The value of believing in free will: encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating

Psychol Sci. 2008 Jan;19(1):49-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02045.x.


Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read either text that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Culture*
  • Deception*
  • Female
  • Genetic Determinism*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Moral Development*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Persuasive Communication
  • Problem Solving
  • Social Environment*