New York, June 19 (IANS) Diminishing a person’s belief in free will can lead them feeling less like their true selves and drive them to depression, finds a new study.
The findings showed that feeling alienated from one’s true self can increase anxiety, depression and decision dissatisfaction.
“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 lead author Elizabeth Seto, Student at Texas A and M University in the US.
On the other hand, knowing one’s true self positively influences self-esteem and one’s sense of meaning in life.
In addition, lack of free will may prompt people to behave without a sense of morality, particularly when one has a goal to improve the quality of life for individuals and the society at large.
“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,” Seto added in the study which was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Previous studies have shown that minimising belief in free will can increase cheating, aggression, and conformity and decrease feelings of gratitude.
“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,” Seto explained.
“If people are able to experience these feelings, they can become closer to their true or core self,” Seto said.
To influence the feeling of free will, the team randomly separated nearly 300 participants into groups and 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.
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.