Social psychology cares about causal conscious thought, not free will per se


Correspondence should be addressed to John A. Bargh, Department of Psychology, Yale University, 2 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven, CT 06520, USA (e-mail:


The target article is a response to internet blog posts and not to the published record. This distinction matters because while the blog posts debated free will, within the peer-reviewed, scientific psychological literature the debate has always been over a somewhat different issue: the causal nature of conscious as opposed to automatic cognitive processes on higher mental processes such as judgment, behaviour, and motivation. These are distinct issues because conscious processes can be part of the causal chain even though they themselves are caused; thus, logically, conscious processes can be causal even though free will (the ‘uncaused causer’) does not exist. This debate within psychology over the causal efficacy of conscious processes is now 100 years old (Watson, 1912) and the recent blog exchanges that prompted the target article are better understood within that historical context instead of within the definitional debates within philosophy about the concept of free will.