Scicurious has a great post about free will, and how most people think they have more free will than others.

It doesn’t matter whether we HAVE free will or not, our daily lives seem to make us FEEL that we have it. We make many decisions, consider many options every day, some big, some small, but in most of them, we feel like we have a choice, and that we are making that choice of our own free will.

But what’s funny is that we don’t seem to feel that way about OTHER PEOPLE. While we often feel we have free will in our choices, we don’t really feel like our friends do.

Apparently this isn’t that uncommon. In the book I’m currently reading (a review to be posted shortly), the author makes a similar point about perceptions of objectivity: everyone acknowledges that people often have biased and uninformed positions, but view themselves as being superhumanly objective and informed.

We’ve clearly evolved an amazing capacity to understand the minds of others, and an ability to introspect and understand our own minds – but the understanding is by no means equal.


  1. #1 justlurking
    December 15, 2010

    What’s the book you’re reading? Author?

  2. #2 Kevin
    December 15, 2010

    It’s called Being Wrong and as I said I’ll be doing a lengthy review this week.

    Short version though: it’s awesome and you should read it.

  3. #3 frog
    December 15, 2010

    It’s often easier to model other people’s minds than your own. It’s not the same trick — when you’re modeling yourself, you’re trying to look at yourself “as if” you were looking at another person, but you’re not. So you’re starting from a psychologically erroneous position.

    You may want to read up on Wittgenstein’s discussion of these problems — how “I know I have pain” and “I know he has pain” look grammatically identical, but are actually very, very different propositions.

    It takes a great deal of self-doubt to honestly appraise oneself — which has the unfortunate side-effect of often being self-destructive, even if truthful.

  4. #4 Domestigoth
    December 16, 2010

    I have to wonder how many people out there DON’T feel that they have more free will than others … I’ve always felt as though other people are much more free than I to make whatever decision they choose, while I’m far more bound by responsibilities and often don’t get to make the choices I’d like to.

  5. #5 psmith
    December 16, 2010

    We are intimately aware of the internal debate that preceded our own decisions but have little awareness of the internal debate the precedes others decisions. Instead, in their case, we see the external forces that influenced their decisions.
    Hence we assign free will to ourselves and not to others.

  6. #6 Scicurious
    December 16, 2010

    What amuses me about the idea that we all think we have more free will than the other guy is that this is apparently a sign of psychological health. 🙂 In the same way that overestimating your own abilities is actually a sign of mental health (to a certain extent, as long as it doesn’t get in to grandiosity). People who are depressed actually rate themselves and their abilities (and maybe their free will? Though that hasn’t been tested) more ACCURATELY than people who aren’t! I guess it takes a little bit of delusion to get by in the world ok, and if that mainly arises as believing that your lucky underwear influence whether the Cowboys win…I guess I’m ok with it. 🙂

  7. #7 Kevin
    December 16, 2010

    @ Frog – I think we agree.

    @ Domestigoth – You make an interesting point. These sorts of studies are done on one small subgroup of humans (US college students) and the results are (mostly) averaged. There’s definitely variation within populations, and almost certainly differences in these averages between populations

    @ psmith – Absolutely.

    @ Sci – Do you know if those studies on depression have looked at populations other than undergrads? I’m always skeptical if correlations like this hold up if you try to translate them to other cultures.

  8. #8 anandine
    December 16, 2010

    So how would I know if I have free will or not? It feels as though I do, but how would I know it?

  9. #9 Kevin
    December 16, 2010

    You wouldn’t.

  10. #10 Scicurious
    December 16, 2010

    The one I found WAS done in undergrads, which certainly could bias the results. And yeah, there’s a very strong potential bias for culture here.

  11. #11 Domestigoth
    December 17, 2010

    I’m probably a bad example, I suppose, since I actually do have relatively serious mental health issues (bipolar disorder, clinical depression, various abuse-related issues). I just find it interesting to read about studies like this and realize that “wow, my results don’t line up at ALL … my brain really IS messed up!”

  12. #12 Qistat
    December 17, 2010

    This topic fascinates me.

    I believe that a certain amount of humility (self-doubt) is crucial to learning. When our cup is filled to the top our own arrogance will retard our growth.

    The problem is when we allow doubt to lower our self-worth which leads to the lack of motivation/drive to grow. This may happen quite often, but it doesn’t have to. We need to I think as a society learn to value uncertainty and how to use it in our favor.

    I try to objectively revel in my doubts by recognizing the opportunities they present for growth. I think this is really the way to free will.

  13. #13 Alan
    December 25, 2010

    BEING WRONG is by a journalist. I wonder if a better book is MISTAKES WERE MADE BUT NOT BY ME by two social psychologists. One customer review at amazon says it is.

  14. #14 maç izle
    December 30, 2010

    I read this blog pretty often, based just on the titles that I find at ScienceBlogs, and I am consistently pleased with the writing quality that I find here.

  15. #15 rahul
    February 16, 2011

    when i am free then wht will i do?

New comments have been disabled.