New Research Overturns Earlier Study that Claims Decision Making Isn’t a Product of Free Will

Helen Holmes March 17, 2020

 Many people believe that decision-making is a product of the conscious mind. As we make choices, the conscious mind is at work, telling us what to do. However, past research has shown that this isn’t the case. In 1980s, scientists from the University of California headed by Benjamin Libet showed evidences that it is the subconscious, not the conscious mind that is at work when making decisions. Just recently however, a group of European researchers challenged the former study and strengthened the idea that people have been holding on to for a long, long time.

Libet Research – Decision Making is powered by the Subconscious Mind

In this study, Libet and his colleagues looked at the brain activities of the study participants when making spontaneous movements. Based on the EEG readings, they found that the subconscious mind came into a decision about what movement the person has to make next. Based on their experiment, the researchers concluded that people don’t have nearly the degree of free will when making decisions, which is contrary to popular belief.

New Research – Decision-Making is Matter of Free Will

For many years, the theory of Libet was never refuted until a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, came into the picture. Here, European team suggests that people really make decisions based on their conscious mind. To come up with the result, the researchers looked at how the brain reacts with other decision-making stimuli.

They conducted a series of experiments to test their theory. First, they created a computer model which they called neural accumulator, and watched as it behaved in a way like it was building up to a potential action. Next, they repeated Libet’s experiment, this time, adding another element – a click noise. Each of the participants was asked to make a decision immediately after hearing the noise even if they’re still mulling over what option to take. The researchers suggest that those who had already built up a neural response and were near the threshold, the response should come faster. And that was actually what happened, based on the data gathered from the EEG readings. This only proves that it is still the conscious mind that is at work when a person makes a decision, the subconscious mind only works in the background to get it ready, the researchers explained.

In Libet’s study, it was demonstrated that the brain amasses neural activity in preparation of the response, which gives a person a range of options to choose from. Then, the response becomes clear as it is turned into images that the brain can understand. It’s the same when choosing to move an arm or finger, the researchers say. And it’s only when a critical mass occurs that decision making really takes place.