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Freedom Fighters?

To Fight or Accept Freedom Constraints

Freedom restrictions impact us all. At work, bosses tell us what to do and what not to do. In relationships, our freedom is naturally resricted. Heck, the entire basis of society is mutually agreed upon freedom restrictions; they call them laws last I checked.

Sometimes these restrictions annoy us, and sometimes they do not. Most of the time we do not even notice them, and sometimes we rebel strongly against them (or at least want to!).

But when do people "fight" against freedom restrictions, and when do they accept them? Recent research by Kristin Laurin (University of Waterloo) and colleagues tested this very question.

It turns out, according to this research, that when a change is going to restrict our freedoms, we accept it when it is unavoidable and certain to happen. But when we feel like it could change, we rebel against it, and come to value that which we have been prohibited from doing more strongly.

In one study for instance, participants read either that a new traffic law was certain to come into effect or would probably come into effect. When they thought the rule would definitely come into effect, they rated it as less annoying than when they were told it would probably be enacted. This occured only for people who drive a lot, suggesting that a freedom restriction only causes these effects when it is self-relevant.

This research suggests some pretty powerful implications. For instance, something like gay marriage would conceivably gain more favor just by being enacted for certain, with no chance of change. However, if people felt the law was only likely to come into effect, this would not occur. This would be the case for any law.

Because people accept laws more when they feel they are not able to be altered, thinking that many of our laws are impossible to change aids in the continuance of society. In a strange way then, a reduction in democracy and disconnection from the whole process could help the continuance of a democracy. By not feeling like change can occur, which is conceivably a key element to democracy, ironically perhaps, people come to accept the laws.

Stepping away from government, the same thing should theoretically apply to relationships. Say you have a partner that is controlling. If you thought he or she could not change, this research would suggest that you would be more likely to stay with that partner than if he or she was controlling and you believed that he or she could change. Further, it suggests that you would stay in the relationship with the controlling partner more readily if you do not feel like you could leave the relationship.

That is pretty interesting stuff, even if it is an extrapolation from this research.

More from Nathan A Heflick Ph.D.
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