untouched.

Of course, the study does not show that free will exists; it shows what happens when people believe it doesn't.

Here's the paper.