The study of lay theory yields interesting insights about the factors that hold sway over our seemingly most deeply held beliefs. What if I were to tell you, for instance, that belief in free will is negatively correlated with the desire to urinate? Those are the implications of a new study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition by Michael Ent and Roy Baumeister. They predicted—and found—that the more people felt they needed to pee, the less they believed that humans are in control of their destinies.
Whence comes such a seemingly bizarre theory about the relationship between something as mundane as bodily function and as lofty as human freedom? It’s based on a brand of psychological research known as “embodied cognition,” the primary lesson of which is that moment-to-moment states of our bodies influence how we consider about the world around us. An example of this is work by Amy Cuddy showing that “power postures” change how we come across in job interviews. Ent and Baumeister turned this approach toward the question of free will, hypothesizing that body-states could affect even abstract philosophies. When a feature of physical experience reminds subjects they are constrained by the laws of nature, Ent and Baumeister reasoned, their belief in free will should diminish.