Tag Archives: Organ Donation

The Default Bias

The Default Bias is another common human cognitive defect.  It seems that to avoid the discomfort of complex choices, we humans usually opt for the default supplied to us.  Thus many of our “choices” are not choices in any real sense.  This is further evidence for the illusory notion of both free will and the reflective intentional life.

The Default Bias can be seen in religion.  Greater than ninety percent of religious people belong to the religion of their birth — the default religion offered to them by the accident-of-birth.   Heck, even later converters choose from only those right in front of their noses.  But least self-righteous, hyper-rationalists dismiss the Default Bias as a uniquely theistic defect, let me illustrate this bias among largely atheistic Europeans.  The example below is taken from a 17 min TED talk by Dan Ariely (Duke University) on behavioral economics.

When looking at organ donation rates in European countries, we see that the distribution is bimodal — high donators and low donators.  Though people in these countries will object, the following pairs of countries are more similar than not and yet have opposite rates: Netherlands-Belgium, UK-France, Denmark-Sweden.  Intuitively inspecting which country falls into which mode reveals no clear pattern.   So what causes this difference?

Simple!  The Organ Donation check box on their driver license applications differ.  The low donating countries have the default as “I will NOT donate”, where as high donating countries have “YES I will donate” as the default.

Low Donor Countries

Leave it unchecked and your organs will NOT be donated

High Donor Countries

Leave it unchecked and you become a donator !


  • HT to Leah for the video
  • Luke does a superb interview with Stephen Maitzen (Atheist philosopher at Acadia University in Nova Scotia) where they discuss the accidental nature of belief choices using interesting phrases like: “The Argument from Divine Hiddenness”, “The Demographics of Theism” and “Clustered Distribution of Theism”.  Give it a listen if you have time.
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