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Capital University News, California State University, Sacramento

November 18, 2003

Professor aims to boost organ donor pool

Kimo Ah Yun wants your body. Not necessarily all of it – just the parts that can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

He wants you to agree to be an organ donor.

“A lot of people probably think it’s a good idea to donate their organs, but they aren’t motivated to check the box on their driver’s license,” he says.

The communication studies professor is serious about the challenge before him: At any one time there are about 80,000 Americans on the organ donor lists and between 7,000 and 8,000 will die because an organ cannot be found in time. The key, as Ah Yun sees it, is developing powerful messages that move potential donors to voluntarily sign up to donate.

His research – for which he received a President’s Award for Research and Creative Activity last spring – is aimed at developing that message.

Ah Yun looked into barriers to donating, the information potential donors received, what they thought of it and if there were differences among specific groups. In particular, he wanted to know which type of arguments work best: expert testimony, stories or statistical data.

Ah Yun’s first study surprised him. He found significant differences in how people of different ages and ethnicities perceived the types of evidence. He followed up with a more detailed study that showed clear relationships between the type of evidence used and its effectiveness with different ethnic groups. For Caucasians, statistical information and narratives had about equal impact. Asians were most often moved by narrative alone. And African Americans and Hispanics showed a strong preference for statistics.

That preference doesn’t reflect lack of concern for people who need organs, but trust issues between Hispanics and African Americans on one hand and authority on the other, Ah Yun says.

“It’s really the idea of distrusting the evidence that other people may give them,” he says. “They want statistics so they can go and find out if those statistics are true.”

That tendency, however, makes Ah Yun’s task more difficult.

“Can we build a super-narrative that works for most people?” he asks, one that would make a case for many different people. Ah Yun thinks it’s possible and he has made it his next goal.

He already has evidence that a greater understanding of the need for organ donors increases sign-ups: Each survey he sent out included information on how to become a donor along with the necessary forms.

“There are about 200 to 300 people from the study who ended up becoming organ donors,” he says. “It’s a good start.”


California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 •
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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 •