Posts tagged Free will
The field of psychology abounds with dichotomies- some of which are patently false/outdated, as per the grapevine. The familiar ones include Nature-nurture and mind-brain; in the former it is assumed that now everything is a mixture of both nature and nurture while in the latter both mind and brain have been conflated to be the same. However as separate disciplines of neurology and psychology attest , and the naive disorder classification system scientists themselves use, which squarely puts one disorder as psychological while other as more neurological attests, there is some merit in considering things at different level of explanation- at the brain or neuronal level of explanation and at the mind or self/ organism level of explanation,
In this article I argue that not only there is merit in these dichotomies, but that these dichotomies grasp fundamental aspects of being and all provide a glimpse of the proverbial elephant to the blind men that we are.
To begin with , the most fundamental dichotomy I consider is that of BRAIN-MIND or DETERMINISM-FREE WILL. To me the proponents of BRAIN fall on the DETERMINISM side of the table, while those of MIND fall into the FREE WILL camp. Let me elaborate. On the one side is reductive materialism that believes everything can be reduced to and explained in terms of neural firings and that all behavior is predetermined( from say the time of the Big Bang); on the other hand are people who tout the HARD problems and propose that qualia exists, subjectivity exists, agency exists, even if the basis for that be found only in quantum effects, or rather the basis for which will never be found in classical brain based accounts but will always be non-computable/ non -comprehensible but intuitively grasped by phenomenological experiences alone. To me there is merit in both arguments and my personal belief is that we are both determined and free, both brain and mind and that one is not the same as other but entails a different sort of world view. If I can go out on a limb, the first view of BRAIN is mechanistic/autistic in nature; while the second view that of MIND is mentalistic/psychotic in nature. But we are moving ahead of ourselves.
The first belief system, that based around BRAIN/ DETERMINISM, is not without its own challenges/dichotomies. Consider that the BRAIN is sculpted and so everything is pre-DETERMINED. Who sculpted the BRAIN? NATURE or NURTURE? Both GENES and ENVIRONMENT can be equally strongly deterministic and capable of shaping our brain and predisposing us to act in a particular way. No matter whether you believe in the all-empowering GENES or in the power of SITUATION to elicit behavior, or in the childhood influences that still govern adult REACTIONS, or believe in middle ground of developmental unfolding and epigenetic mechanisms, the predominant theme is that of doom and gloom and predestination. So NATURE-NURTURE is the dichotomy relevant here.
What about the FREE WILL/MIND camp? They too have to answer some tough questions as to what causes agency- is it REASON or PASSION? Does the freedom come from a lifetime of UNCONSCIOUS HABIT that gets engrained as character/PASSION or do we make a CONSCIOUS and REASONED DECISION every time we ACT ? Is it FREE because it is an inbuilt IMPULSE; or is it WILL because it can veto and CONTROL? The focus is squarely on ACTIONS- but Actions driven by PASSIONS or Actions driven by REASON? Note that in the NATURE-NURTURE theme the focus was on REACTIONS- what hidden force (genes/environment) causes us to react so and so; here the focus is on actions and what drives them ; here the focus is on the perennial battle between romanticism and enlightenment /rationalism. We grant that someone acts- but what is the basis of that action- is it PASSION or is it REASON? is it hidden, unconscious and spontaneous or is it deliberate, conscious and planned? the basic dichotomy here is between PASSION and REASON as the drivers of human action.
What about finer levels of dichotomies. Here again , on further analysis one can see that NATURE /GENES has a dichotomy in terms of Paternal genes or Maternal genes (working at cross-purposes at times as per genomic imprinting theory) ? NURTURE/ENVIRONMENT has a dichotomy in terms of SHARED (or PASSIVE) ENV. influences versus nons0hared or ACTIVE (niche constructing) ENV. influences. PASSION has tensions between SPONTANEITY/random/Life force/EROS versus HABIT/ingrained/Death instinct/THANTOS; while REASON has to balance between IRRATIONAL (mythos/chaotic) reasons versus RATIONAL (logos/orderly) reasons .
GENES are historical past facing; ENVIRONMENT is organism past + present facing; PASSION is Present + organism future facing; while REASON is totally future facing.
So where am I getting from here. It is to my ABCD model of psychology. Affect, Behavior , Desire/Motivation and Cognition.
To me, BRAIN-MIND/ DETERMINISM-FREE WILL debate is a manifestation of debates between primacy of Affect/behavior over motivation/cognition. Motivation /cognition are not directly observable/ measurable while in some sense affect and behavior are . Further, in BRAIN side there is tension between Affect (mostly inbuilt or genetic) and Behavior (mostly learned and a result of environmental influences) ; in a similar view, on the MIND side there is tension between Motivation (FREE/ PASSION) and Cognition (WILL/REASON).
Of course, there are finer levels of dichotomies embedded in ABCD as per the eight stage model where each of ABCD splits in two components based around- that of pleasure-pain, active-passive, self-other and broad-narrow. To me these dichotomies make perfect sense now.
To extend to one particular domain of personality psychology: you have deterministic personality theories emphasizing traits or behaviorism and you see a conflict/debate in personality theory in terms of Person (genes/traits) vs. situation(environment) variables. On the other hand are free-will theories of personality centered around Psychoanalytic theories and Phenomenological/existential theories where the fundamental conflicts is between conscious/ and unconscious; between past and future orientation, between passion/libido and reason/actualization.
To extend to another domain – that of psychopathology- Motivation defects in EROS and THANTOS lead to Mania and Depression respectively and remain in conflict with each other; Cognitive deficits in REASONs, that is, in MYTHOS based chaotic/dreamy/irrational reasoning versus LOGOS based orderly/reality-oriented and logical reasoning lead to the opposed and yet conflated phenotypes of Autism spectrum disorders and Psychotic spectrum disorders.
Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my fascination with Carol Dweck and her entity versus incremental theory of intelligence/ability that I have blogged about extensively in the past. To recap, people (children usually in her studies) can have a fixed entity view of intelligence that it is a stable trait whihc can/does not change with time; or they can have an incremental view of intelligence that focuses more on motivational states, goals, desires as determinant of success/intelligence exhibited and view it as a malleable and not a fixed trait.
A major paradigm she uses is documenting the behavior of those with chronic or induced entity vs incremental view of intelligence after receiving negative feedback/actual setbacks. She has found that while entity theorists relate their failures to global traits like lack of intelligence and display subsequent helpless behavior; the incremental self theorists display mastery oriented behavior, use new strategies and in general persist. The big question then becomes why do they persists? and the surprising answer may be what Neo answered - ‘because I choose to’.
I recently came across this book ‘Are we free’ about free will debate and in it was surprised to find a chapter by Carol Dweck and Daniel Molden titled “self-theories in the construction of free-will’ that builds on works of Carol et al to argue that those iwth fixed views of intelligence/morality basically are determinisms believing in a kind of genetic determinism, while the incremental theorists are sort of libertarians who believe that one can exercise choice over one’s behavior. They also show that belief in free-will/incremental theories has a better life outcome.
I will now quote extensively form that lovely artcile:
Modern psychological research suggests that, at least within Western societies, belief in the power of the individual over the constraints of the environment predicts better psychological adjustment and greater personal success. As a rule, people appear to fare better with an internal versus external locus of control (Rotter, 1966), feelings of self-determination versus external constraints (Ryan & Deci, 2000), and use of primary control (direct, agentic action) over secondary control (adjusting to the environment or event without trying to affect it; Heckhausen & Shultz, 1995; Lazarus, 1991).
They then mention how even after having an inetrnal attribution, one may still differ in whether one attributes to fixed traits or malleable states.
We have investigated this issue by focusing on people’s beliefs about whether basic personal attributes (such as intelligence or personality) are fixed and static traits or, instead, more dynamic qualities that can be cultivated (Dweck, 1999; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). The former belief is termed an entity theory, because here the assumption is that human attributes are fixed entities that are not subject to personal development. The latter belief is termed an incremental theory, because here the assumption is that human attributes can be developed or changed incrementally through one’s efforts.
Research comparing entity and incremental theorists has uncovered marked differences, ones that have important implications for perceptions of free will (for reviews see Levy, Plaks, & Dweck, 1999; Molden & Dweck, 2006). Not only do entity theorists by definition believe in fixed traits, but they also believe that these traits directly cause behavior in a highly predictable way (Chiu, Hong, & Dweck, 1997; Hong, 1994). In contrast, not only do incremental theorists by definition believe in more dynamic, malleable traits, but they also believe that people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations—which they view as controllable— play the major role in causing their actions (Hong, 1994).4 Thus, both theories give the major causal role to factors inside the person, but those internal factors for entity theorists are not amenable to personal control, whereas those internal factors for incremental theorists are far more susceptible to it.
Taken as a whole, these findings suggest that different beliefs about the nature of people’s traits and abilities may profoundly alter people’s potential for perceptions of free will in choices and actions. Entity theorists’ greater emphasis on the deterministic influence of fixed internal traits could serve to give them a sense of a stable and predictable world, but at the same time, constrain perceived opportunities for choice and agency. In contrast, incremental theorists’ greater focus on people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations as causes of action—factors they believe can be controlled—could serve to enhance perceived opportunities for self-determination.
Thus, entity theorists tend to respond to difficulty by relinquishing agency, whereas incremental theorists tend to react by reasserting their agency. Do these different reactions make a difference for important life outcomes? In a longitudinal study by Blackwell et al. (2007), students’ math achievement was monitored during their transition from relatively simple elementary school mathematics to more challenging junior high school mathematics. Although entity and incremental theorists did not differ in their math achievement when they entered junior high, incremental theorists soon began to earn higher grades than entity theorists and this disparity continued to increase over the next 2 years. The discrepancy in performance was found to result in large part from incremental theorists’ belief in the efficacy of renewed effort and their choice to persist in the face of setbacks (see also Hong et al., 1999). Furthermore, several studies have now taught students an incremental theory and shown substantial increases in their motivation and grades or achievement test scores in the face of challenging curricula both in junior high school and in college (Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; Blackwell et al, 2007; Good, Aronson, & Inzlicht, 2003).
Further support for these findings comes from recent research by Baer, Grant, and Dweck (2005).5 They showed, first, that entity theorists experience greater symptoms of distress and depression in their daily lives and that this is tied to their greater tendency to engage in self-critical rumination about their fixed traits and abilities following negative events. Baer et al. also showed that the more distress entity theorists felt, the less they engaged in active problem solving. The opposite was true for incremental theorists. Overall, then, entity theorists’ belief in deterministic traits leads them to perceive fewer choices for action following failure, and they do indeed appear to suffer from this lack of choice and reduced agency.
They then go on to discuss the self-theories in relation to moral responsibility and social judgement building on their previous work that showed that people having entity views tend to be more retributive, while those with incremental views moire rehabilitative when judging others.
In short, even though entity theorists believe that traits constrain the extent to which people could have acted otherwise, they still believe that people should be held accountable for these constrained actions. Moreover, even though incremental theorists believe that people are more free to alter and develop their basic character (i.e., they have ultimate responsibility for their actions; see Kane, 1996), they are less severe in their moral judgments and punishment. Perhaps it is their understanding of the complex psychology that lies behind decisions to act that makes them more understanding of errant behavior. Further, because in their eyes wrongdoers can change, they tend to advocate rehabilitation instead of retribution. To our knowledge, discussion of the link between conceptions of free will and the type of punishment people should receive has been less prominent in philosophical discussions and may be a fruitful direction for further analysis (see, for example, Smart, 1961).
To summarize thus far, research on self-theories has yielded a picture of two psychological worlds. In one, traits are fixed and deterministic and there is little room for agency when those traits prove deficient. It is also a world of retributive justice. In the other world, traits are malleable, and so are the causes of behavior, leaving more room for choice and agency even after setbacks. In this world of enhanced self-determination, education and rehabilitation are emphasized so that wrongdoers might be guided to make better choices in the future.
They finally conclude with implications of their research for the free-will debate, which I think need to be mulled over.
The first point from our research is that personality is, in many ways, a highly dynamic system in which (changeable) beliefs can create a network of motivation and action (Cervone, 2004; Dweck & Legget, 1988; Molden & Dweck, 2006; cf.; Mischel & Shoda, 1995). For example, personal theories of intelligence create different goals, beliefs about effort, task choices, and reactions to setbacks. Although these beliefs can be instilled or activated without people’s awareness, they can also be self-chosen.
We do not deny the important effects of inborn temperament and early experience and we do not view the child as a blank slate on which anything can be written. Yet our view of personality is very different from a view of personality as just a set of deep-seated personal qualities that inevitably incline people toward particular choices and actions. Indeed, even some of the most ardent students of temperament’s role in personality grant that as children develop they cognitively construct their worlds, and that these cognitive constructions (such as self-theories) become an important part of their personality (Block, 1993; Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994).9 Thus our first point is that people’s belief systems are part of their personality, and we see in this more dynamic view of personality greater possibility for self-formation.
Our second point is that beliefs, such as self-theories, can alter what are often taken to be deep-seated traits. Such traits might include resilience, extroversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, risk taking, and nurturance (Block, 1993; McCrae & Costa, 1999).
To me, it is important to persist. Persist in convincing skeptics of the utility of free will. And I choose to!
Dweck, C., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A Word From Two Perspectives Psychological Inquiry, 6 (4), 267-285 DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli0604_1
Carol, Dweck S; Daniel, Molden C (2008). Self-Theories: The Construction of Free Will Are We free, 44-65
I recently stumbled upon the Psychology Today blog of Roy F Baumeiester and went through some lively blog posts that were exchanged between him and other PT bloggers especially John Bargh on the issue of free will. Thoise exchanges are worth reading by themselves and are highly recommeneded.
This post meanwhile is not about whether free will exists or not , but it is about whether belief in free will is detrimental or has a beneficial effect. The opposite of free will, is traditionally conceived to be determinism and Baumeister recently and Vohs et al earlier have demonstrated in laboratory that belief in determinism leads to 1) more cheating 2) less pro-social helping behavior nd intentions and 3) more unwarranted aggressive behavior towards con-specifics.
First I will let Baumeister define the folk concpet of free will, as knowing fisrt hand that we are dealing with folk psychological concept of free will, rather than philosophical nuances helps. In his 2008 article titled Free Will in Scientific Psychology he provides following definition of free will:
Another approach to understanding what people mean by free will is to have participants rate how free a stimulus person’s actions are. Stillman, Sparks, Baumeister, and Tice (2006) had participants rate scenarios that varied systematically along several dimensions. Participants rated people’s actions as freest when their choices were made after conscious deliberation, when their actions went against external pressure rather than going along with it, and when people acted against their shortterm self-interest. Thus conscious, rational choice and selfcontrol seem to be integral parts of what people perceive as free. When people wrote autobiographical accounts of their own acts that felt free or unfree, pursuing long-term personal goals was central to the feeling of freedom. The difference suggests that people see free will in others as useful for restraining their socially undesirable impulses, but in themselves they see free will in the sustained pursuit of (enlightened) self-interest. As Dennett (1984, 2003) has argued, free will is hardly worth having unless it helps you get something you want.
Let me focus briefly on two of the most important phenomena that are associated with the concept of free will: self-control and rational intelligent choice. The cultural-animal argument has the following assumptions. First, self-control and smart choice are much more highly developed in humans than in other animals and thus are among the most distinctively human traits. Second, these traits are highly conducive for living in a cultural society. Third, these traits are probably interrelated in the sense of sharing some inner processes and mechanisms, which suggests that one evolved first and the other piggy-backed on the first one’s system.
Put another way, self-control gives the capacity to alter your behavior to conform to the group’s rules, and rationality enables you to work out your own rules and then behave accordingly.
Now that we know what we are talking about lets look at the two studies. In the first study by Vohs et al, the participants read text from ‘The Astonishing hypothesis ‘ by Crick and the manipulation was designed to induce deterministic thoughts in them. Afterwards they were given an opportunity to cheat. It was found that those who were manipulated to believe in determinism were more likely to cheat. In the second study in the same paper, deterministic belief was again induced using a different paradigm and agian was found correlated with cheating behavior. the two experiments were conducted to rule out intermediate effcets of mood valence etc or other explanations for the effect.
ABSTRACT—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 either text that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.
The second article by Baumeister et al carried over from where Vohs et al left. In the first experiment they manipulated state deterministic beliefs using a paradigm similar to Vohs et al second experiment and found that deterministic manipulations lead to less helping intentions. In the second experiment they looked at trait deterministic beliefs as opposed to state deterministic beliefs in the first study, and found that actual helping behavior as opposed to helping intentions in first study were also reduced in the deterministic condition. In the third and final experiment, they used the ‘serve hot sauce to someone you are aggressing against’ paradigm to demonstrate that deterministic manipulations led to more aggressive tendencies. Taken together these and vohs et al findings demonstrate the importance of belief in free will for pro-social and moral behavior.
Laypersons’ belief in free will may foster a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy, thereby promoting helpfulness and reducing aggression, and so disbelief in free will may make behavior more reliant on selfish, automatic impulses and therefore less socially desirable. Three studies tested the hypothesis that disbelief in free will would be linked with decreased helping and increased aggression. In Experiment 1, induced disbelief in free will reduced willingness to help others. Experiment 2 showed that chronic disbelief in free will was associated with reduced helping behavior. In Experiment 3, participants induced disbelief in free will caused participants to act more aggressively than others. Although the findings do not speak to the existence of free will, the current results suggest that disbelief in free will reduces helping and increases aggression.
The free will debate will not be settled any time soon, but that should not blind us to these experimental findings that show what harm is done by blindly propagating deterministic beliefs that my eventually turn out to be false when applied to the agentic human and animal domain. I would like to end by referencing a post by Baumeister that provides ample food for thought. In it Baumeister proposes that just like physical reality we grant significance to the symbolic and meaning driven alternate reality of agents and actors and shared meanings etc. although he doesn’t go so far, I would label it as Mythos as opposed to Logos. As long as we think that mythos is all in the head (where undoubtedly it is) and does not merit any other handling and laws than those that apply to the physical world, we would surely be missing the point.
&rftBaumeister, R., Masicampo, E., & DeWall, C. (2009). Prosocial Benefits of Feeling Free: Disbelief in Free Will Increases Aggression and Reduces Helpfulness Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35 (2), 260-268 DOI: 10.1177/0146167208327217
Vohs, K., & Schooler, J. (2008). The Value of Believing in Free Will: Encouraging a Belief in Determinism Increases Cheating Psychological Science, 19 (1), 49-54 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02045.x