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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Determined to Be Humble? Exploring the Relationship Between Belief in Free Will and Humility

Earp, B. D., et al.


In recent years, diminished belief in free will or increased belief in determinism have been associated with a range of antisocial or otherwise negative outcomes: unjustified aggression, cheating, prejudice, less helping behavior, and so on. Only a few studies have entertained the possibility of prosocial or otherwise positive outcomes, such as greater willingness to forgive and less motivation to punish retributively. Here, five studies (open data, materials, and pre-print at https://osf.io/hmy39/) explore the relationship between belief in determinism and another positive outcome or attribute, namely, humility. The reported findings suggest that relative disbelief in free will is reliably associated in our samples with at least one type of humility—what we call ‘Einsteinian’ humility—but is not associated with, or even negatively associated with, other types of humility described in the literature.

From the Conclusion

At the same time, in our final study, we found a positive relationship between belief in free will and several other measures of humility: ethical/epistemic humility, Landrum humility, and modesty, with the last of these remaining significant even with a conservative alpha criterion. Although this is contrary to what we expected, it is consistent with the dominant narrative in the literature according to which belief in free will is associated with pro-social traits and behaviors. We believe we are the first to show a relationship of any kind between belief in free will and this particular trait—modesty—and we hope to explore this relationship in more detail in future work.