In the talk embedded below, psychologist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely asks the question: How many of our decisions are based on our own preferences and how many of them are based on how our options are constructed? His first example regards willingness to donate organs. The figure below shows that some countries in Europe are very generous with their organs and other countries not so much.
A cultural explanation, Ariely argues, doesn’t make any sense because very similar cultures are on opposite sides: consider Sweden vs. Denmark, Germany vs. Austria, and the Netherlands vs. Belgium.
What makes the difference then? It’s the wording of the question. In the generous countries the question is worded so as to require one to check the box if one does NOT want to donate:
In the less generous countries, it’s the opposite. The question is worded so as to require one to check the box if one does want to donate:
Lesson: The way the option is presented to us heavily influences the likelihood that we will or will not do something as important as donating our organs.
For more, and more great examples, watch the whole video:
Originally posted in 2010.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
MeToo — November 2, 2009
Obviously, wording the issue (as this post does) in terms of 'generosity' itself frames the organ-donation decision in a particular way -- as does the term 'donation' itself. There's a very strong orientation in most pro-organ-transplant sources toward constructing organ donation as a moral good along the lines of donating money or other resources. From the anti-organ-transplantation perspective, it's quite an unsettling objectification of the body into divisible 'components' whose circulation is promoted along the lines of a specific economic model, with social praise and moral status being offered in exchange for somatic capital.
Kat — February 17, 2010
I agree with everything else in this post, BUT Austria and Germany as well as the Netherlands and Belgium are very different culturally. You cannot take language and then assume that this equals culture.
Talinka — February 17, 2010
I more or less agree with his points about how we in some cases live by illusions of our own capacities for autonomous decision making. I don't know about Netherlands, but Germany, the UK and Denmark are all some of the very few countries where a person isn't automatically registered as a organ donor by birth (it's possible and quite easy to un-register oneself, but not many people do.)
But I'm a bit confused about the data provided; on the left side of the graph, it says '% of drivers donating organs?' - drivers? And I don't think it's very clear if the boxes are serving as simple illustrations of the point he's making, or if they're supposed to go for an accurate description (they're not.)
And how and when was the data generated? It seems dated and 'donating organs' are many different things. Like, for example, a lot more people are willing to donate kidneys than eyes or skin - there could be some signifanct differences hiding behind the numbers.
Anna — February 17, 2010
I've also seen this called the opt-in/opt-out problem. There's some research about whether the government should simply opt you in to some beneficial program. Organ donation is the most common example- people are unlikely to take ANY action towards post-mortem organ donation, and opting them in automatically is wildly successful.
I've also seen suggestions for policies that would automatically opt you in to retirement savings, which is how most people pay their income taxes now: the government takes some of your money before you get it, then gives you some back if it took too much. That didn't always happen. For some years after the first income tax was implemented, collection was a nightmare, since most people couldn't discipline themselves to save enough to pay the tax. Opt-out retirement accounts would work essentially the same way- there would be a law that from your first paycheck, your company sends some percent of your salary to a 401(k), unless you opt out. Like organs, many people don't take ANY action towards retirement savings, and the theory is that if they didn't have to do anything, people would join the retirement plan.
It presents so many interesting issues: do people care more about their organs post-death than their money during their lives, or less? Should the government be telling us what to do with our money and organs anyway, even if it's for our own good? And, most interestingly, why do people think that the future, when they will die or need some money to move to Florida with, will never arrive?
monosonic — February 18, 2010
as others have noted: in most European countries the wording makes no difference, since you never see any form. every adult is an organ donor, unless he actively goes to an office and opts-out.
if you die in the hospital your organs are automatically donated (unless you filed the opt-out-form) i doubt everyone knows it and neither to doctors necessarily tell the family of the dead.
hypatia — February 18, 2010
I would wonder what is the difference between signed up organ donations compared to donations that actually happen.
Obviously if many countries go about it the way that monosonic suggests they do, not much of a difference at all.
However in Ontario the opt-in organ donation program is merely a suggestion that carries no real legal weight. It doesn't matter if you sign up as an organ donor, the hospital administration must have the permission of your family to continue. The government sells it as a way to let your family know your wishes. It works the other way too though, your family can donate your organs without your permission (well, as long as you are actually deceased) so I could see sign-ups being radically different than actual donations.
Jessica N. — February 19, 2010
Nice lecture, but I think the graph above is totally made up. How do they get those numbers, when there's no checkbox at all for organ donation in most European countries when requesting a driver license. And by the way, even there's no renewal of driver licenses in most of these countries, there are lifelong valid and a lot are still from the 50's and 60's a time when organ donation were mostly science fiction.
So that's for the 100% and the graph could be nothing more than completely made up by someone who didn't even took into account that europe is not america.
Better to look at statistic data issued by european council and you'll get a completely different picture.
(Under assumption of same life expectancy in all EU countries) Denmark and Sweden are nearly at the same level, the donationquota in Spain is about 50% higher than in Austria and about 350% as high as in Poland, which by the way has one of the lowest donation rate of whole Europe and rarely the 100% mentioned in the graph.
But anyway, there is of course still an ongoing discussion between the merits of an "opt-in" and "opt-out" policy, but that is not about only signing some checkbox, but to send in a demand to get on/or off the list, so the results rarely explainable by behaviour. A study conducted in Westphalia/Germany (a country weher you have to exlicitly state that you want to donor aka opt-in) has shown, that you get nearly the same results as in opt-out countries by conductiong a clever awareness campaign.
So overall the difference between the european nations in the end might be nothing else than how clver the campaigning ist, how good the ad agencies were in designing the campigns, or probably (and as always) how much money it they are spending.... (Romanian and Bulgarion extraordinarily low numbers however may show the general mistrust of the local people into their public institutions (organ trade))
PS: So not true but another great example of "behavioural economics" - a nice simple graph, a scientiest - 100% believe (although everybody knows that 100% is a number only used in communistic election results).
Kieran — February 22, 2010
Ariely makes a straightforward error here. There is a big difference between agreeing in principle to donate and the actual aggregate rate of organ procurement. The talk is about the former, but it's easy to think it's about the latter.
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Anomaly — September 22, 2015
I can't believe commenters here are actually having arguments over this. It is a very basic phenomenon about how people work. I mean it's a well studied bias in surveys/reports.
I'm sure less women in United States would change their name upon getting married if it wasn't an option on the marriage certificate. Most states don't even allow for a man to change his name(with exception of maybe 3 that have an option for the husband) so I don't think the option should even be there for a wife. However if someone truly wants to change their name upon getting married then that person should do it like everyone else who changes their name does. A lot of women change their name because it is an option on the marriage certificate and it makes them feel like that's a field they should fill out, without putting more thought into it. Name changing should take more thought and be done by considering the change, but having it on the form when you get married doesn't truly allow for that.
Silvy — September 24, 2015
Just a lurker, but to add to this; a huge difference could be simply you have to take action. It doesn't have much to do with the wording:
In the Netherlands, nobody is a donor. You have to apply to be a donor. You gotta go to a site, enter personal info, or send a letter, etc etc.
However in Belgium, you are a donor in general. Everyone is a donor but you have to take action if you don't(!) want to be one, and get taken off the list.
I don't understand why the Netherlands doesn't use that method. We're all too lazy to apply, but I'm pretty sure if people cared and don't want to be one, they'll take action. They should turn it around.
So I think that detail is a very important one, which wasn't taken into account.
I'm sorry I'm not very good in English language. It's embarrassing, but I kind of had to reply on this one.