The Power of Obedience: Does coercion decrease the experience of sense of agency?
Vlist, Corné van der
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In modern society, maintaining personal autonomy is challenged with the imposition of governmental laws, rules and social norms. A prime example is the use of coercion during the recent COVID-19 pandemic to enforce new measures to stop the virus from spreading. This study explored what effect coercion has on personal autonomy, as reflected in the sense of agency, by replicating parts of the experiments done by Caspar and colleagues. We expected that coercion would decrease the subjective experience of sense of agency. The experiment was conducted in an online environment where 42 participants performed a time interval estimation task. During the task, participants had the option to either financially harm another participant or to withdraw from harming. The participants were sometimes free and sometimes coerced into one of the two actions. After the action was selected the sense of agency was indexed by intentional binding. Contrasting our main hypothesis, we found no significant relationship between coercion and sense of agency. This would suggest that coercion has no effect on personal autonomy. Although no significant relationship has been found, when accounting for the limitations of this study, different results would be expected. Coercion might result in different experiences of agency when changed in setting, deliverance or degree. The current study serves as a starting point for the complex relationship between coercion and personal autonomy within a new digital environment. Future research could focus on improving the methodology of this study and explore with potential moderators, mediators and the operationalization of coercion.