Free Will and Determinism

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Key Terms

  • Free will: All thought and behaviour results from a person's free will, with each person having complete freedom to control
  • Determinism (hard): Alll thoughts and behaviour are caused by factors beyond or outside a person's individual control
  • Soft determinism: The belieg that behaviour is determined or caused by a person's oen character, wishes or conscious desired goals. behaviour is free from coercion (force) but not free from causation
  • Internal derterminism (biological): The belief that all beahaviour and though is caused by action of the nervous system and genetic factors
  • Psychic determinism: The belief that all though and behaviour is caysed by unconscious forces associated with the life and death instincts
  • Overdetermination: The belief that a single observed effect is determined by multiple causes at onces, any of which, alone, might be enough to account for the effect
  • External derteminism (environmental): The belief that all behaviour is under the control of environmental stimuli and external forces of reward and punishment
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Internal Determinism

The belief in the internal causes of behaviour and includes:

  • Instictive needs- although decisions can be made about when to eat, drink and sleep, these are ultimately needed for survival
  • The brain- each area of the brain has a specific role (e.g the Broca's area is involved in speech production) that if damaged cannot be regained
  • Endocrine system- determine development and areas such as sexual preference. Research has shown that 7/30 women whose mothers had taken synthetic oestrogen to prevent miscarriage reported same sex/ bisexual interest compared to 1/30 in the control group. Suggests sexual preference may not be the result of free choice
  • Evolutionary forces- The fight or flight response can be explained from an evolutionary perspective. We do not choose to freeze in front of an audience for example
  • Genes- Twin studies have indicated a genetic predisposition in behaviours such as depression as well as providing a valid argument for the absense of free will in schizophrenia

Biological determinism places limits on the capabilities of the human body. For example we may wish to fly but the absense of wings means we cannot.

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Psychic Determinism

  • Another aspect of internal determination
  • A view represented by the psychoanalytic theory- Freud
  • Humans are depicted as biologically determined by strong inherent instincts of sex and aggression and by repressed conflicts, childhood experiences, wishes and memories wuthing the unconscious mind
  • Mental activity is the result of unconscious mental processes
  • Freud believed that no matter how apparently random and iraational behaviour may appear to be, unconscious causes can always account for them
  • Due to the causes of behaviour being unconscious, people believe they are free but in fact it is just an illusion
  • The Freudian concept of psychic determinism proposed that much of our behaviour, thoughts and feelings have multiple causes--> overdetermination
  • This is illustrated through psychoanalysis because the client was always encouraged to search beyond the first unconscious causes
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External Determinism

Although the biological approch stresses the biological causes of behaviour, it is incorrect to speak purely of 'biological determinism' instead it's interaction with the environment must also be considered, and so people are doubly determined (biologically and environmentally). E.g people who are introverted have an over-aroused nervous system which leads to the choice of a quiet environment which depresses levels of arousal.

  • External determinism considers factors external to the environment
  • Social influence (Asch and Milgram) demonstrates the power of the situation and how social factors can have a strong causal effect on behaviour

The behaviourist approach

  • Represents the extreme end of external determinism
  • Behaviour is the product of a prior reinforcement (positive or negative) and punishment
  • Skinner- stated that free will is an illusion as a result of society and inconsistent and uncontrolled reinforcement contingencies
  • The behaviourist's use of animals as the basis of their research questions the ecological validity of the approach due to a human's capability of higher order thought processes
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Evaluation of Determinism

  • The ideas of determinism are compatable with the scientific method- all behaviour has a cause, is oderly and obeys laws--> giving psychology a scientific status 
  • Although compatable, determinism is in itself unfalsifiable, a key aspect of the scientific approach,- reasons that if a cause cannot be found for behaviour, it is because it is yet to be found
  • Moral responsibility- if behaviour is determined and out of our control, people cannot be held accountable for their actions, a view that is not compatable in the eyes of the law
  • Nazi war crime defendants used the deterministic view as their defence- should this idea be adopted if it can then be used as a pardon for such horrific acts?

Supporting evidence:

  • Milgram- similar response to orders from someone of status
  • Bickmen- people were more likely to obey orders from the actor dressed as a security guard compared to when they dressed as a milkmen when asked to pick rubbish up
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Free Will

  • An opinion supported by the humanistic appoach which stresses free will and the power of individuals to direct their lives according to their self chosen goals
  • Due to what we now know of the human behaviour, defining free will has become ambiguous
  • Logically, free will can be defined as being the opposite of determinism and hence the idea that behaviour has no cause and is entirely unpredictable due us being agents of our own actions
  • However this definition is not supported by everyday experiences e.g. if a friend was to ask for some help, that individual has the choice of whether to agree or not, however if they have a helpful personality then it is likely that they will. This response has been predicted and therefore could be said to be determined, this therefore suggests that behaviour, though freely chosen has a cause: the action was caused by their personality

Soft determinism

  • A position adopted by William James that behaviour is free from coercion (force) but not free from causation
  • There is a consistency between a person's wishes and actions indicating an element of free will, but these wishes can be predicted by their personality (causation)
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Investigating Free Will

  • The lack of an operational definition means that free will cannot meet the rigours of scientific testing, instead free will should be defined in terms of measurable and obsevable operations, defining these operations of which to measure free will by however is unclear
  • Without precise definitions, research is vague and replication is impossibe
  • The evidence for the existance for the existance of free will is mostly subjective with people believing that they have freely chosen a certain lifestyle, however without objective methods, this belief cannot be falsified

Humanistic approach

  • Humanists would argue however, that people shouldn't be studies scientifically as we are all individuals and we place our own subjective meaning on what we experience in our own environment
  • In this sense, although objectively we occupy the same share environement, it is the non-shared environment (our subjective experience) that makes us who we are, therefore one person's reaction to environmental stumuli may not be the same response as another
  • Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Set out a determined list of stages that an individual must progress thorugh but the requirement, completion and progression of each stage is free will
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Evaluation of Free Will

  • Inconsistent with the assumptions of science which places an emphasis on causal explanations
  • Although soft determinism tackles this by bringing causality into the equation, there is still the issue of how something non-physical (the will) can have an effect on the physical world in the form of behaviour
  • Dispite this, in our society people still feel morally responsible for their actions and are treated accordingly
  • Brehm- argued that psychological reactance occurs if people believe thattheir freedom is being threatened and try to regain or reassert their freedom with a common response being to do the opposite behaviour that is asked of them--> supported by Gamson study where 32/33 groups rebelled to agreeing to give a false opinion to an ethical issue that they were disscussing once they knew their own opinion was irrelevant
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Libet- study

  • Aim- To investigate if the brain activity involved in an action began before or after the decision to act
  • Method- Paticipants were asked to hold their arms in front of them and when they were ready to, flex their wrists. At this point they were asked to state the position of a revolving spot on a clock face (to measure when the decision took place). The start of the wrist flexing movement and the start of the 'readiness to act' was measured using electrodes also
  • Results- The activity in the brain began half a second before the participant reported the decision
  • Conclusion- Suggests that the conscious decision was not the cause of behaviour (wrist flexing) but a consequence of brain activity
  • Evaluation- An objective indirect attempt to measure free will, the lack of ecological validity has been criticised however
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