Social psychologists were puzzled. 

In the United States, approximately 50% of adults are registered organ donors. In Austria, it is over 95%. 

Psychologists pondered reasons for the difference. Does it have to do with religion? Health? Education? No. What they discovered was the difference between a society choosing to donate organs vs. not, didn’t have much to do with cultural upbringing, religion, education, etc. 

It had to do with their driver’s licenses. 

In the U.S., when individuals fill out their paperwork to get their driver’s license, they must choose to opt-in to be an organ donor.   

Laws in Austria establish individuals are opted-in by default; if they don’t want to donate their organs, they must choose and take steps to opt out. 

That’s it. 

The study first done by Shai Davidai, Tom Gilovich and Lee Ross showed that in these “opt-in” countries, registered donor rates were near 15%; in “opt-out” countries, rates were over 90%. 

Part of it has to do with laziness. Businesses that offer subscriptions, newsletters and free trials know this and use it to their advantage all the time. When signing up for a service the default is often to auto-renew your subscription, meaning the company will continue to charge your credit card until you instruct them to stop. 

The other part why this occurs is about defining what is “normal.” Psychologists have postulated that the difference between “opt-in” and “opt-out” is all about establishing the status quo. By setting organ donation as the default, society starts to define organ donation as the social norm. Choosing to opt-out is the exception. 

Setting the default

Choosing which is the default has significant impacts on more than just subscriptions and organ donation. 

In September 2019, President Donald Trump issues an executive order that requires state and county governments to opt-in with the federal government before refugees can be resettled in their jurisdiction. 

Not doing so is an automatic “no.”

Trump’s order is a direct attempt to redefine the social norm and drastically impact the number of communities accepting refugees. 

So far it is working.

Whether or not that is a benefit or a detriment to the country depends on who you ask.

Kirsten Faurie is the editor of the Kanabec County Times. She can be contacted at or by calling 320-225-5128. 


(2) comments

Dave Enyart

We need to opt in. What ACTUAL harm to our county would happen if we opted in?

Erica Belkholm

I learned something today.

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