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Potential organ donors put off by the 'ick factor'

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There is a severe lack of organs for transplant in the UK. 10,000 people are currently on the waiting list, and three people die per day while awaiting a transplant.

While 90% of the general population say that they approve of organ donation, only 28% have signed up on the UK organ donor register

New research by the University of Stirling, published in top international journal Health Psychology, shows that many members of the public have feelings of unease or  disgust regarding the idea of organ donation.

Ronan-O'CarrollProfessor of Psychology, Ronan O’Carroll and his co-researchers found that the ‘ick factor’ acts as an important barrier to joining the organ donor register.

The research also reveals that others are put off becoming an organ donor because of emotional beliefs, for example that signing on the register may be 'tempting fate' – otherwise known as the ‘jinx factor’. Other non-donors have a degree of medical mistrust, that is that doctors may not do all they can to save their lives, in order to retrieve their organs.

Professor O’Carroll said: “Our research suggests that for some people, the choice regarding organ donor registration may not primarily be due to a rational evaluation of evidence, but may be more influenced by emotional/visceral affective beliefs and attitudes”.

“The challenge is to see if these beliefs can be modified so as to increase the organ supply and lives can be saved. The emotional variables identified by this study are important targets for future interventions to try and increase the organ donor supply. We now need to test how modifiable these emotional 'gut feelings' regarding organ donation are.”
Notes to editors:

  • The paper is, “The “ick” factor, anticipated regret and willingness to become an organ donor” by O'Carroll, RE et al., (2011) is published in Health Psychology, 30, 236-245.
  • In three experiments involving 621 members of the United Kingdom general public, participants were invited to complete questionnaire measures tapping potential emotional affective attitude barriers such as the “ick” and “jinx” factor, the desire to retain bodily integrity after death, and medical mistrust. Registered posthumous organ donors were compared with non donors.

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