Inducing Disbelief in Free Will Alters Brain Correlates of Preconscious Motor Preparation: The Brain Minds Whether We Believe in Free Will or Not

Inducing Disbelief in Free Will Alters Brain Correlates of Preconscious Motor Preparation: The Brain Minds Whether We Believe in Free Will or Not

Davide Rigoni, Simone Kühn, Giuseppe Sartori, and Marcel Brass

Psychological Science May 2011 22: 613-618, first published on April 22, 2011 doi:10.1177/0956797611405680

Via bps-research-digest


The feeling of being in control of one’s own actions is a strong subjective experience. However, discoveries in psychology and neuroscience challenge the validity of this experience and suggest that free will is just an illusion. This raises a question: What would happen if people started to disbelieve in free will? Previous research has shown that low control beliefs affect performance and motivation. Recently, it has been shown that undermining free-will beliefs influences social behavior. In the study reported here, we investigated whether undermining beliefs in free will affects brain correlates of voluntary motor preparation. Our results showed that the readiness potential was reduced in individuals induced to disbelieve in free will. This effect was evident more than 1 s before participants consciously decided to move, a finding that suggests that the manipulation influenced intentional actions at preconscious stages. Our findings indicate that abstract belief systems might have a much more fundamental effect than previously thought.

  1. #1 par Cuttlefish le juin 14, 2011 - 2:22

    But… the research is asking a different question than it claims! Not « what happens if people started to disbelieve in free will », but « what happens if people who have believed in free will for decades are told it is an illusion? » Of course, an unfamiliar situation will use the brain differently than a familiar one!

    They do not have (and I doubt they could) a control group of individuals who have never believed in free will.

  2. #2 par Oldcola le juin 14, 2011 - 2:57

    You are right, the control group is probably impossible to get and I wonder how the phrasing affects belief or disbelief in free will.
    Some people may be used as a control group, say Jerry Coyne (😉 ), and maybe I would like to include myself in the same group: long time not believing in free will, but still active.

    What really bothers me with the results is that even if one is accepting that they are statistically significant, the % difference observed is quite low. How does this affect everyday life? If it does…

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