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Identity and Free Will

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Identity and Free Will

Are our lives determined, or can we escape fate by making active choices at any given moment? In a deterministic view, the feeling of free choice that we experience is only an illusion, and our behaviour is always determined by factors we have little control over, like our physiology and the environment.

In a free will view, we are self-determined; we can make choices that are independent of those factors. We have control and responsibility for what we decide to do. We will explore the free will and determinism debate as well as the potential role of our identity in determining our behaviour

  • First, we will establish what we mean by identity and free will.
  • Then we will cover the various aspects of identity and free will, including moral identity and free will and personal identity and free will.
  • Following this, we will delve into the identity and free will determinism debate, before concluding with identity and free will difference.

Identity and free will, puppet on strings metaphor for not having a free will,  StudySmarterA man portrayed as a puppet, flaticon.com

What is the free will and determinism debate?

The free will vs determinism debate is concerned with the extent to which people have control over their actions versus the extent to which their actions are determined by factors outside of their own control.

Free will and determinism in psychology

Different theorists in psychology have proposed different ideas about the extent to which our behaviour is determined.

  • Behaviourists like Skinner argue that behaviour is simply the outcome of the environment; humans behave the way they were conditioned to during upbringing. Behaviourism holds a deterministic view of human behaviour.

  • Bandura proposed a reciprocal determinism approach to behaviour. Reciprocal determinism argues that humans are active instead of passive agents that interact mutually with the environment and can, directly and indirectly, control their own behaviour.

  • Bandura proposed the concept of self-efficacy, the belief that we can control both our actions and our environment. One's self-efficacy is thought to predict success.

Identity and free will, Bandura's Reciprocal Determinism, StudySmarterBandura's reciprocal determinism, StudySmarter Originals, Alicja Blaszkiewicz

Humanistic approach

The humanistic approach in psychology argues that free will is not only possible, but it is inherently what makes us human. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, self-actualisation is the highest level of psychological development that goes beyond fulfilling basic needs. Self-actualisation is driven by our self-determined motivation; at this level, we can overcome past influences through our personal agency.

Self-actualisation refers to realising one's full potential and capabilities.

According to Karl Rogers, self-actualisation occurs when our self-image becomes congruent with how we see our ideal self. To put it simply, we become who we want to be. Rogers deemed self-actualisation to be the "healing force" in psychotherapy that empowers people to develop and overcome psychological difficulties.

Free will according to (Baumeister, 2008)

According to Baumeister (2008), we regard actions as free when:

  • They require conscious deliberation

  • They go against external pressures

  • They go against our own short-term self-interest

Baumeister defined free action as conscious, requiring rational choice and self-regulation.

As Baumeister (2008) suggests, free will impacts both social and moral judgements, although studying free will can be complex. The nuances of human behaviour affect the scientific study of decision making to some extent. However, as decision making is "biologically taxing", it is important that humans ensure they are making decisions and acting on free will efficiently.

Baumeister proposed our ability to make free actions evolved to allow us to live in social groups, which requires restraint of our own impulses and adjusting our behaviour to fit the social norms of the group. Free action allows us to act prosocially and sustain harmonious cultures.

Implications of the belief in free will (Baumeister, 2008)

If we believe we are responsible for our actions, we must accept their moral and often legal consequences. If human behaviour is predetermined, we can't hold people accountable for their crimes or harmful behaviour. Moreover, deterministic beliefs decrease people's sense of personal responsibility, so they can be considered to be socially harmful.

People primed with deterministic beliefs are more likely to act immorally, be aggressive and exert less effort when making moral decisions (Baumeister et al. 2006).

Baumeister et al. (2006) also argued that self-regulation could be exercised like a muscle, and it depletes our resources similar to a muscle. Through exercising the self-regulation muscle in regards to choices we make, we will suffer less ego depletion.

People that believe they have free will are more likely to make an effort, exert self-control and act morally when, for example, given an opportunity to cheat, likely due to a greater feeling of responsibility for their actions (Kathleen, 2008).

What is identity?

In psychology, we define identity as a continuous self-image that includes one's body image, values, goals, memories, psychological traits as well as social roles. Identity can therefore influence behaviour. Even though our characteristics and social roles can change, our sense of identity remains stable - we maintain a sense of being the same person across our lifespan.

Identity and free will, man juggling various aspects of his personality illustration, StudySmarterIdentity is who we see ourselves as, freepik.com

Erikson's (1959) Eight stages of development

Erik Erikson, a psychoanalytic theorist that was influenced by the earlier work of Sigmund Freud, proposed a theory of psychosocial development that consisted of eight stages. Erikson's theory focuses on social influences; he also believed that humans are rational and can actively overcome crises and challenges.

Each of Erikson's stages of psychosexual development indicates a conflict characteristic for a particular developmental period. Similar to Freud's theory, Erikson believed that failure to pass through a stage can cause psychological issues for the person.

  • Trust vs mistrust - at this stage, infants develop an ability to trust adults. They learnt to trust that the caregiver will respond to their needs.
  • Autonomy vs shame and doubt - children start gaining a sense of autonomy and control over their environment and bodily functions (e.g. through potty training).
  • Initiative vs guilt - children initiate social interactions and activities to gain further control over their environment.
  • Industry vs inferiority - children begin to develop a sense of competence and achievement, for example, through progressing in education.
  • Identity vs role confusion - adolescents develop a stable sense of identity and their place in society.
  • Intimacy vs isolation - young adults begin to form secure and intimate relationships, exploring sexuality.
  • Generativity vs stagnation - adults create a sense of legacy for themselves, this can be in the form of contributing to social change, starting a family or professional accomplishments.
  • Ego integrity vs despair - older adults reflect on whether they feel regret or feel satisfied with the life they lived.

The outcome of each stage is theorised to have long-term implications for one's psychological development.

For example, if the infant cannot trust the caregiver due to neglect or abuse, this may affect the child's later ability to form relationships and trust others.

Identity development

Erikson's theory largely contributed to our understanding of identity development. According to Erikson, identity development occurs in adolescents during the identity vs. role confusion developmental stage.

At that time we identify who we are, and we might try different roles to finally settle on a career, religious identity, moral identity and sexuality. This is a critical time for developing one's sense of future direction and place in society.

Identity and the free will vs. determinism debate

According to the deterministic view, who we become is largely determined by our circumstances and it's outside of our control. Erikson argues that individuals have a say in that process.

Personal identity and free will

During the identity vs role confusion crisis, adolescents have to actively decide who they are and where they fit into society.

Are these decisions completely based on free will? In theory, adolescents can take on any identity they want. However, from a deterministic point of view, what adolescents want is heavily influenced by external factors. These factors can involve the experiences they were exposed to, what culture they were raised in or the style of parenting they experienced.

How wealthy a parent is can determine the type of schooling a child receives, for example, which then affords them different opportunities to develop careers.

The psychological study of identity supports soft-determinism. While we have some freedom to decide who we are and how we want to behave, external factors and past experiences can influence our sense of self.

Identity and free will, illustration of a man with a question mark for a face, StudySmarterIdentity can affect behaviour, flaticon.com

Moral identity and free will

According to the free will view, we can always make free choices about our behaviour. Is that the case? We will examine how internal factors like a sense of moral identity and external factors like social context influences moral behaviour.

When we identify with the internal moral values that we hold, we develop a sense of moral identity.

If we believe that being empathetic and caring is an important part of who we are as a person, it can become an integral part of our identity.

The development of moral identity starts in childhood; by being responsive to the child's needs and emotions, caregivers can facilitate the development of empathy and prosocial behaviour in children.

Adolescence is also an important period for establishing a stable sense of moral identity; during this time, individuals develop internal motivations for prosocial behaviour and internal moral values. Adolescents can better reason about moral dilemmas and about how they will be viewed in social interactions, as well as anticipate the needs of others (Hardy & Carlo, 2011).

Moral identity relates to internalised moral values that we consider to be a part of who we are. Moral identity is thought to motivate moral behaviour.

Moral identity and behaviour

Moral identity alone doesn't determine moral behaviour completely.

  • Hertz & Krettenauer's (2016) meta-analysis investigating the role of moral identity in predicting moral behaviour concluded that while moral identity was positively associated with prosocial behaviour, this relationship was moderate. Moral identity wasn't a better predictor of moral behaviour than other psychological constructs. Differences were also found between cultures. Moral identity seemed to predict moral behaviour to a greater extent in individualistic cultures than in collectivist cultures.
  • Pletti et al. (2019) found that moral identity affects brain activation when observing prosocial and antisocial behaviour. By affecting how we process moral situations, moral identity can affect our judgement and behaviour.

Social factors can also influence moral behaviour.

  • Jia and Krettenauer (2017) argue that moral identity is culture-dependent. In individualistic cultures, acting morally implies behaving according to own individual moral values, while in collectivist cultures, acting morally means behaving in line with the collective moral values and social norms.

Identity and free will difference

Identity refers to our self-image, a stable sense of self that includes our physical and psychological characteristics and social roles. Identity can, to some extent, predict behaviour.

Free will is the ability to make conscious, rational choices, often against external or internal pressures. Free will implies that if we want, we are free to make choices against the pressures of our identity or despite social influences.

Identity theory and free will

Identity theory is a philosophical theory that reduces mental states to simply brain states. Identity theory is an example of reductionism. In the view of this theory, we only have as much free will as we have control over our brain states.


Identity and free will - Key takeaways

  • Determinism posits that all our behaviour is determined by factors outside of our control, while the idea of free will is that we can make free conscious choices about how to act without being constrained by influences that are outside of our control.
  • In psychology, behaviourism argues that human behaviour is fully deterministic. Bandura proposed reciprocal determinism, which argues that humans interact mutually with the environment and can exert control over their own behaviour. Humanistic approaches posit that self-determined motivation is crucial for achieving self-actualisation, the highest level of psychological development.
  • Baumeister highlights the implications of believing in one's own free will. Lack of this belief can decrease people's motivation for self-regulation and prosocial behaviour.
  • Identity refers to our self-image, a stable sense of self that includes our physical and psychological characteristics as well as social roles. Adolescence is considered to be a crucial developmental stage for identity development.
  • Erikson established eight stages of identity development, building on Freud's psychodynamic approach. Each stage, similar to Freud, requires acknowledgement, and failure to progress through the stages results in psychological issues.
  • Moral identity and culture can partially predict moral behaviour. However, moral behaviour is not fully accounted for by these factors.

Frequently Asked Questions about Identity and Free Will

Baumeister (2008) argued that psychology should be concerned with what we perceive as a free action and how the belief in free will influences prosocial and antisocial behaviour, rather than whether it exists.

We can have some control over who we want to become, which is not influenced by external factors. This conflict of identity vs role confusion tends to be resolved in adolescence.

From a deterministic view, all our actions are causally determined by either internal factors, like our personality, or external factors, like social context. Therefore, even though we might feel like our choices are free, they are inevitably influenced by factors outside of our own control.

Different theories propose different ideas about the extent of our free will. According to hard determinism, all free will is an illusion and all of our behaviour is determined by external factors. While soft determinism proposes that free will is possible but it is constrained by various external factors that can influence our behaviour.

Free will is concerned with our ability to make free choices, while freedom refers to not having external constraints that stop us from executing the choices we have made.

Final Identity and Free Will Quiz

Question

What is the free will vs. determinism debate?

Show answer

Answer

The free will vs. determinism debate is concerned with the extent to which people have control over their actions versus the extent their actions are determined by factors outside of their own control.  

Show question

Question

Does behaviourism assume human behaviour is determined or that humans have free will?

Show answer

Answer

Behaviourism holds a deterministic view of human behaviour. 

  • Behaviourists argue that behaviour is simply the outcome of the environment and humans behave the way they were conditioned to.

Show question

Question

What is reciprocal determinism?

Show answer

Answer

Reciprocal determinism argues that humans are active instead of passive agents that interact mutually with the environment and can, directly and indirectly, control their own behaviour. 

Show question

Question

What is self-efficacy?

Show answer

Answer

Self-efficacy is the belief that we can control our actions and our environment 

Show question

Question

How does humanistic psychology view determinism and free will?

Show answer

Answer

The humanistic approach in psychology argues that free will is not only possible but it is inherently what makes us human.  

Show question

Question

How does free will relate to the process of self-actualisation?

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Answer

Free will is necessary for self-actualisation to occur, to realise our full potential we need to make conscious choices that get us to where we want to be.

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Question

How did Baumeister (2008) characterise free actions?

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Answer

Baumeister characterised free action as conscious, requiring rational choice and self-regulation.

Show question

Question

Why is the belief in free will important according to Baumeister (2008)?

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Answer

Deterministic beliefs can make people more likely to engage in antisocial and immoral behaviour because it diminishes their sense of personal responsibility.

Show question

Question

What is identity?

Show answer

Answer

In psychology, we define identity as a continuous self-image that includes one's body image, values, goals, memories, psychological traits as well as social roles.  

Show question

Question

Which stage of psychosocial development is crucial for the development of identity? 

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Answer

Identity development occurs during adolescence at the identity vs. role confusion stage of psychosocial development.

Show question

Question

Is our identity determined?

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Answer

The psychological study of identity supports soft-determinism. While we have some freedom to decide who we are, external factors and past experiences can influence our sense of self.

Show question

Question

What is moral identity?

Show answer

Answer

Moral identity relates to internalised moral values that we consider to be a part of who we are. Moral identity is thought to motivate moral behaviour. 

Show question

Question

Why is adolescence an important period for the development of moral identity?

Show answer

Answer

In adolescence, individuals develop internal motivations for prosocial behaviour and internal moral values. Adolescents can better reason about moral dilemmas and about how they will be viewed in social interactions as well as anticipate the needs of others.


Show question

Question

What factors predict moral behaviour?

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Answer

Moral identity and culture

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Question

Can moral identity completely predict moral behaviours?

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Answer

According to Hertz & Krettenauer (2016) moral identity only moderately predicts moral behaviour. This relationship is greater for individualistic compared to collectivist cultures.

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Question

How does the meaning of morality differ across cultures?

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Answer

According to Jia and Krettenauer (2017) in individualistic cultures acting morally implies behaving according to own individual moral values, while in collectivist cultures acting morally means behaving in line with the collective moral values and social norms.

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Question

What did Erikson believe played an important role in an individual's personality and growth development?

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Answer

Social experiences, interactions and relationships

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Question

During each stage, an individual goes through _____. Fill in the blank.

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Answer

Crisis

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If successful, after each stage, the individual gains a _____ ______. Fill in the blank. 


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Answer

Basic virtue

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Question

What is the crisis faced in Stage 1?

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Trust vs. mistrust

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What is the crisis faced in Stage 2?

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Autonomy vs. shame

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What is the basic virtue gained in Stage 3?

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Purpose

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What is the age that individuals experience Stage 4?

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Answer

5 - 12 years

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Name the crisis in Stage 5.

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Identity vs. role confusion

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What is the basic virtue gained in Stage 6?

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Answer

Love

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Question

State the age, crisis and basic virtue gained in Stage 7.

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Answer

Stage 7 lasts from 40 - 65 years. Individuals go through the crisis of generativity vs. stagnation and gain the basic virtue of care.

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What is the basic virtue gained in Stage 8?

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Wisdom

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Question

In Stage 4, what could happen if parents or teachers restrict or discourage initiative? 

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Answer

The child is unlikely to be secure in their abilities and may not believe they are competent. In addition, if they feel they cannot live up to society's expectations of their skills, this can lead to a feeling of inferiority.

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Question

Describe the consequences of failure in Stage 7.

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Answer

If adults do not contribute to or participate in society, they may feel unproductive and disconnected from their community and wider society. 


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Question

What are the strengths of Erikson's stages of development?

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  • The stages acknowledge the importance of later periods of an individual's life as well as childhood
  • The stages are relatable; many have said that the stages have related to their own life experiences
  • The theory links different stages of psychosocial development across a lifespan
  • There is support to back up Erikson's theory (Goodcase & Love, 2016)

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Question

What are the weaknesses of Erikson's stages of development?

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Answer

  • Some argue that the stages are too descriptive - Erikson offers little explanation as to why such development occurs
  • The theory does not offer explanations as to which kinds of experiences individuals should have to move from one stage to another 
  • Some have argued that this theory is based on male development, as Erikson believed that development differs by gender. It has been criticised for using male development as the 'default' for a human development theory

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