A new study provides evidence that a feeling of freedom and a sense of responsibility are directly related to one another.
Scientists from the National Research University Higher School of Economics and Omsk State University in Russia, and the University of Missouri in the United States, shows that the road to responsibility involves giving a person a sense of freedom.
It all revolves around autonomy, a basic human need, according to the researchers. If a person does not have a choice, this need is not met, which negatively impacts a person’s psychological well-being.
For the study, the scientists carried out a series of experiments with 1,430 students in Russian and the U.S.
The researchers used methods that measured the level of responsibility and autonomy as personality traits. The results showed that the two are interrelated. The higher a person’s level of autonomy, the more responsibility he or she feels.
The participants were asked to imagine themselves in various situations and describe their feelings and what they would do. The person giving the instructions to the participant — someone close to them, a person in a position of power, or a stranger — either gave them freedom in deciding how to complete the task or didn’t, and also gave them a sense of how Cthey would be for the result, according to the researchers.
For example, a student was asked to imagine that he was asked by a professor to carry out an important scientific project that was closely related to his field of study. In one case, the student had the freedom to choose how to act, and in the other, the professor determined the strategy to be implemented, and the student simply carried out the professor’s orders.
The student was then told that the project turned out to be unsuccessful.
Research participants had to assess whether they felt that their own actions were the reason for the failure, or whether they felt it to be a result of extenuating circumstances and tried to figure out what these reasons were.
In the situations where participants were offered freedom, they felt a greater sense of responsibility, according to the study’s findings. They were ready to accept the possible negative consequences of their actions and were less likely to look for other reasons for these consequences.
In addition, the results showed that telling someone to take responsibility is ineffective, the researchers discovered. It doesn’t result in a higher likelihood that the person will do so.
Scientists note that a person’s sense of responsibility is higher if their autonomy is encouraged by those who are in positions of power or authority. This includes parents, teachers, and bosses.
“The freedom to choose, the respect, and the understanding from the person’s boss, or the individual in the position of power — this is what helps a person grow and become more effective,” the researchers said in the study.
In contrast, they found that using words such as “should” and “have to” are less effective in encouraging someone to take responsibility, and even have the opposite effect.
The results for Russian participants were similar to those for American participants, but scientists did identify some cultural differences. Russians are less likely to take responsibility than Americans. This was deemed by scientists to be a result of the different levels of societal freedom experienced by Russians and Americans.
Russians, however, were found to be more sensitive to who was giving the instructions and how they were given. Their sense of responsibility was found to be higher than that of Americans when the person was close to them, for example, a relative or a friend. The main factor in these situations was trust, according to the researchers.