Believing is better than not believing!

I am not talking about God. Belief in your own abilities make you do wonders. I wrote a while back about the finding that believing you can get smarter actually makes you smarter.

Now this article in Psychological science says that believing in free will lead you to action.

Working with Marcel Brass and Simone Kuhn of the University of Gent and the University of Padova’s Giuseppe Sartori, Davide Rigoni, an experimental psychologist now at the University of Marseille. showed that shaking people’s belief in self-mastery impairs their brains’ readiness to act, even before they’re aware of the intention to move. The study is published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

To see how free-will beliefs affect pre-conscious aspects of motor control, the team observed a well-known brain marker of voluntary action: the negative electrical wave of “readiness potential,” which first fires in preparation to move and then, milliseconds later, activates as the brain sends signals to the muscles. Because the first part is not conscious but is modulated by intention, the researchers thought its strength might reflect belief—or disbelief—in free will.

The study divided 30 men and women ages 18 to 24 into two groups. The experimental group read a text stating that scientists had discovered free will to be an illusion. The control group read about consciousness with no mention of free will. They were instructed to read carefully in preparation for a quiz.

Then the participants performed a “Libet task”: pressing a button whenever and however many times they chose, while indicating on a screen the time they became aware of the intention to act. Meanwhile, an EEG recorded their brain activity.

Finally, participants answered questions assessing their beliefs in free will and determinism, both regarding people in general and themselves in particular.

The questionnaires showed the text worked: the first group’s belief in their own self-determination was weaker than that of the control group’s.

The same effect showed up in the Libet test. The no-free-will group’s EEGs measured brain activity far lower than the control group’s during that first, unconscious phase of readiness potential. Deep in the brain, the gumption to act flagged along with the belief in self-determination.

While that’s true, it’s not always necessary that your confidence in your ability learn has to be directly reflect your ability to – say remembering what you read before a test. All that this experiment and the previous one tells us is that belief has a positive feedback into our system that it makes us more confident and hence biologically help us do better.

Notice that in this article it’s almost the exact opposite. However, on closer examination, it’s the bigger font that gave them a false sense of confidence that they are learning much faster than they actually are. I have no doubt if the subjects continue to work hard and use the confidence in positive way they will gain from the positive feedback.

This study by Williams College psychologist Nate Kornellwith Matthew G. Rhodes of Colorado State University, Alan D. Castel of University of California/Los Angeles, and Sarah K. Tauber of Kent State University—posits that we make predictions about memory based on how we feel while we’re encountering the information to be learned, and that can lead us astray. The study will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

It’s unlikely we’ll start checking our judgments every time we make one, says Kornell: “That’s too slow.” So we’ll just have to study more than we think we have to. And to preserve memories, we’d be wise to keep a journal.

The moral or lesson to take away is to get your strength and confidence from believing in yourself and your abilities but work hard. While we are hardwired to benefit from positive reinforcement, hard work and effort pay off in the long run.

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