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Why Predeterminism is Bad for All of Us

Here is a very interesting research paper:

The Value of Believing in Free Will: Encouraging a Belief in Determinism Increases Cheating

I added this to today’s links list, but wanted to highlight it. If you want the short version, here is the abstract from the article:

Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether
inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read excerpts that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased immoral behavior on a passive cheating task that involved allowing a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that participants should have been solving themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, exposure to deterministic statements led participants to overpay themselves on a cognitive test relative to participants who were exposed to statements endorsing free will as well as participants in numerous control conditions. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.

Now, I have long been a proponent of free will theory and opposed to any concept of predetermination. I believe that it undermines individual potential. Predeterminism recuses you from personal accountability. Even those who believe in predetermination but profess “many paths to the predetermined result” makes them accountable are fooling only themselves. If you know in your heart of hearts that the outcome is already determined, you divest responsibility.
What I had never stopped to consider (because I’m not terribly bright) is the impact beyond the individual. This research discussed in the article illustrates the toll predeterminism can take on our society. Frankly stated, the research shows that predetermination is immoral. To strengthen our society, all institutions should be teaching the importance of free will. Now, this could become a discussion of whether free will exists or not, but instead I want to consider what we should be teaching people to strengthen our society. Whether you believe in free will or not, I leave you with a quote from the article:

It is also crucial to emphasize that the present findings do not speak to the larger issue of whether free will actually exists. It is possible that free will is an illusion that nevertheless offers some functionality. It may be that a necessary cost of public awareness regarding the science of human behavior will be the dampening of certain beliefs about personal agency (Wegner, 2002). Conversely, it may prove possible to integrate a genuine sense of free will into scientific accounts of human behavior (see Baumeister, in press; Dennett, 2004; Kane, 1996; Shariff et al., in press). Although the concept of free will remains scientifically in question, the present results point to a significant value in believing that free will exists.

Posted in: Learning, Society, Uncategorized

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