Why help a stranger?

Our donors teach us a lot about social behavior. Sanquin researcher Eva-Maria Merz explains:

"I do research on what brings donors to donate blood. In doing so, I want to establish what triggers social behavior in humans. While this is primarily an issue of a fundamental science, the results may also help with recruiting and binding donors. Each donor has their own reasons for donating blood. For people they don't even know personally. Donors get nothing in return, except a positive feeling. Why do they do this?

The person behind the donor

Social behavior is incredibly complex. Donors, as a group, are an excellent source for obtaining insight into the matter. This, as many data are already available on blood donors, including age, sex and place of residence. But also data like whether they have been donors for a long time, or, conversely, stopped donating after a short while. All those data are available in the donor database. A wealth of information and a great source for getting to know the person behind the donor.

We expand on these data through questionnaires, asking information about, for instance, education and religion. We also ask donors when they became parents or pensioners. The recent award of a European grant allowed me to significantly enlarge my team. We wish to develop a multidisciplinary model that takes account of all those factors in the search for a combination that predicts social behavior.

Recruitment and retention of donors

I'm also studying other European countries, that are marked by a different culture or religion. The collection of blood is sometimes differently organized in such countries, as donors might get paid, or the blood is collected by the Red Cross. The impact of such differences is also entered into the analyses. As a result, you may focus on certain factors key to social behavior to influence the behavior of people. To recruit or bind blood donors, for instance. Or, perhaps, to make society a bit friendlier." 

Dr Eva-Maria Merz is a sociologist working for the VU University Amsterdam and Sanquin. She is group leader at the Donor Studies department of the Research division. She was recently awarded a 1.3 million euro grant from the European Research Council.