Scientists have vehemently argued the theory that free will is simply an illusion, and that our brain's activity predicts our behavior before it even happens, sounding eerily similar to Tom Cruise’s movie Minority Report. But the researchers from Georgia State University have a new compelling study that sheds light on the inaccuracies of such a claim. They published their free-thinking findings in the journal Cognition.

If we believed that our lives were completely laid out before us and out of our control, the value of our moral responsibilities would come under question. For example, if I already knew that I'd eventually end up at the same place, I won't have to adhere to the same laws I thought I once did, believing my fate is written. If I will eventually face doom, then there's nothing I can do about it. "This paper breaks new ground," Joshua Knobe, a philosopher at Yale University who has studied people's thinking about free will, told NewScientist. "But this study suggests that whatever it is that we find threatening to free will, it isn't neuroscience."

The study was based on a view called "willusionism," which is the theory that people can reject "free will" if it's shown that it's an illusion brought on by predicting what the brain is going to do. Researcher and experimental philosopher Eddy Nahmias from Georgia State University, and his colleagues borrowed the idea from neuroscientists and philosopher Sam Harris, who argues science can answer moral questions. "If determinism is true, the future is set — and this includes all our future states of mind and our subsequent behavior," Harris said in one of his books

The research team took the theory of determination and decided to study the reactions of 278 people. They were given a futuristic story about a woman who wears a special skull cap that images her brain and predicts with 100 percent accuracy her future predictions, even how she'll vote. 

When people stop believing they have their own free will, they are more likely to cheat and less inclined to punish others who commit wrongs. Using this knowledge, the research team asked if Jill could vote with her own free will. A surprising 92 percent of participants said she would. However, when researchers gave her a new story about a skull cap that could manipulate her choices, most participants said Jill didn’t have a free will to vote.

"People don't have detailed metaphysical views about what underlies free will," Nahmias said. "What people care about is that their own conscious reasoning makes a difference to their behavior — and nothing in neuroscience suggests it doesn't."

Source: Nahmias E, Shepard J, and Reuter S. It’s OK if ‘my brain made me do it’: People’s intuitions about free will and neuroscientific prediction. Cognition. 2014.