Mind Matters: Donating blood

Psychology keeps blood donations flowing

When you want people to give you their blood, you are wise to use psychology, whether you are the Red Cross or a vampire.

While I give a blood or plasma at a donation centre, I often think of the psychological principles applied to keep me coming back.

For one, the Red Cross sends me information about how donated blood is used to save lives.

It sometimes sends me a request to donate soon because of a shortage. Psychologists call those messages prompts.

When I go to donate, I receive free juice and a chocolate muffin. The staff members are friendly and thank me for donating.

I recently received a medal for making 75 lifetime donations. All these elements amount to what psychologists call reinforcement.

After donating, I sit, eat, and drink in a small room that has large photos on the wall of frequent donors.

One old chap on the wall has donated 325 times. As Steve Irwin would say: "Crikey!"

Those photos serve as what psychologists call reinforced models. Seeing them makes a person more inclined to donate again.

All these psychological principles seem to work well enough for the country to have adequate amounts of blood and plasma to satisfy the needs of the sick and injured. For now.

The products do not last long, so it is essential to keep a steady supply coming in.

I once felt irked while completing the forms before a donation. On the forms I say each time whether I have had a recent tattoo, had sex with a man, and so on.

While I was completing the forms one day, I heard a loud, obnoxious song piped into the waiting room. The song focused on bubble butts.

For me, the song amounted to what psychologists call punishment. I thought of it as torture. I came close to walking out to escape it.

I told the nurse who came in to see me my feelings about being subjected to the bubble butt song. When someone called me several weeks later asking me to donate again, I explained at length how much I disliked being forced to hear that song.

Thus ended the piped-in music at my local donation centre. In essence, I had punished the organisation for playing obnoxious music in the waiting room.

So, you see, psychological principles can be applied in both directions in the business of blood donations.

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.