Environment & Science
4:09 pm
Mon August 5, 2013

Would you accept an organ donation from a criminal?

A study from the University of Michigan suggests that people won't accept organ donations or blood transfusions from donors who are criminals.

The study's lead author is Meredith Meyer. She is a research fellow in the University of Michigan's Psychology Department. The study was published in the Journal of Cognitive Science.

Here's how the study worked:

1. Participants were shown a list of donors who were identified by a series of characteristics including the following: gender, age, background and sexual orientation. 

Participants decided whether they wanted a donor who shared similar characteristics. More detailed traits were then added to each donor. 

According to the U-M News Service, "The characteristics could be positive (e.g., high IQ, talented artist, kind person, or philanthropist) or negative (e.g., low IQ, thief, gambler or murderer)." 

2. Based on the traits each donor possessed, participants ranked how much they wanted that person to be their donor. They also "assessed their beliefs that the transplant would cause the recipient's personality or behavior to become similar to the donor's."

Here's what they found:

People want donors who are similar to them. The participants in the study were recorded as being "creeped out" if they had a donor who was a criminal.

People want donors who are similar to them.

The participants in the study were recorded as being "creeped out" if they had a donor who was a criminal.

The study found that the positive and negative traits associated with each donor were less important than having a donor who was similar to the participant. 

The researchers say that people often think that a transplant from a person who is different than them will lead to a change in the recipient's essence, though there is no scientific evidence that that is true. 

Here's what one of the co-authors said:

The belief that a recipient might take on some of the donor's characteristics is interesting when it comes to the possibility of transplanting organs from other animals to humans, says study co-author Sarah-Jane Leslie, assistant professor of philosophy at Princeton University.

One of the most surprising things that the study found was that participants felt just as strongly about their organ donors as they did about blood donors.

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

"This suggests an interesting intuitive belief -- that behaviors and personalities are inherent, unchanging aspects of who they are," said study co-author Susan Gelman, U-M's Heinz Werner Collegiate Professor of Psychology.

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom