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Switch to Forum Live View Belief of "No Free Will" leads to increased unethical behavior
4 years ago  ::  Apr 13, 2010 - 7:01AM #1
Don't_Be_Captious
Posts: 1,035

Although it might seem to be an esoteric issue with few practical implications beyond tenure decisions in philosophy departments, the question of whether free will exists -- and, in particular, whether people believe it exists -- has some solid real-world repercussions.


Consider, for example, the following 2008 social psychology experiment.  Researchers Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, and Jonathan Schooler, professor of psychology at University of California-Santa Babara, put subjects in front of a computer and asked them to read eitehr a neutral passage or else a passage arguing that free will does not exist and claiming that most scientists agree.


Subjects were then given a 20-problem arithmetic test but were warned that a software glitch would cause the correct answer to be displayed on the screen unless they pressed the space bar immediately after each problem appeared.  They should try to do the problems on their own, they were told, but no one would know if they didn't.


In reality, the computer was set up to count how often the subjects hit the space bar.  When the numbers of space bar presses were tallied, the experimenters found that the subjects who had read the no-free-will passage cheated far more often than those who had read the neutral passage.  [Emphasis mine - DBC]


[Florida State University] social psychologist Roy Baumeister performed a similar experiment that tested how a belief in free will affects one's behavior towards others.  He found that subjects who had read passages denying the existence of free will were less willing to help others and were more aggressive -- as measured by their willingeness to serve exceptionally hot sauce to others.


In a recent blog, Baumeister summarized the research in the area this way:  "Reducing people's belief in free will and pushing them toward deterministic beliefs makes people more likely to lie, cheat, steal, hurt an innocent person, and conform mindlessly to what others say.  It makes them less likely to offer help to someone in need or to reflect on their misdeeds and learn lessons about  how they might behave better in the future." 



-- from Florida State University Research in Review, Spring 2010, p. 28


 


 


This seems awfully self-evident to me, and is essentially the main reason I strenuously object to Naive Realist scientific materalist-types who glibly assert that free will doesn't exist in any meaningful way at all, and is just an illusion.


There's a reason evolution endowed our brains & minds with such an incorrigible sense that we have a wide range of degrees of freedom to behave in certain ways in the world.

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4 years ago  ::  Apr 13, 2010 - 7:26PM #2
Blü
Posts: 24,871

DBCaptious


"Reducing people's belief in free will and pushing them toward  deterministic beliefs makes people more likely to lie, cheat, steal,  hurt an innocent person, and conform mindlessly to what others say.["]


What sort of people?  What do we know of the beliefs of the subjects about freewill before they took the test?  Did those of deterministic bent already cheat more?  Or was it only those who were assuming they had freewill who were influenced to cheat more?


It may be that only determinism breeds cheats.  Or it may be that only freewillers are dying for a chance to escape from the watchdog on their shoulder.


 

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4 years ago  ::  Apr 13, 2010 - 8:32PM #3
Myownpath
Posts: 949

Actually , I heard of a similar study a couple years back. Sorry don't recall who did it, etc. but it was found that people who believed in fate or something being destined where more likely to lie, steal, cheat. The reasoning/explanation found was that people who felt they were fated attributed situations to something outside of themselves that they had no control over. The were less proactive in changing a undesirable circumstance or felt outside circumstances made it difficult for them to change what needed to be changed. People who did not believe in fate were more likely to feel competent in taking responsibility in changing a negative circumstance, so were less likely to lie, steal, and cheat.


 

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4 years ago  ::  Apr 13, 2010 - 9:58PM #4
Ken
Posts: 33,859

Frankly, if I were given a passage about the nonexistence of free will and that ridiculous story about a software glitch, I'd see through the experiment at once and cheat like crazy from sheer annoyance. 

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4 years ago  ::  Apr 14, 2010 - 6:26AM #5
Don't_Be_Captious
Posts: 1,035

Apr 13, 2010 -- 7:26PM, Blü wrote:


DBCaptious


"Reducing people's belief in free will and pushing them toward deterministic beliefs makes people more likely to lie, cheat, steal, hurt an innocent person, and conform mindlessly to what others say.["]


What sort of people?  What do we know of the beliefs of the subjects about freewill before they took the test?  Did those of deterministic bent already cheat more?  Or was it only those who were assuming they had freewill who were influenced to cheat more?


It may be that only determinism breeds cheats.  Or it may be that only freewillers are dying for a chance to escape from the watchdog on their shoulder.


 




 


Yes, I'm aware:  "More studies are needed for more conclusive results," yadda yadda yadda.


Sometimes, not to be insulting, but it sure seems like you have a really short memory when it comes to all our discussions, particularly if it's something that challenges you (i.e., in my case, infinity & free will).


You already know (or should know) that I totally concede that, more than likely, all the subjects' responses given in the OP were pre-determined (i.e. in the big scheme of things; predetermined by the physics of the universe, not by the researchers).


But the point is, neither you nor I nor anyone alive or dead or in the future could possibly know for certain exactly what people are going to.  This is where assertions that everything is already pre-determined become even less than useless rhetoric.  At least assertions of free will are more useful rhetoric.


I admit that earlier on, all I had were hunches more or less along the lines as I stated in the OP.  (Hunches developed by pretty deep, reasoned thought & study of the free will problem, but hunches nonetheless.)  But now there clearly appears to be actual research backing up these hunches.


I find it at least bordering on disingenuous to attempt to discount what appear to be pretty legitimate university research results on the bases that you appear to be trying to do so.  Research is research, right?

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4 years ago  ::  Apr 14, 2010 - 6:35AM #6
Don't_Be_Captious
Posts: 1,035

Apr 13, 2010 -- 7:26PM, Blü wrote:

It may be that only determinism breeds cheats.  Or it may be that only freewillers are dying for a chance to escape from the watchdog on their shoulder.





Disingenuous, to wit:  As if you wouldn't be aware that such things would be accounted for in the study.


It would be well beyond random chance that only predetermined cheaters would just happen to be the only ones to fail to push the space key once the answer appeared on their screen.


It happened like this:


Everyone was given a passage or passages to read, either neutral about free will, or explicitly anti-free-will, with ostensible endorsement from "many scientists" (as in, "There is no such thing as free will, and most scientists agree").


People who had read the "neutral" passages, were more likely to press the space bar when the answer "accidentally" appeared (as the space bar made the screen go away).


People who had read the "anti-free-will" passages, were less likely (the article says far less likely) to press the space bar.


Presumably, these results were tested frequently enough to confirm that this was beyond statistically random chance.


 


You could perhaps challenge this on the grounds that there actually wasn't enough testing done.  But you can't just blithely, glibly imply that somehow only "predetermined cheaters" just happened to be the only ones who read the "anti-free-will" passages.  You certainly know better than that.  This is very simple statistics.

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4 years ago  ::  Apr 14, 2010 - 6:36AM #7
Don't_Be_Captious
Posts: 1,035

Apr 13, 2010 -- 9:58PM, Ken wrote:


Frankly, if I were given a passage about the nonexistence of free will and that ridiculous story about a software glitch, I'd see through the experiment at once and cheat like crazy from sheer annoyance. 




Ah, yes, I'm sure you wouldn't make a very good test subject in any research study.  I, too, would like to throw away my census form, for example.  Annoyance & all.


 


Still, that is a good point, another criticism that could be leveled at this study or other such studies.  How did or would researchers account for such a level of snarky cynicism & hence bias in such a study?  How would they know for sure that the college students they tested might not be as sophisticated as you or other older adults (who presumably may have thought more about the subject of free will for a longer time), and, as you say, "see through" the experiment & intentionally sabotage it?


I suspect, however, given the level of sophistication attributed to most subjects in most college research studies, it's probably not as big a deal as you might imply.

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4 years ago  ::  Apr 14, 2010 - 2:51PM #8
Don't_Be_Captious
Posts: 1,035

Apr 14, 2010 -- 6:36AM, Don't_Be_Captious wrote:


Apr 13, 2010 -- 9:58PM, Ken wrote:


Frankly, if I were given a passage about the nonexistence of free will and that ridiculous story about a software glitch, I'd see through the experiment at once and cheat like crazy from sheer annoyance. 




Ah, yes, I'm sure you wouldn't make a very good test subject in any research study.  I, too, would like to throw away my census form, for example.  Annoyance & all.


 


Still, that is a good point, another criticism that could be leveled at this study or other such studies.  How did or would researchers account for such a level of snarky cynicism & hence bias in such a study?  How would they know for sure that the college students they tested might not be as sophisticated as you or other older adults (who presumably may have thought more about the subject of free will for a longer time), and, as you say, "see through" the experiment & intentionally sabotage it?


I suspect, however, given the level of sophistication attributed to most subjects in most college research studies, it's probably not as big a deal as you might imply.




Also, I'm not sure calling into question the subjects' savviness is necessarily a solid objection.  Wouldn't one also have presumed that Milgram's test subjects back in the day would have "gotten" either that his test was a hoax, and/or that it would have been obviously unethical to issue electric shock punishments to the people on the other side of the glass?  But, no, instead, they mostly seemed to obey orders, and issued (what they thought were) shocks to people on the other side of the glass, no matter how horrible that seemed.


By the same token, I find it hard to believe college students in general would be as savvy & cynical as Ken, and just trash the study "because they can."  They generally probably couldn't be considered any more savvy than Milgram's group.

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4 years ago  ::  Apr 14, 2010 - 2:57PM #9
Don't_Be_Captious
Posts: 1,035

Lastly, blu, (& others), let me ask you this:


If we got past your knee-jerk cynicism of the results of the tests indicated by the article, and we could instead actually accept that there is at least the potential that simply asserting baldly things like, "It's a scientific fact that there's no such thing as free will," or "Free will is proven scientifically to be a mere illusion"...


...If we accepted the premise that merely stating these sorts of things, in fact contributes to the statistically increased likelihood of unethical behavior in others...


...Would you insist that you have a perfect right to go on stating these sorts of things?


e.g. If the case could be made that you steadfastly stating your assertions, that "Free will is an illusion, and most scientists agree," etc., actually increases the likelihood that others will behave more often unethically -- Then couldn't the case also be made that you are in fact behaving unethically?

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4 years ago  ::  Apr 14, 2010 - 3:20PM #10
Ken
Posts: 33,859

Apr 14, 2010 -- 2:57PM, Don't_Be_Captious wrote:


Lastly, blu, (& others), let me ask you this:


If we got past your knee-jerk cynicism of the results of the tests indicated by the article, and we could instead actually accept that there is at least the potential that simply asserting baldly things like, "It's a scientific fact that there's no such thing as free will," or "Free will is proven scientifically to be a mere illusion"...


...If we accepted the premise that merely stating these sorts of things, in fact contributes to the statistically increased likelihood of unethical behavior in others...


...Would you insist that you have a perfect right to go on stating these sorts of things?


Yes. If a proposition is true, we are morally obliged to face that truth squarely and make the best of it. How can we face it if nobody states it? 

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