Free will plays an important role when it comes to your true selves. According to a study, diminishing a person’s belief in free will may lead to them feeling less like their true selves, thereby driving them to depression. “Whether you agree that we have free will or that we are overpowered by social influence or other forms of determinism, the belief in free will has truly important consequences,” said Elizabeth Seto from Texas A&M University in the US.
Researchers manipulated people’s beliefs in free will to see how this would affect the subjects’ sense of authenticity, their sense of self.
Previous studies have shown that minimising belief in free will can increase cheating, aggression, and conformity and decrease feelings of gratitude, researchers said.
Other research indicates that feeling alienated from one’s true self is associated with increased anxiety, depression and decision dissatisfaction. On the other hand, knowing one’s true self positively influences self-esteem and one’s sense of meaning in life, they said.
To influence the feeling of free will, nearly 300 participants were randomly separated into groups and wrote about experiences that reflected free will or showed a lack of free will. They were then asked questions to evaluate their sense of self.
Those in the low free will group showed significantly greater feelings of self-alienation and lower self-awareness than those in the high free will group, researchers said.
In a follow-up study, a similarly sized group of participants experienced the same free will manipulation and were then presented a choice - keeping money for themselves or donating to a charity.
After making their decision, researchers asked them how authentic they felt about their decision. The participants in low free will belief group reported less authenticity during the decision making task than their high freewill counterparts.
“Our findings suggest that part of being who you are is experiencing a sense of agency and feeling like you are in control over the actions and outcomes in your life,” said Seto.
“If people are able to experience these feelings, they can become closer to their true or core self,” she said. According to researchers, when we experience or have low belief in free will and feel ‘out of touch’ with who we are, we may behave without a sense of morality. The findings were published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.