Belief in free will affects causal attributions when judging others’ behavior

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Free will is a cornerstone of our society, and psychological research demonstrates that questioning its existence impacts social behavior. In six studies, we tested whether believing in free will is related to the correspondence bias, which reflects people’s automatic tendency to overestimate the influence of internal as compared to external factors when interpreting others’ behavior. All studies demonstrate a positive relationship between the strength of the belief in free will and the correspondence bias. Moreover, in two experimental studies, we showed that weakening participants’ belief in free will leads to a reduction of the correspondence bias. Finally, the last study demonstrates that believing in free will predicts prescribed punishment and reward behavior, and that this relation is mediated by the correspondence bias. Overall, these studies show that believing in free will impacts fundamental social-cognitive processes that are involved in the understanding of others’ behavior.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA)
Issue number38
Pages (from-to)10071-10076
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 19.09.2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. This work was supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant PZ00P1_168007).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • Correspondence bias, Free-will belief, Interpersonal perception
  • Business psychology