Don’t Take No For an Answer: Lessons From Organ Donation

It turns out that giving people a chance to say “no” might be detrimental to organ donation efforts. How can we apply the lessons of organ donation to our everyday lives?

Aug 31, 2014 at 12:29PM

Over 10,000 people die every year waiting for an organ donation. It's an abysmal state of affairs, and a major part of the problem is that only 48% of people are registered organ donors.

How do we solve the problem? 

One prominent behavioral theory suggested that letting people make an "active" decision -- that is, a yes or no choice -- rather than checking an opt-in box could help. In a recent paper, researchers Judd Kessler and Alvin Roth tested the theory to find out if it actually works.

As it happens, active choices might actually make things worse. But you (and DMVs across the country) can use this information to learn how to get people to say that magic word: yes.

No means no
Before 2011, California used a simple opt-in format for organ donation, where you could check the box that said "yes" or skip the question altogether.


Flickr / 3n.

In 2011, the state switched to an active option that required a yes or no answer.  The researchers found that donation rates didn't increase, and might have even gone down. They found similar results when testing donation decisions in a lab setting.

When testing how others perceived active choices in a "next of kin" experiment, in which a subject had to make a donation decision on behalf of a deceased loved one, the researchers discovered that people were much less likely to donate if the loved one had said "no" rather than simply not opting-in.

What does it all mean? The researchers conclude that allowing people to actively say no might actually harm donation rates over time. 

The consistency of no
The lesson is it might not be a good idea to let someone articulate the word "no" if what you really want to hear is "yes." 

Even if someone likes the idea of being an organ donor, he or she might stick with "no" simply to be consistent (we like to feel as though we're operating in line with previous choices), or it might just be hard to change one's mind in the face of doubts. Maybe the subject is just too unpleasant to think about, forcing people's hands toward "no" when they might have skipped the question before.

There are a million reasons why someone might say no, but in the case of organ donation it might be better to let them skip the question instead. 

So how can we apply this to other areas of life? 

Getting them to say yes
For successful persuasion, the Godfather suggested making an offer the person couldn't refuse, but perhaps that's a bit extreme.

Instead, the researchers offer a few ideas for getting an organ donor to say yes -- and they are surprisingly useful tips for anyone who makes sales, owns a business, or deals with young children.  

First: Just keep repeating the question.

The study found that simply asking people if they'd like to change their status was surprisingly effective. People were "22 times more likely to add themselves to the registry than remove themselves from the registry, even though all subjects had been asked previously about organ donor registration."

Second: Give more information.

Sometimes people say no only because they're unsure, so remove the barrier of ignorance to help them get to yes. Anticipate questions before they arise, and bring peace of mind with more information. 

After all, if more information can be effective for a subject as potentially unpleasant as donating one's organs, imagine how useful it could be for your widget business!

Finally: Make it personal.

The authors cite previous research which shows that people are more likely to sign up as organ donors if they know they'll get priority status should they happen to need an organ in the future. In other words, giving people something in exchange for their generosity makes them more likely to be generous.

The idea of reciprocity is well-known in persuasion literature, but this is a nice example of how it can work. Make sure that the party you're trying to persuade feels like they have skin in the game, and suddenly they might be much more willing to say yes. 

These tips might not seem new, but viewed from the angle of organs they suddenly feel a bit more salient, at least to your humble author.

Try them out -- and while you're at it, maybe think about becoming an organ donor yourself. Here's some more information from the DMV.

How to get even more income during retirement
Social Security plays a key role in your financial security, but it’s not the only way to boost your retirement income. In our brand-new free report, our retirement experts give their insight on a simple strategy to take advantage of a little-known IRS rule that can help ensure a more comfortable retirement for you and your family. Click here to get your copy today.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information