The Free Will-Determinism Scale measures the degree to which an individual believes in free will or determinism. Origi­nally, philosophers and theologians held that free will and determinism were discrete categories of a dichotomy. Early social sci­entists modified it to be a unidimensional continuum with free will and determinism being opposite end anchors. Eventually so­cial scientists recognized that the existence of free will or determinism was metaphysi­cal and thus beyond empirical proof; how­ ever, they recognized that the degree to which an individual believes in free will or determinism affects the individual’s actions, attitudes, and attributions. Several studies by Viney, Waldman, and colleagues (e.g., Viney, Waldman, & Barchilon, 1982) ques­tioned the simplicity of the unidimensional nature of the belief system; they concluded that the free will-determinism belief system was multidimensional. The type of deter­minism may be conditioned by fundamental religious and philosophical factors or by op­erative psychosocial conditions.

The absence of determinism might sug­gest either free will or a non lawful universe in which fate, chaos, or random forces oper­ate to influence an individual’s action. That is, determinism has preconditions of exter­nal control and order. Free-will has precon­ditions of internal control but no operative involvement of non lawful entities as fate, luck, or chaos. In a capricious universe, nei­ther free will nor determinism makes sense.


The Free Will-Determinism Scale is a 19-item scale with some items adapted from earlier work by Viney, Wald­ man, and Barchilon (1982). The items are presented in a Likert-type format with re­sponses ranging from (1) “strongly agree” to (9) “strongly disagree.”

The scale yields three scores. Some items assess religious-philosophical determinism, “the belief that a force such as God or fate acts to control our behavior” (Stroessner & Green, 1990, p. 791). Others measure psy­chosocial determinism, “the belief that envi­ronmental factors determine our behavior” (Stroessner & Green, 1990, p. 791). The lib­ertarianism items measure the role that free will and choice play in actions and out­ comes.

Practical Considerations:

The scale is an easy-to-administer paper-and-pencil instru­ment. The language is straightforward and simple. The scoring system utilizes numeri­cal indicators of agreement-disagreement presented in a Likert format. The scale is appropriate for individuals of normal intelli­gence from the teen years on. The scale items do not address the issue of genetic or biological determinants of behaviors. This is a shortfall of the present scale.


The original study was broad in that 507 students provided the data; the study was narrow in that the range of diversity was somewhat restricted: stu­ dents attending a private liberal arts spon­ sored by a mainline Protestant denomina­tion located in the midwestern United States.


Stroessner and Green (1990) conducted a factor analysis (principal axes with varimax rotation) to determine the in­ ternal structure of the 19-item scale. Three primary factors were found, each conform­ing to one of the predicted dimensions. Each item loaded on only one factor; two items that contributed to no factor were not scored and were dropped from further considera­tion.

Stroessner and Green (1990) reported re­ liability in terms of internal consistency. The alpha coefficient for the six religious­ philosophical determinism items was .87. The seven items relating to psychosocial de­terminism produced an alpha coefficient of .64. An alpha coefficient of .69 was reported for the four items regarding libertarianism.

No other measures of reliability were re­ ported. Test-retest reliability should be easy to establish with the type of items included in the scale.


The items are transparent and thus lack of face validity is of no problem to re­spondents. No attribution bias was found in the study. Respondents judging self made the same type of judgment (i.e., punitiveness, rehabilitation, locus of control) as the re­spondents judging another. This represents a case or scale in which the fundamental attri­bution error was not reported. This in itself is unique.

The relationships between types of deter­minism and locus of control were interest­ing, yet unpredicted. Libertarians and reli­gious-philosophical determinists exhibited more internal locus of control than did psy­chosocial determinists. Individuals endors­ing a religious-philosophical deterministic belief exhibited more external locus of con­trol than did those low in the belief. These findings hint for construct validity. The rela­tionship to punitiveness for actions was mixed: individuals with extreme views in both directions were more punitive than in­dividuals favoring a moderate belief.

Free Will-Determination Scale

Respondents are asked to rate their degree of agreement with each item on a 9-point Likert scale in which 1 denotes “strongly agree” and 9 denotes “strongly disagree.”

  1. My exercise of free will is limited by my upbringing.
  2. Because of my background influences, I have no real free will.
  3. I will have free will all of my life.
  4. I have free will in life, regardless of group expectations or pressures.
  5. My behaviors are determined by conditioning and life experiences.
  6. My choices are limited by God’s plan for my life.
  7. My wealth, class, race, and gender determine my decisions and behavior.
  8. My choices are constrained by God.
  9. I am free to make choices in my life regardless of social conditions.
  10. I have total free will.
  11. My free will is limited by such social conditions as wealth, career, and class.
  12. My decisions fit into and thus are limited by a larger plan.
  13. My present behavior is totally a result of my childhood experiences.
  14. God’s will determines the choices I make.
  15. God has my life planned out.
  16. My behaviors are limited by my background.
  17. When things are going well for me, I consider it due to a run of good luck.

Three subscales were constructed on the basis of loadings in a factor analysis. The score on “religious­ philosophical determinism” is determined by summing the responses to items 6, 8, 12, 14, 15, and 17. The “libertarianism” score is determined by summing the responses to items 3, 4, 9, and 10. The score on “psy­chosocial determinism” is the sum of responses on items I, 2, 5, 7, 11, 13, and 16. The score on the belief in determinism is calculated by reverse scoring and summing on items 3, 4, 9, and 10.


Stroessner, S. J., & Green, C. W. (1990). Effects of belief in free will or determinism on attitudes to­ ward punishment and locus of control. Journal of Social Psychology, 130, 789-799.

Subsequent Research: The authors have not conducted further research using the scale, nor are they aware of other re­searchers who have employed the scale in their research. The scale and questions that the issue of free will determinism raises provide a potentially rich source of future research with issues relating to such diverse aspects of personality as religious experi­ence, locus of control, attribution of respon­sibility and blame, and the limitations of self-control.


Stroessner, S. J., & Green, C. W. (1990). Effects of belief in free will or determinism on attitudes to­ ward punishment and locus of control. Journal of Social Psychology, 130, 789-799.

Viney, W., Waldman, D. A., & Barchilon, J. (1982). Attitudes toward punishment in relation to beliefs in free will and determinism. Human Rela­tions, 35, 939-950.