Now That’s Magic! The Free Will and Determinism Debate

One of the major debates in A-level psychology involves considering the relationship between – and relative importance of – free will and determinism in explaining human

At A-level a fruitful approach to free-will / determinism questions is not to argue for “one or the other” – either we can make autonomous behavioural choices or our behaviour is determined in same way – but to understand the various ways our “free choices” are structured; to be aware, in other words, that the range of choices available to us, or which we see as viable and realistic, are strongly conditioned in some way – by our genes, brain structure, social structure (our membership of and investment in social groups) or whatever.

A good way to illustrate this is to use Olson et. al’s recent research (Influencing choice without awareness, 2015) to show how our “apparently free choices” can be subtly influenced.

The research demonstrates how magicians use a range of cues to “force” an individual to choose the card they want them to “freely chose” and, in so doing, suggest how our choices may actually be conditioned by a range of forces we may not fully comprehend.

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