When We Use Fate As A Scapegoat

Making decisions can be difficult, and making a hard decision can up the stress even more. A new study suggests that when we have an especially hard decision to make, we're more likely to use the belief in fate as a coping mechanism.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that believing that outcomes are out of our control is a coping mechanism to help us live with our decisions.

Researchers from Duke University conducted two experiments to analyze the relationship between decision making and belief in fate.

For the first study, they had 189 participants take a survey indicating how difficult it was for them to choose between Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election (via statements such as "both candidates seem equally good" and "I am not sure how to compare the candidates' plans"). Then, the participants had their belief in fate tested by answering items such as, "Fate will make sure that the candidate that eventually gets elected is the right one."

The researchers found an association between having a harder time making a decision between Obama and Romney, and having a higher belief in fate.

In the second study, 182 participants were again asked to make a decision between Obama and Romney after reading policy statements from both candidates that either emphasized how their policies were similar, or their policies were different.

The study participants who read the statements that made the candidates' policies seem similar -- thereby presenting a harder decision to make -- reported greater belief in fate, while those who read the statements making their policies seem different had a lower belief in fate.

"When our voters found it harder to choose between Obama and Romney, they perceived a greater role for fate in the election," the researchers wrote in the study. "Belief in fate may ease the psychological burden of a difficult decision, but whether that comes at the cost of short-circuiting an effective decision-making process is an important question for future research."