Academic journal article Communication Studies

A Normative Approach to Shaping College Students' Attitudes toward Organ Donation

Academic journal article Communication Studies

A Normative Approach to Shaping College Students' Attitudes toward Organ Donation

Article excerpt


Currently, there are over 85,000 Americans awaiting an organ transplant (UNOS, 2004). This number has been steadily rising over the last 10 years and, if this trend continues, by the year 2010 there will be well over 100,000 people registered on the transplant waiting list in the United States alone (OPTN, 2004). Making matters worse, the number of organ donors has not nearly been able to keep up with the dramatic increase in need created, in part, by advances in surgical techniques and immunology. A primary culprit of the shortage of donors is the low consent rate among eligible donors. Recent national data (Sheehy, Conrad, Brigham, Luskin, Weber, Eakin, Schkade, & Hunsicker, 2003) indicates only 54% of family members, when asked, agreed to donate a loved one's organs (data from 1997 through 1999). Moreover, the conversion rate of donors (i.e., the number of actual donors divided by number of potential donors) was around 42% (Sheehy et al., 2003).

Research in organ and tissue donation (OTD) has sought to identify misinformation and knowledge gaps in the general public's beliefs regarding the OTD process (e.g., Morgan & Cannon, 2003; Morgan & Miller, 2001). Research studies in this area vary in their focus--some of these studies have focused on the effects of persuasive health communication messages on individuals' attitudes toward becoming an organ donor (e.g., Birkimer, Barbee, Francis, Berry, Deuser, & Pope, 1994; Kopfman, Smith, Morrison, Massi, & Yoo, 2002; Smith, Morrison, Kopfman, & Ford, 1994) while other studies examine mass-communicated campaigns (e.g., Cosse & Weisenberger, 2000; Morgan, Miller, & Arasaratnam, 2002). A promising line of inquiry for researchers in the domain of organ donation is on the effects of normative messages on individuals' attitudes and intentions toward donation. Researchers in other domains (e.g., littering, college drinking) have demonstrated the effects of social norms on behaviors (e.g., Cialdini, 1993; Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren, 1990; Kallgren, Reno, & Cialdini, 2000; Reno, Cialdini, & Kallgren, 1993; Stewart, Lederman, Golubow, Cattafesta, Goodhart, Powell, & Laitman, 2002). The current study examines the potential influence of normative messages on college students' attitudes and intentions regarding OTD.

Beliefs and Attitudes About Organ Donation

A common finding among OTD researchers is that individuals report highly favorable attitudes toward organ donation (e.g., Alden & Cheung, 2000; Birkimer, Barbee, Francis, Berry, Deuser, & Pope, 1994; Cosse & Weisenberger, 2000; Cosse, Weisenberger, & Taylor, 1997; Feeley & Servoss, 2005; Kopfman & Jansky, 2002; Kopfman & Smith, 1996; Morgan & Miller, 2002; Smith et al., 1994). However, these positive attitudes have yet to lead to increased consent rates and greater facilitation in terms of family notification of one's intentions. Several proposed models of the organ donation decision process suggest that individuals' knowledge and beliefs about OTD should significantly affect one's attitude toward OTD and one's subsequent decision to become an organ donor (e.g., Horton & Horton, 1991; Kopfman & Jansky, 2002; Kopfman & Smith, 1996; Morgan & Miller, 2001, 2002; Morgan et al., 2002; Radecki & Jaccard, 1997; Sanner, 1994; Skumanich & Kintsfather, 1996).

Radecki and Jaccard (1997) cataloged beliefs regarding organ and tissue donation. According to these authors, religious, cultural, knowledge, altruistic, and normative beliefs all contribute to one's overall evaluation of OTD. Religious beliefs are a consequence of one's faith. Although all major religions are in support of organ donation (TransWeb, 2000), many individuals continue to claim religiosity a factor in their decision against organ donation (e.g., Rumsey, Hurford, & Cole, 2003). Cultural beliefs result from one's membership within a particular ethnic group. …

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