Determined to fail: free will and work success

If you want to predict how well someone might perform in a new job, you might want to enquire about their views on whether we are free to choose our own actions.

A delightful study just published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that belief in free will predicted job performance better than conscientiousness, belief in influence over life events and a commitment to a ‘Protestant work ethic’ where diligent labour is seen as a benefit in itself.

Here’s the summary from the study’s abstract:

Do philosophic views affect job performance? The authors found that possessing a belief in free will predicted better career attitudes and actual job performance. The effect of free will beliefs on job performance indicators were over and above well-established predictors such as conscientiousness, locus of control, and Protestant work ethic. In Study 1, stronger belief in free will corresponded to more positive attitudes about expected career success. In Study 2, job performance was evaluated objectively and independently by a supervisor. Results indicated that employees who espoused free will beliefs were given better work performance evaluations than those who disbelieve in free will, presumably because belief in free will facilitates exerting control over one’s actions.


Link to summary and DOI entry for study (via Brain Hammer).

12 thoughts on “Determined to fail: free will and work success”

  1. Why are the work ethic and philosophical outlook viewed so variably, while ‘job performance’ is given as an unchanging constant against which to measure people?

    I would argue that the basic premise is one that favors the ‘Protestant work ethic,’ defining productivity in narrow terms.

  2. Couldn’t this be turned around? Maybe people who do better at their job are more likely to want to claim credit for it – and therefore more likely to believe in free will.

  3. Well people who believe in free will are going to be more happy to be there in the first place so its no wonder they perform better on the job!

  4. I think this is a lot like religious belief — it sometimes helps you be psychologically healthy to some degree (by negating fears of death and an amoral universe) but ultimately is not based on anything real, just deep-seated wants (needs?).

    Same deal with a belief in free will — this study says nothing about whether the belief is true, only that it is helpful psychologically to believe in it.

    After all, what are our greatest, most disturbing fears? A loss of control over one’s life (which includes death, the ultimate extension of this), loss of loved ones, an uncaring, unfair universe … and that’s about it, in a nutshell.

    No wonder these ideas of god, an immortal soul and free will so often all come packaged together.

  5. so people who believe in free will (through no fault of their own, such a belief being predicated on uncontrolled experiences and exposure to virus-like replicating ideas) are predisposed to do better at work?

    Well I guess if getting good reviews from the morons who control your job is what you want in life, you can use this research to help you. Ohh wait, when did success mean getting good reviews from the people who control a majority of their waking hours?

  6. They need to study how these people feel about capital punishment. Or how they treat people who have failed to complete a task. I imagine the more free you imagine yourself to be, the more responsibility you place in others.

  7. @some guy

    You don’t believe in free will. I do. You think I am wrong and would prefer me to take your position. Am I free to change my mind?

    Your argument has just been completely destroyed. You are now free from your nihilism. Have a great life 🙂

  8. I would definitely like to read this paper. I have my own questions. Because I myself am a hardworking determinist, I can call to mind plenty of people who are. The main proponents of the intellectual movement are incredibly successful at their academic and other jobs. So I wonder, what kind of work do they mean? Maybe for certain kinds of work it’s better and for other it’s not? (Sort of like the finding of incentives for different types of work?) The way people are reacting to this and the way it is being represented, it definitely feels blown-up and overstated.

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