Free Will and Determinism



Determinsim is the view that an individuals behaviour is shaped or controlled by internal or external forces, rather than an individuals will to do something. An example of this is Pavlov's investigation into classical conditioning which expalins that we can be conditioned into doing something via a stimulus-response effect. 

Determinism states that we have little or no control of our behaviour. 

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The Behaviourist Approach

Science is the route to all knowledge and so would take a hard determinist side of the debate because science believes that all events are caused. 

This approach sees people as a product of their environment and of conditioning, this is environmental determinism. 

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Skinner said that free will is an illusion because the environment governs our behaviour. 

Examples of hard determinism are operant and classical conditioning. 

This would suggests that phobias are conditioned by a stimulus response effect which causes fear. Also, the tokens in forensic psychology can be used to control someones behaviour. 

Skinner said that we create a ''perfect'' society based on operant and classical conditioning and by ignoring what he saw as meaningless notions like freedom and dignity. 

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Some evidence that behaviour is determined by the environment.

Punishments and rewards often change behaviours, such as detentions in school. 

Bandura pointed out that if people are dtermined by rewards and punishments then surely peoples behaviour would change all the time, but we know this is not the case as humans are driven by long term goals. 

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The Psychodynamic Approach

Freud used the term psychic determinism to express the idea that all behaviour is motivated by the unconscious. 

The libido is an unconscious drive which is unborn and therefore it determines much of our behaviour. 

Freud claimed that non of our behaviour just happens, for example all underlying problems in adults are due to the processes of the unconscious mind. 

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Motley et al (1983)

Obtained evidence for Freudian slips. 

A male participant said out loud word pairs which could easily be turned into sexual words.

When the experimenter was a women, the men were more likely to make Freudian slips. 

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Problems with Freud

Freud developed his theories from people with mental disorders and so he tends to ignore other things which could determine our behaviour such as:

  • Social pressure/ expectations 
  • Genetics 
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The Biological Approach

Believes that behaviour is under the control of internal biological factors including...

  • genetics
  • neurochemistry
  • brain structures
  • hormonal system 

The role of genetics is known as genetic determinism. Often a high concordance rate is found in genetically similar people, suggesting a genetic basis for particular behaviours or mental illnesses (e,g, depression in families comfirming genetic determinism). 

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Evolutionary Explanations

Linked in with genetic explanations are evolutionary explanations of behaviours, as explained by...

  • Buss- who argued that human mating behaviour is best explained through evolutionary adaptation. 
  • Bennett-Levy and Marteau- argue that we are genetically predetermined to fear some animals more than others. 
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Accepting Genetic Theories

If we accept that mental illness is determined by genetics, we can see reason to treat illnesses with genetic therapy or drugs. 

But if mental illness didn't have a cause, it would be impossible to treat. 

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Problems with Determinsim

A determinist approach allows behaviour to be predicted and therefore produces a cause and effect.

But it is also unfalsifiable as just because a cause cannot be found, it doesn't mean a cause does not exist. 

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Hard Determinism

Hard determinism has been applied to other sciences. Physiciates say that through this approach we have the means to make accurate cause and effect predictions. 

However, Hilborn (1994)- suggested that small changes can produce major changes later on (The Butterfly Effect).

Hard determinism states that free will is an illusion and that all human behaviour has a cause (Skinner and Freud). 

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Soft Determinism

Soft determinism seeks a compromise between determinism and free will. 

It argues that behaviour is constrained to the environment, but only to a certain extent (e,g the Social Learning Theory- imitating others but also having the free will not to imitate if you don't want to). 

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Humanist Psychologists

Most people feel like they have free will as peopple like to feel in control of their behaviour.

There is one approach which has free will at it's heart; humanism. 

Humanist psychologists, Roger and Maslow, believe in free will.

In humanist therapy, the therapist makes it easier for the client to exercise free will. 

Humanist psychologists say that when people regard their behaviour as being determined by forces beyond their control, they will not take responsibility for changing their behaviour. 

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Free Will

Maslow's Hierachy has the aim of enabling clients to have free will in order to maximise personal satisfaction. 

Just because people believe they have free will it doesn't mean they do. If Skinner is right, free will is an illusion.

Free will fits in with society's view that people should accept responsibility for their actions. Given this, our legal system is based on that principle. 

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Problems with Free Will

Free will is unscientific, and all sciences are based on the assumption of determinism and so similarily to determinism free will is unfalsifiable.

Humanist psychology has no evidence to support it and is unrealistic. 

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We aren't actually clear on what free will really means. 

Everything on free will v's determinism may be artificial and less concern to psychologists that previosuly thought.

This whole issue was considered in detail by Valentine (1992) who concluded that...

''Determinism seems to have the edge on this difficult debate'' 

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