In the study of economics, a person is represented as being a rational individual, making choices that will benefit himself. The Library of Economics (which, by the way, is quickly becoming one of my favorite websites) calls this person the “Economic Man” and describes him as always looking out for himself: He does not give to charity, nor would he ever volunteer his time.
Recently, I’ve been pondering the question of why do people perform selfless acts; more specifically, why do people donate blood? This question leads me into a field of economics called behavioral economics, which I have become increasingly interested in. Behavioral economics is a sort of mixture between economics and psychology, and studies the ways in which human behavior is irrational and unpredictable.
Back to the question at hand, why does a person donate blood? There’s really no clear cut answer; some like donating because it is a good deed and makes them feel good about themselves, while others may like the prestige or recognition they receive. Regardless of their reason, the sacrifice of giving is worth the satisfaction they receive, so in a way they are still making a choice that benefits themselves. This type of situation can be described as self-interested altruism.
I started reading the book Freakonomics the other day, and at one point it discusses that when people were given a small stipend for giving blood, donations actually decreased. What was once seen as a noble charity was reduced to a painful and cheap way to make a few dollars. People want to feel proud of themselves and the choices they’ve made. To those who choose to donate blood, it’s a sub-conscious economic decision.