You don't need to believe in free will to be a nice person, shows new research

Contrary to a widely-held view in psychology and other fields of research, belief in free will appears to be unrelated to moral behavior. Social psychologist Damien Crone from the University of Melbourne and Philosophy professor Neil Levy of Macquarie University and the University of Oxford conducted a series of studies of 921 of people and found that a person's moral behavior is not tied to their beliefs in free will. The results will appear in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science this month.

"For some philosophers and psychologists, the belief in free will is linked with , and the possibility of denying free will leads to immoral behavior," says Levy, "But our findings suggest there is no need for alarm."

Recent scientific studies show most people believe in free will. A number of experimental studies further suggest that there is a connection between a person's free will beliefs (FWB) and everyday moral behaviors and desirable moral characteristics such as those higher in FWB score greater than their non-FWB peers in helpfulness and show less dishonesty.

In a series of four online studies, Crone and Levy measured participants' pro-social and anti-social behaviors, as well as their belief in free will. To test the association between people's level of FWB and their behavior, they provided opportunities for participants to engage in generous or dishonest behavior. The first game, dubbed a "charity dictator game," allowed participants to donate all or part of a bonus payment to the Red Cross. They expanded upon this in subsequent studies, by allowing participants to choose which charity they would want to donate to.

In another task included in the latter three studies, participants played a dice game, where they could earn a bonus payment based on the roll of a die. The results of the die roll were self-reported, giving people a chance to lie about their rolls to improve their prospects. By comparing the expected and observed outcomes of die rolls, particularly whether the more lucrative outcomes were over-reported, the researchers could estimate how many people cheated in the game, and whether particular people (e.g., those who disbelieve in free will) were more likely to cheat.

Across all four studies, Crone and Levy found no correlation between FWB and participants' generosity or dishonesty.

This main finding is a null result, but the authors stress that it is unclear how earlier work ought to be interpreted in light of this result. They cannot definitively conclude that there is no association at all—free will belief may promote moral behavior in specific contexts, and perhaps that explains the mixed findings across different studies. Crone and Levy suggest that at the very least it seems that the field needs to rethink the prevalent view that belief in free will promotes moral in general.

"Of all the things that might predict , in free will is probably a long way down the list," says Crone. "People need not worry about their free will-disbelieving friends or family members being any less generous or honest than the rest of the population."

Explore further

People make different moral choices in imagined versus real-life situations

More information: Damien Crone and Neil Louis Levy. Are free will believers nicer people? (Four studies suggest not) Social Psychological and Personality Science. Online before print Summer 2018.
Citation: You don't need to believe in free will to be a nice person, shows new research (2018, June 25) retrieved 20 May 2019 from
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Jun 26, 2018
Game play by definition isolates the player from the consequences of their actions and so allows them to behave in way that would not behave in real life.

Students play more games than other adults and so their behaviour in games is more isolated from actual behaviour than other adults.

The paper ''Economic Man' in Cross-cultural Perspective: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-scale Societies" tested the hypothesis that game play relates to underlying hunter-gatherer derived behaviour by testing well known psychology games such as the Ultimatum Game and Public Goods Game on hunter-gatherers who had little western contact and were not familiar with the concept of games beyond childhood. Their behaviour was completely different from university students, was altruistic and not at all self centred as experienced game players usually are.

Only some professions, such as stock market brokers, reflect game play results however these professions are game-like anyway.

Jun 26, 2018
of course you don't need to believe in free. ridiculously obvious like so many 'controversies' among primitive mindsets. You need to recognize we are all a human family instead of 'us/me vs them' competition/exploitation. Don't just 'do unto others etc'..think and feel that we are all part of one whole. What we think of others (and our culture/laws) is what we think of ourselves. But of course yeah our culture and laws, practices etc don't even come close to the 'do unto others...' wisdom either.

Jul 02, 2018
Well, duh, see Scandinavia. Morals are partly evolved,partly cultural -philosophical/religious ideas such as "free will" likely does not *harm* much. Nor help, evidently.

Jul 24, 2018
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