Transplantation myths

Aarti Dhar
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Be in India or the U.S., people believe that organ transplant from donors with negative traits might result in a changein their own personality, finds a study

Skin-deep scare:People are apprehensive about donors’ antecedents.
Skin-deep scare:People are apprehensive about donors’ antecedents.

People would feel “creeped out” and willing to decline an organ or blood that came from a “murderer or thief”, a new University of Michigan study indicates. In addition, they express concern that post-donation, their personality or behaviour may undergo a change to become more like that of the donor! 

Researchers used participants from the U.S. and India for the study that compared transplant beliefs — heart, pacemaker and skin grafts — with participants from both the countries where some of its subcultures express strong contamination beliefs. Researchers thought this might influence Indians’ beliefs about transplants. 

According to the findings that appeared in the journal  Cognitive Science, participants from both the countries did not like transplants from animals or donors with negative traits. They differed in how they viewed donor-to-recipient transfers: Indians felt stronger than Americans that transplants would affect their behaviour. 

Recipients prefer to get an organ transplant, DNA transplant, or blood transfusion from a donor whose personality or behaviour matches them, said Meredith Meyer, the study’s lead author and psychology research fellow. 

People believe that people’s behaviours and personalities are partly due to something hidden deep inside their blood or bodily organs. 

What surprised researchers were the results from blood transfusions were just as strong as the results from heart transplants. “Since blood transfusions are so common and relatively straightforward, we had expected people might think that they have very little effect,” Dr. Meyer said. 

“This suggests an interesting intuitive belief: that behaviours and personalities are inherent, unchanging aspects of who they are,” said Susan Gelman, Heinz Werner Collegiate Professor of Psychology and the study’s co-author. 

The study’s participants viewed a list of possible human donors and judged whether they wanted someone who shared similar traits, such as age, gender, sexual orientation, and background. Possible donors also included two animals: a pig or a chimpanzee. For human donors described as having the same gender, the characteristics could be positive (for example, high IQ, talented artist, kind person, or philanthropist) or negative (for example, low IQ, thief, gambler, or murderer). 

Respondents ranked how much they liked the idea of each being a donor, as well as assessed their beliefs that the transplant would cause the recipient’s personality or behaviour to become similar to the donor’s. Questions also involved feeling “creeped out” or “contaminated” by the transplant. 

The findings indicate it was more important for people to have a donor similar to themselves than the positive or negative qualities that individual possesses. Transplants from animals were judged to be particularly distasteful. 

“People dislike the prospect of any change in their essence — positive or negative — and so any salient difference between the donor and recipient leads to increased resistance to the transplant,” the researchers wrote. This, they wrote, is despite the fact that “there is no scientific model to account for why transplants might lead to transference of features”. 

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, said Sarah-Jane Leslie, an assistant professor of philosophy at Princeton University and study’s co-author. 



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