Character counts when it comes to organ, blood donations

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Some people say they would refuse an organ or blood donation that came from a murderer or thief, a new study shows.

Many people believe behaviour and personality traits are tied to something deep within a person. As a result, patients are often worried they will become more like their donors, following a transplant or transfusion, the researchers explained. For this reason, these patients prefer to receive organs or blood from people who are a lot like them, the University of Michigan study found.

"This suggests an interesting intuitive belief -- that behaviours and personalities are inherent, unchanging aspects of who they are," study co-author Susan Gelman, a professor of psychology, said in a University of Michigan news release.

Study author Meredith Meyer, a research fellow in psychology, added: "People dislike the prospect of any change in their essence -- positive or negative -- and so any salient difference between the donor and recipient leads to increased resistance to the transplant [despite the fact] there is no scientific model to account for why transplants might lead to transference of features."

For the study, the researchers showed the study participants a list of possible human donors. They were asked to judge whether they wanted a donor who was of the same gender and sexual orientation and came from a similar background. The participants also considered possible donors' ages and positive or negative characteristics, such as high IQ, being a kind person, philanthropist, thief, gambler or murderer.

The participants were also asked how they felt about being a donor, and if they believed a transplant would cause a recipient to adopt the personality and behaviours of their donor.

Strong feelings

The study revealed that the participants cared more about having a donor with a personality and behaviours similar to their own than a donor's positive or negative qualities. Organs or blood from a pig or chimpanzee were particularly unpleasant for people to consider, the findings indicated.

Feelings about blood transfusions were just as strong as views on heart transplants, the study authors pointed out.

"Since blood transfusions are so common and relatively straightforward, we had expected people might think that they have very little effect," Meyer noted.

The study participants included people from the United States as well as people from India, where some subcultures hold deep-seated beliefs about contamination from transplants. Those from India had stronger ideas on how transplants would affect their behaviour than Americans did, the results showed.

"From the medical point of view, this is beginning to look like a promising way of addressing donor shortages," study co-author Sarah-Jane Leslie, an assistant professor of philosophy at Princeton University, said in the news release. "But these results indicate that potential recipients could struggle with the belief that accepting such a donation will profoundly change who they are."

More information

The US National Library of Medicine has more about organ donation.

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