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Wegner & Wheatley (1999) Apparent Mental Causation

Wegner & Wheatley (1999) Apparent mental causation: Sources of the experience of will. American Psychologist, 54(7), 480–492..

Warren Craft

on 21 October 2015

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Transcript of Wegner & Wheatley (1999) Apparent Mental Causation

Apparent Mental Causation: Sources of the Experience of Will
The experience of willing an act arises from interpreting one's thought as the cause of the act. Conscious will is thus experienced as a function of the priority, consistency, and exclusivity of the thought about the action. The thought must occur before the action, be consistent with the action, and not be accompanied by other causes. An experiment illustrating the role ofpriority found that people can arrive at the mistaken belief that they have intentionally caused an action that in fact they were forced to perform when they are simply led to think about the action just before its occurrence.
Sources of Experienced Will
“Conscious will is a pervasive human experience. We all have the sense that we do things, that we cause our acts, that we are agents. As William James (1890) observed, ‘the whole sting and excitement of our voluntary life . . . depends on our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago’ ” (pg 480).
But …
… the very notion of “the will” seems to contradict the core assumption of psychological science
that behavior is mechanistic
Apparent Mental Causation:
Sources of the Experience of Will

Daniel M. Wegner & Thalia Wheatley (1999)
American Psychologist
, 54(7), 480–492

A Proposal
“Quite simply, it may be that people experience conscious will when they
their own thought as the cause of their action.” (pg 480)
And as such, people might experience conscious will
of any actual causal connection between their thoughts and their actions!
A Model for the Experience of Conscious Will
“What are the items that seem to click together [as two billiard balls] in our minds to yield the
of will?”

The Experience of Will
The thought should precede the action (by an appropriate interval of time).
Consider time estimates based on Working Memory & perceptual fluctuations.
I Spy Study
Notice Wegner & Wheatley's citation of
Libet (1985)
and the Nisbett & Wilson (1977) study of the emotional impact of a
Rabbit Run
Discussion & Conclusions
Wegner & Wheatley's approach is “to examine the mechanisms that produce the
of conscious will”
Basically: Wegner & Wheatley are asking what leads to such a
analogous to our perception of cause & effect in one billiard ball hitting another.
Basically arguing: (1) the occurrence of a mental process does not guarantee the individual any special insight into the process, and (2) the experience of conscious will does not necessarily reflect an accurate cause-effect perception.
Wegner & Wheatley go on to suggest that there are three necessary characteristics of a situation leading to the experience of conscious will:
The thought should be compatible with the action.
Consider cases of automatisms like a Ouija Board, dowsing, Chevreul pendulum.
The thought should be the only apparent cause of action.
Consider ambiguous exclusivity involving both internal (other thoughts, emotions, e.g.) and external factors (e.g. facilitated communication).
From Wegner & Wheatley's concluding paragraph:

The unique human convenience of conscious thoughts that preview our actions gives us the privilege of feeling we willfully cause what we do. In fact, unconscious and inscrutable mechanisms create both conscious thought about action and create the action as well, and also produce the sense of will we experience by perceiving the thought as the cause of action. So, although our thoughts may have deep, important, and unconscious causal connections to our actions, the experience of conscious will arises from a process that interprets these connections, not from the connections themselves. Believing that our conscious thoughts cause our actions is [often] an error … [based on a misinterpretation of a correlational relationship]
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