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Do We Have Free Will? Maybe It Doesn’t Matter

Jim Davies: This gist of the meta-analysis from Oliver Genschow and his colleagues suggests that free will’s proponents and detractors may be putting too much store in what people believe. The belief, or disbelief, doesn’t seem to affect individual behavior in any way we might care about. Manipulating people’s ideas about free will, at least in experimental conditions, has only a small and temporary effect. In other words, a persuasive anti-free will essay (the most effective method found) doesn’t change people’s core beliefs about free will — it only puts them in a temporary, slight anti-free will mindset. (Most people naturally believe in free will, so most of the manipulations studied try to reduce belief in it, though it can work both ways). There is no evidence that this induced change in free will beliefs has any effect on morality, such as antisocial behavior, cheating, conformity, or willingness to punish. There is also no definitive evidence against such effects. So for now, it appears that people’s beliefs in free will don’t really matter.

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