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Surprising Science

Believing in Free Will, or Not

If you think you determine the course of your life, you’re more likely to work harder toward your goals. If you think you don’t, you’re likelier to behave in ways that fulfill that prophesy.

Free will may be an illusion. Yet we persist in believing we are the masters of our fates—and that belief affects how we act. Davide Rigoni, an experimental psychologist at the University of Marseille, says: “‘Folk psychology tells us if you feel in control, you perform better. What is crucial is that these effects are present at a very basic motor level, a deep level of brain activity.’ Rigoni showed that shaking people’s belief in self-mastery impairs their brains’ readiness to act, even before they’re aware of the intention to move.”


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