Determinism’s Effect on Behavior

From Nature News:

    The answers could also end up influencing people’s behaviour. In 2008, Kathleen Vohs, a social psychologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and her colleague Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist now at the University of California, Santa Barbara, published a study5 on how people behave when they are prompted to think that determinism is true. They asked their subjects to read one of two passages: one suggesting that behaviour boils down to environmental or genetic factors not under personal control; the other neutral about what influences behaviour. The participants then did a few maths problems on a computer. But just before the test started, they were informed that because of a glitch in the computer it occasionally displayed the answer by accident; if this happened, they were to click it away without looking. Those who had read the deterministic message were more likely to cheat on the test. “Perhaps, denying free will simply provides the ultimate excuse to behave as one likes,” Vohs and Schooler suggested.

3 thoughts on “Determinism’s Effect on Behavior

  1. This is interesting. What I’m wondering is, if determinism turns out being the case, then we’re all under the illusion about freedom right now. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that we couldn’t still operate under that illusion (behaviorally) if we believe determinism is true. But if we could still be operating under the illusion upon believing determinism is true, how does this study accomplish what it would need to to show that behavior is undermined by the belief about determinism?

  2. I am not sure your questions were meant to be addressed by the scope of the study. It zeros in on the practical effects of knowing a certain piece of information. I suppose if someone had the gumption to repress the information and carry on like it didn’t matter, then things would be different.

  3. I think from the section that you posted I got the impression that they were overinterpreting. The study, from my understanding, doesn’t show that there is something exclusive in believing that D is true that necessitates the undermining of the behavior. If there was something exclusive to that then the study would be able to show that people’s sense of freedom is universally undermined upon coming to believe D is true. But I think Vohs and Schooler would acknowledge this, since they seem to be offering a fairly modest report: “Although the study reported here raises concerns about the possible impact of deterministic view on moral behavior, it is important not to overinterpret our findings. Our experiments measured only modest forms of ethical behavior, and whether or not free-will beliefs have the same effect on more significant moral and ethical infractions is unknown. In addition, a deterministic viewpoint may have a host of possible consequences, and only some of these may be unfavorable…”

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