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Monday, August 17, 2020

It’s in Your Control: Free Will Beliefs and Attribution of Blame to Obese People and People with Mental Illness

Chandrashekar, S. P. (2020).
Collabra: Psychology, 6(1), 29.
DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.305


People’s belief in free will is shown to influence the perception of personal control in self and others. The current study tested the hypothesis that individuals who believe in free will attribute stronger personal blame to obese people and to people with mental illness (schizophrenia) for their adverse health outcomes. Results from a sample of 1110 participants showed that the belief in free will subscale is positively correlated with perceptions of the controllability of these adverse health conditions. The findings suggest that free will beliefs are correlated with attribution of blame to people with obesity and mental health issues. The study contributes to the understanding of the possible negative implications of people’s free will beliefs.


The purpose of this brief report was to test the hypothesis that belief in free will is strongly correlated with attribution of personal blame to obese people and to people with mental illness for their adverse health outcomes. The results showed consistent positive correlations between the free will subscale and the extent of blame to obese individuals and individuals with mental illness. The study employed both generic survey measures of internal blame attributions and a survey that measured the responses based on a person described in a vignette. The current study, although correlational, contributes to recent work that argues that belief in free will is linked to processes underlying human social perception (Genschow et al., 2017). Besides theoretical implications, the findings demonstrate the societal consequences of free-will beliefs. Perception of controllability and personal responsibility is a well-documented predictor of negative stereotypes and stigma associated with people with mental illness and obesity (Blaine & Williams, 2004; Crandall, 1994). Perceptions of controllability related to people with health issues have detrimental social outcomes such as social rejection of the affected individuals (Crandall & Moriarty, 1995), and reduced social support and help from others (Crandall, 1994). The current study underlines that belief in free will as an individual-level factor is particularly relevant for developing a broader understanding of predictors of stigmatization of those with mental illness and obesity.