, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 97–110 | Cite as

A Critical Review of Methodologies and Results in Recent Research on Belief in Free Will

  • Esthelle Ewusi-Boisvert
  • Eric Racine
Review Paper


There might be value in examining the phenomenon of free will, without attempting to solve the debate surrounding its existence. Studies have suggested that diminishing belief in free will increases cheating behavior and that basic physiological states such as appetite diminish free will. These findings, if robust, could have important philosophical and ethical implications. Accordingly, we aimed to critically review methodologies and results in the body of literature that speaks to the two following questions: (1) whether certain factors can change belief in free will or not (static or dynamic property of free will) and (2) whether changes in belief in free will impact different attitudinal or behavioral factors or not (consequential or inconsequential property of free will). Searching the PubMed and PsycInfo databases with different keyword strategies supplemented with reference section searches, we found 52 relevant papers for review. For each distinct study, we extracted information regarding: (1) sample characteristics and related analyses, (2) procedures and methodology, (3) factors investigated, results, and effect sizes (if reported). Overall, we found that the samples were heavily constituted of women, of students and younger participants, with little information about representation of ethnic minorities. Procedures and methodology relied strongly on the use of experimental manipulations and a wide array of scales, including scales created by researchers. Several studies suggest the static and consequential properties of belief in free will. However, these conclusions are restrained by numerous limitations of the supporting body of evidence and the absence of replication studies.


Free will Determinism Psychology Belief Cognitive science Review 



We would like to thank Dearbhail Bracken-Roche and Jelena Poleksic for helpful comments on a previous version of this manuscript, Simon Rousseau-Lesage who helped review the literature as well as Sonja Chu and Audrey Francoeur for editorial assistance. We would like to thank all members of the Neuroethics Research Unit for their support and constructive criticism. This project was possible thanks to the financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (E.R.) and a career award from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (E.R.).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Neuroethics Research UnitInstitut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM)MontréalCanada
  2. 2.Division of Experimental Medicine and Biomedical Ethics UnitMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Department of Medicine and Department of Social and Preventive MedicineUniversité de MontréalMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Department of Neurology and NeurosurgeryMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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