States that seem to promote a strong sense of well-being among their residents have far more cases of non-directed kidney donations (offering a kidney to a stranger) — an act considered extremely altruistic. The research, published in Psychological Science, includes Hawaii and Colorado as two such states.
The concept of altruism — and determining if it actually exists — has long been a topic of debate. To skeptics, acts of “altruism” always benefit the do-gooder in some way, such as a rise in social status or just the avoidance of other people’s negative judgments.
“Non-directed kidney donation is unique, however,” said senior author Abigail Marsh, “because it meets the strictest criteria for altruism. Altruistic donors often choose to give their kidneys to someone they don’t even know, and donating may cause extreme discomfort and pain.”
“Anywhere from 11 percent to 54 percent of adults say that they’d be willing to consider altruistic kidney donation, but only a tiny fraction of them actually become donors,” said Marsh, associate professor of psychology in Georgetown College. “Our work suggests that subjective well-being may be a factor that ‘nudges’ some adults into actually donating.”
For the study, Marsh and Kristin Brethel-Haurwitz, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, analyzed the data of kidney donations from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network and also the well-being data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
They found that states with higher per capita altruistic donation rates tended to have higher levels of well-being. This connection remained when the researchers combined states into nine broader geographic regions, and when they examined the data for a single year (2010).
The link remained strong even after regional differences in several other factors — such as household income, age, education, and mental and physical health — were taken into account.
“Given that altruism itself promotes well-being, policies that promote well-being may help to generate a virtuous circle whereby increases in well-being promote altruism that, in turn, increases well-being,” wrote the authors.
Marsh believes their findings have clear implications for public health.
“Kidney disease is now the eighth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and living kidney donations are the best hope for restoring people to health who have kidney disease,” Marsh notes. “Understanding the dynamics that lead to this kind of donation might help increase the numbers of donations, which currently are in decline.”
Source: Georgetown University