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We are likely to succeed if we persist to believe that we are the masters of our fates -- unless someone jolts our belief.

'Folk psychology tells us if you feel in control, you perform better,' says Davide Rigoni, an experimental psychologist now at the University of Marseille, France.

Working with Marcel Brass and Simone Kuhn and Giuseppe Sartori, Rigoni showed that shaking people's belief in self-mastery impairs their brains' readiness to act, the journal Psychological Science reports.

They divided a group of men and women, aged 18 to 24, into two. The experimental group read a text stating that scientists had discovered free will to be an illusion, according to a Marseille statement.

The control group read about consciousness with no mention of free will. They were instructed to read carefully in preparation for a quiz.

Finally, participants answered questions assessing their beliefs in free will and determinism, both regarding people in general and themselves in particular.

The questionnaires showed the text worked -- the first group's belief in their own self-determination was weaker than that of the control group's.

In other words, deep in the brain, the gumption to act flagged along with the belief in self-determination.

Impatient with the biological deterministic bent of science 'that genes and brains control us and we have no control', Rigoni was motivated by a more philosophical question: 'Is it better to believe or not believe we are free? What if we all disbelieved in free will?'

The study gives scientific support to his intuition that it is better to believe. 'If we are not free,' he says, 'it makes no sense to put effort into actions and to be motivated.'