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Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms involved in decision-making

Our choices seem to be freer than previously thought. Using computer-based brain experiments, researchers from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin studied the decision-making processes involved in voluntary movements. The question was: Is it possible for people to cancel a movement once the brain has started preparing it? The conclusion the researchers reached was: Yes, up to a certain point—the ‘point of no return’. The results of this study have been published in the journal PNAS.

The background to this new set of experiments lies in the debate regarding conscious will and determinism in human decision-making, which has attracted researchers, psychologists, philosophers and the general public, and which has been ongoing since at least the 1980s. Back then, the American researcher Benjamin Libet studied the nature of cerebral processes of study participants during conscious decision-making. He demonstrated that conscious decisions were initiated by unconscious brain processes, and that a wave of brain activity referred to as a ‘readiness potential’ could be recorded even before the subject had made a conscious decision.

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