I'm Free, You're Not

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Science  21 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6015, pp. 265
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6015.265-a

A seemingly universal belief is that people consider that their capacity to act freely is greater than that of others. Pronin and Kugler supply a set of experiments in support of this proposition. Ivy League undergraduates reported that their own past (choice of college to attend and choice of field of concentration) and futures (place to live and profession) were less predictable than those of a roommate, and a similarly broader scope of futures was claimed by restaurant waiters for themselves in comparison to a co-worker. These asymmetries could not be explained simply as self-optimism, because the larger set of future scenarios comprised both positive and negative outcomes. Finally, and in contrast to the tendency to attribute one's own actions to situational influences and another's actions to dispositional traits, they found that where the undergraduates differed from their roommates was in the apportionment of causal motivations to intentions versus personality; that is, we see our actions as the product of changeable desires, and the sense that we could have acted otherwise had we so desired is what underpins our belief in free will.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 22469 (2010).

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