Waking up to who you are is not that hard; it just requires a little faith in free will, suggests a pair of studies.
The Texas A&M University researchers found that diminishing a person’s belief in free will leads to them feeling less like their true selves.
“Whether you agree that we have free will or that we are overpowered by social influence or other forms of determinism, the belief in free will has truly important consequences,” says lead author Elizabeth Seto.
To influence the feeling of free will, nearly 300 participants were randomly separated into groups and wrote about experiences that reflected free will or showed a lack of free will. They were then asked questions to evaluate their sense of self. Those in the low free will group showed significantly greater feelings of self-alienation and lower self-awareness than those in the high free will group.
In a follow-up pre-registered study, a similarly sized group of participants experienced the same free will manipulation and were then presented a choice: keeping money for themselves or donating to a charity. After making their decision, researchers asked them how authentic they felt about their decision. The participants in low free will belief group reported less authenticity during the decision making task than their high freewill counterparts.
“Our findings suggest that part of being who you are is experiencing a sense of agency and feeling like you are in control over the actions and outcomes in your life,” says Seto. “If people are able to experience these feelings, they can become closer to their true or core self.”
The study is published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.