Free will or determinism?

The early 19th century’s Galvanism claims that humans are no more than machines, were the first to oppose widely held beliefts of the importance of the soul. Psychologists have since picked up the scientists-Romantics argument, and has presented some interesting claims…


  • Biological determinism, which comes from behaviour built into genes which persist into the genome due to evolutionary fitness – high IQ has been related to the IGF2R gene (Chorney et al 1998). This can also contribute to variation in brain structures – schizophrenic patients have been found to have ventricular enlargement and hypofrontality (Gazer et al 2000, Molina et al 2005).
  • Bandura (1961) supports the idea of environmental determinism – children who watch violent models imitate their behaviour
  • All behavious is under stimulus control, according to behavioural psychologists such as Skinner. He believed hat actions are goverened by certain universal scientific laws, so that each action is caused by a specific prior cause, and human action is no exception. Therefore all of behaviourism’s research supports determinism.
  • However, psychologists cannot fully predict behaviour 100% of the time due to the complex interaction of variables which can influence behaviour
  • The view of determinism is supported by the presence of mental illnesses: it is nobody’s choice to lose contact with reality or all sense of happiness in their everyday lives

Free will:

  • is the idea that we make our own choices all of the time, and is supported mainly by the Humanistic approach
  • This approach has had much criticism, including its lack of scientific rigour and use of bias-prone methods such as interviews
  • Cognitive psychologists are also inclined to attribute importance to free will as they only support a soft determinist view
  • The ethical argument also supports free will. In order to expect moral responsibility, one must accept the concept of free will. If an individual’s behaviour is determined by forces beyond an individual’s control then the individual cannot be held responsible for their actions. However our laws insist that adults do have individual responsibility for their actions and so implicitly society supports free will.

Overall? – the idea of determinism is a more accepted one today, with advancing neuroscientific research of high scientific rigour. While this side of the argument is more dominant, we cannot doubt that free will does play a significant, albeit minor, role in bheaviour which subtly underpins major decisions.


McLeod (2013) Freewill and Determinism in Psychology. Retrieved from