People Believe They Have More Free Will Than Others

December 2010
With Matthew Kugler; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 107, No. 52

Four experiments identify a tendency for people to believe that their own lives are more guided by the tenets of free will than are the lives of their peers. These tenets involve the a priori unpredictability of personal action, the presence of multiple possible paths in a person's future, and the causal power of one's personal desires and intentions in guiding one's actions. In experiment 1, participants viewed their own pasts and futures as less predictable a priori than those of their peers. In experiments 2 and 3, participants thought there were more possible paths (whether good or bad) in their own futures than their peers’ futures. In experiment 4, participants viewed their own future behavior, compared with that of their peers, as uniquely driven by intentions and desires (rather than personality, random features of the situation, or history). Implications for the classic actor–observer bias, for debates about free will, and for perceptions of personal responsibility are discussed.