Monthly Archives: June 2010

Free Will and Morals- An experiment in psychology


               In today’s VERITAS we will explore the relationship between the belief in free will and moral behaviour by discussing an experiment in psychology. Does a belief in free will have a relationship with morals. Does the belief in free will make one more moral or less moral? We will discuss these questions using an experiment in psychology.


Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Schooler conducted an experiment that aimed to test the relationship between free will
and morals. A set of 30 people were taken and divided into two groups of 15 people each. One group was given
passages and statements which seemed to state that free will does not exist. They were made to read the viewpoints
of philosophers and scientists who were determinists and stated that free will is only an illusion. One of the passages
they read was from Francis Crick’s book( Crick along with Watson discovered the structure of DNA), the Astonishing

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will,
are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are
is nothing but a pack of neurons.”

So one group was given “anti-free-will” passages to read. The other group was given neutral passages to read that said
nothing about free will or the lack of it.

Then the two groups was given a set of maths questions to solve on a computer. The computer program that asked the
questions had a bug that the students could use to cheat in the test. After the test was over the experimenters checked
the results of which group cheated more. The subjects of the experiment thought that the experiment was about math
skills but actually the experiment was about who cheats more.

The experimenters found that the group that was given “anti-free-will” passages to read cheated much more as compared
to the group that read no passages related to free will.

So the study suggested that a belief in free will makes one more moral. The person who believes in free will tends to
take responsibility of his actions. A non-believer in free will tends to assign the moral responsibility to determinism- it
had to  happen that way!

So scientists think that we may not have free will but a belief in free will keeps society more moral. Our deterministic
brain neurons fire based on its previous state but one of the components of the state is our belief system. And having
belief in free will in the system causes the neurons to fire more “morally” than when the brain does not have this belief.


Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides
go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,
instruct the planets in what orbs to run
correct old time, regulate the sun

Creative Commons License
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.