The relationship between organ donation attitudes and personality attributes: Empathy, values, death anxiety, and defensive style

Jean Marie Donnelly, Fordham University


This study investigated the hypotheses that support for cadaveric organ donation would correlate negatively with death anxiety and positively with empathy, social values, and a sense of moral obligation to donate organs. Defensive style was explored on the theory that reluctance to consider donation reflects an effort to avoid a disturbing issue. Social desirability, demographic variables, and experience with illness, death, and organ donation were also considered. Subjects were 157 Fordham University undergraduates who participated to fulfill course requirements. Support for donation was measured by questionnaire and by behavioral ratings, which included signing a donor card. Personality variables were assessed using the Emotional Empathic Tendency Scale, the Study of Values, and the Death Anxiety Scale. The Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale was used in combination with the Revised Repression-Sensitization Scale to evaluate defensive style. Data analysis was based upon Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients between dependent and independent variables and hierarchical multiple regression analyses. In this study, support for cadaveric organ donation was not associated with empathy, social values, or death anxiety. Moral obligation correlated positively with every measure of support for donation. In general, support for donation was unrelated to psychological defensive style, sex, age, religion, ethnicity, or personal experience with illness, death, or organ donation. Social desirability was negatively related to some aspects of support for donation. Knowing a decedent had wished to donate organs greatly increased willingness to donate that person's organs. Supplementary analyses examined objections to donation and selectivity in donating particular organs. Questions about the generalizability of these findings were raised by the homogeneous sample. The results concerning moral obligation may be particular to Catholic university populations like the one sampled here. The lack of support for most of the hypotheses was discussed in light of research and theory regarding the impact of situational influences on the relationship between personality attributes and altruistic behavior. The need to refine the measurement of all the personality variables considered here was noted.

Subject Area

Personality|Social psychology|Surgery

Recommended Citation

Donnelly, Jean Marie, "The relationship between organ donation attitudes and personality attributes: Empathy, values, death anxiety, and defensive style" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9324613.