Blood donation is an act of benevolence rather than altruism

Health Psychol. 2008 May;27(3):327-36. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.3.327.


Objectives: Blood donation is described as an archetypal altruistic behavior, and recruitment/retention campaigns emphasize altruism. Here, a benevolence hypothesis for blood donation (both the donor and recipient benefit) rather than the altruism hypothesis (only the recipient gains) is proposed.

Design: Three United Kingdom-based studies contrasted benevolence and altruism: (a) a 6-month prospective study of blood donor behavior (Study 1: N = 957), (b) a cross-sectional study of blood donors' intentions (Study 2: N = 333), and (c) an experimental study examining the effect of benevolent and altruistic messages on willingness to help across high- and low-cost helping behaviors for committed and noncommitted blood donors (Study 3: N = 200).

Main outcome: Donor behavior and intentions-willingness.

Measures: Beliefs in personal and societal benefit (Time 1) and actual donations (Time 2) were assessed in Study 1; beliefs in benevolence, altruism, hedonism, and kinship along with donation intentions were assessed in Study 2; and empathy, donor commitment, and willingness to donate blood, money, fund-raise, and staff a telephone helpline were assessed in Study 3.

Results: Beliefs in personal rather than societal benefit predicted actual future donation. A path model showed that only beliefs in benevolence were associated with intentions to donate. Committed blood donors were more willing to donate blood when exposed to a benevolent message rather than an altruistic one. This effect was not observed for other forms of helping.

Conclusions: The benevolence hypothesis is supported, suggesting that blood donor motivation is partly selfish. Blood donation campaigns should focus on benevolent rather than purely altruistic messages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Altruism*
  • Beneficence*
  • Blood Donors / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Prospective Studies