Today’s post is at The Stream: Choose to Read This Article About Research Saying You Don’t Have Free Will.
…”Free will could all be an illusion, scientists suggest after study shows choice may just be brain tricking itself.”…
The study is “A Simple Task Uncovers a Postdictive Illusion of Choice” by Adam Bear and Paul Bloom, found in the journal Psychological Science…
The authors have a theory “that people may systematically overestimate the role that consciousness plays in their chosen behavior.” To gauge this, they did two experiments.
In the first experiment, five white circles flashed on a screen, and 25 persons were asked to guess which of the five would turn red. After the circle changed color, people were asked (nobody checked) whether they guessed correctly or whether they didn’t have enough time to guess. The delay between when the white circles first appeared and one turned red was varied in specified increments between 0.05 and 1 second.
When the delay between color changes was 0.05 seconds, 27% said they didn’t have enough time to choose, but as the time lengthened to 1 second, only about 1% said they didn’t have time. Of those who said they did have time, at 0.05 seconds 31% said they guessed the right circle; 23% claimed to be correct when the delay was 1 second.
Since the people did not know the algorithm which picked the red circle, and assuming the pattern where the red circles appeared was not readily deducible (each person did the experiment 280 times), then we’d expect the guessing success rate to be around 20% (it would 20% exactly only by coincidence). Yet here we have people claiming success rates up to 31%. What’s happening?
People might have lied. Especially when time was short, people might have said to themselves, “I had a feeling that was the one” and they therefore gave themselves credit for their clairvoyance.
Maybe “lying” is too strong a word. Perhaps corrective perspicacious self-assuredness is better: people award themselves what they feel they deserve, especially under “unfair” conditions where the color change was fast. This theory, which is mine and not the authors’, accords with the commonsense view of human nature.
The authors discount and do not investigate lying, though, because they claim that “The incentives to lie or make weak commitments to one’s choices were the same for all delay conditions in the experiment.” This doesn’t follow because, as I mentioned, it’s at least possible some would consider shorter delays less fair. The Lying Theory also predicts honest people would claim they didn’t have enough time to answer at shorter delays, a prediction also supported by the data…
Even if the authors’ theory had some validity, it’s not as important as it sounds. Why? Who’s had this experience? You walk to the neighborhood pub to wash away the memory of reading some research paper you wish you hadn’t, and, while on the way, did not remember choosing where to place each and every step?…
Science says: You have no choice but to click here to read the rest.
Incidentally, though I don’t mention it at Stream, the B&B paper has an overly complicated statistical and utterly unnecessary model which says, in effect, we saw what we saw. This isn’t the authors’ fault. Many people build unnecessary models to say that data really is the data. The fallacy is that hypothesis tests can prove cause, which of course they cannot. Indeed, they should never be used (neither p-values nor Bayes factors).