December 21, 2016

Siegel Advances Efforts to Increase Organ Donor Registration

green ribbon for organ donor research in the palms of a person's hands

Jason T. Siegel knows a great deal about getting people to register as organ donors. For more than a decade, the CGU associate professor of social psychology, along with colleagues, has successfully tested various approaches to encouraging organ donation and raising awareness of the issue. Siegel has gleaned insights into the psychology behind why individuals decide to register as donors.

His research remains steadfast—there simply aren’t enough individuals registered as donors to provide for those in need of transplants.

A new federal grant will allow Siegel and four other CGU psychology professors to develop newer, more targeted techniques for increasing donor registration rates among one of the most at-risk population group: Hispanics.

“This project has the potential to save lives,” Siegel said.

Siegel, the three-year project’s principal investigator, will be joined by CGU Professors Eusebio Alvaro, William Crano, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Jeanne Nakamura. They will seek to increase donor registration rates among adults 50 years old and older who live in an area of New Mexico with a high percentage of Hispanic residents.

Hispanics are disproportionally impacted by diseases of the kidney, which places them at a greater need for organ transplants. Currently, there are more than 119,000 people in the United States who are waiting for a life-saving transplant, according to the latest tally by the United Network for Organ Sharing.

The grant, $1.36 million over three years, comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and involves a partnership between New Mexico Donor Services and the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division (MVD). Siegel and Alvaro have received about 12 organ-donor grants from the DHHS since 2000.

Siegel and Alvaro have been investigating the causes of and solutions to low organ-donation sign-up since they were graduate students in 1999. They have successfully tested various methods of encouraging donation over the years, such as through the use of persuasive messages.

Siegel’s studies have largely focused on successful campaigns that increase the number of Hispanics who register as organ donors. He also investigates ways of overcoming psychological and economic barriers to organ donation among recent immigrants.

In 2014, Siegel received the Early Career Research Award from the Western Psychological Association (WPA). This award is given annually to a WPA member relatively new in his or her career—Siegel at the time had spent less than a decade as a professor—who has demonstrated outstanding promise in research.

For his current project, Siegel and his colleagues will seek to determine if emphasizing the benefits experienced by donor families as well as inducing a sense of family pride will have a positive impact on donor registration. His studies will take place at two dozen New Mexico MVD offices.

The researches will be guided by new developments in vested interest theory—which posits that a person’s attitudes are most likely to lead to a desired behavior (registering for organ donation) if that person believes he/she will directly benefit. But new research suggests that if someone close to the person (such as a family member) benefits from the desired behavior, focusing or emphasizing those benefits will increase the likelihood of that behavior happening.

“The grant brings together classic social psychological theorizing with positive psychological science to test a new path for increasing organ donor registration,” Siegel said. “If successful, this project can influence how practitioners across the country attempt to increase donor registration rates.”

Siegel is a social health psychologist whose primary areas of research focus on organ donation, depression, and drug abuse prevention.