New research has discovered that people are more likely to sign up to become an organ donor if they have positive attitudes about registering as a donor, as compared to just a general support of the idea of organ donation.
In a 2005 Gallup poll, 95 percent of Americans said they “support or strongly support” organ donation, yet only 40 percent of eligible donors have registered, according to a study published in the American Psychological Association journal Health Psychology.
“More than 120,000 people in the U.S. were on the waiting list for an organ transplant as of December 2013, and 18 people die each day because they didn’t receive a transplantable organ,” said lead researcher Jason T. Siegel, Ph.D., of Claremont Graduate University.
“We wanted to figure out why there is such inconsistency between peoples’ attitudes toward organ donation and donor registration.”
For the study, researchers conducted two experiments involving 516 people. None of them were registered organ donors.
In the first experiment, 358 people completed an online survey. For the other, 158 college students answered a paper survey in class.
The researchers found that among the online group, specific attitudes as opposed to general attitudes were 75 percent more predictive of organ donor registration (10 percent vs. 17 percent).
For the students in the classroom, specific attitudes were 150 percent more predictive of registration behavior than general attitudes (18.5 percent vs. 42.6 percent), according to the study.
Researchers measured participants’ attitudes based on their responses to questions on the surveys.
The students were asked two questions: “In general, how do you feel about organ donation?” and “How do you feel about registering yourself as an organ donor?” Their responses were rated on a continuum from negative to positive.
The online participants were asked to respond to a series of comments, such as “I support the idea of organ donation for transplantation purposes.” They also were asked to complete the sentence “Would registering yourself to be an organ donor …” with various phrases, such as “be a rewarding act?” or “be a source of anxiety?”
All participants then had an opportunity to register as an organ donor when they completed the survey. Of the online participants, 10 percent clicked on the link to a donor registration form, while 13 percent of the students completed registration forms.
If participants said they felt positive specifically about signing up as an organ donor they were much more likely to register than if they simply said they strongly support the general idea of organ donation, according to the study’s findings.
This illustrates a psychological principle that specific attitudes are more likely to predict behavior than general attitudes, the researchers noted.
“It’s a concept researchers need to keep in mind to gather more helpful data to support actions to change behaviors. Research on health issues has had a tendency to rely on global measures of attitude to predict behaviors such as smoking, drinking, taking medication, or keeping doctor’s appointments,” Siegel said.
“We should instead measure specific attitudes, whether they’re about organ donations or any health-related behavior, from brushing teeth to binge drinking.”
But of course there’s more to it than that, he said.
“Positive attitudes are often not enough on their own to increase donor registration rates,” Siegel said. “Often what people need is ready access to a registration form.”
The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Transplantation.