Psychological Mechanisms Behind Organ Donation Decisions

Paul Slovic & Tehila Kogut

National Science Foundation

April 15, 2016 – March 31, 2019


Despite the increase in the number of life-saving organ transplants in the last decades, organs recovered from deceased donors are not adequate to meet the increasing demand in most countries. In many cases, the possibility of organ transplantation is prevented because of the objection of the donor’s family, especially when the deceased herself did not express her willingness for organ donation (OD) while alive. This project implements a broad and in-depth research program to understand behavioral and psychological mechanisms behind OD decisions. It aims to find ways to increase the percentage of organ donors and the support for policies that may increase ODs. For example, encouraging OD receivers to tell their story in the media (with identifying detail) may increase the support for OD. Likewise, providing statistical information about the average life expectancy may promote realistic thinking about death and may increase willingness to commit to OD. We believe that increasing the number of potential organ donors as well as the public awareness of this issue may help to save the lives of many that are waiting for organ transplants.

The planned research addresses three main objectives. (1) To learn about the role of the presentation of OD cases in affecting people’s willingness to commit to OD (including the decision to donate the organs of a deceased relative). (2) To examine individual differences in death anxiety (Fear of Personal Death – FPD) and in people’s beliefs, to learn about their role in predicting people’s decisions regarding OD issues. (3) To manipulate the factors situationally, using priming techniques (i.e., priming thoughts about religious issues, about just vs. unjust world; thoughts of tempting fate; manipulation or increasing the salience of different aspects of the FPD) to examine the influence of such manipulations on people’s decisions regarding OD issues. Together, these research directions will help us to better understand the mechanisms behind OD decisions and describe how these decisions differ from other donation decisions.