“Three people die every day because there are not enough organ donors.”
“You could save or transform up to eight lives as an organ donor.”
These compelling declarations to join the organ donor registry encourage many people to support this life saving effort. Not enough though, by a long shot. In the United States, more than 123,000 are wait-listed for organ transplants. Twenty-two people die each day waiting in vain, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Surveys show that 90 percent of us support organ donation in concept. Yet only about a third do what they say and add their name to the registry.
The above two messages do provide compelling context: big-picture relevance and personal relation. But clearly something more is needed to change more people’s attitudes and actions toward organ donation.
That something could be as simple as a nudge in the right direction, according to professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, coauthors of the best-selling book Nudge (Penguin, 2009). Using real-world examples, the coauthors explain and document how people can be gently persuaded to make the right decisions by making simple changes to the way a message is communicated. The case is made for “choice architecture,” the framing of options, to move people toward a beneficial outcome.
The not coincidentally nicknamed “Nudge Unit,” the quasi-governmental Behavioural Insights team in the United Kingdom, conducts studies to discover the most receptive messages to generate public support. And, in most cases, including the country’s enormously successful organ donation campaign, the most effective messages are those that appear to affect target audiences personally. Strategies based on peer pressure and shock value did not resonate nearly as well.
In its pioneering study, the UK’s Nudge Unit tested multiple messages on Britain’s actual Organ Donor Registry. The results follow; with examples from the worst performing to the most effective slogan, which produced almost a third more signups and subsequently became standard language on the registry.
- “Every day thousands of people who see this page decide to register (as an organ donor).”
- “You could save or transform up to nine lives as an organ donor.”
- “Three people die every day because there are not enough organ donors.”
- “If you needed an organ transplant, would you have one? If so, please help others.”
Across the pond, the state of Illinois adopted a similar message on its driver’s license registration form and, according to Thaler and Sunstein, advanced the nudge approach a step further. By implementing “mandated choice,” DMV applicants are required to check a box – Yes or No — stating their organ donation preference. This subtle addition, which “nudges” people who claim they support donation to specify if, in fact, they do not, has increased donor registration by 50 percent, according to early reports.
Nudge and the Nudge Unit, it is worth noting, reinforce a theme common to most well-performing public-service campaigns: The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
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