THIS program is opt-out. Most people have not given it any thought.

I recently came across this introduction to the topic of framing. It’s meant as supplemental material for an intro psych course, so the instructor is taking his time in how he’s introducing the material to his intended audience.

Now, framing is a very basic feature of presenting an argument, for example (indeed, George Lakoff treats the topic extensively), but this instructor is speaking from the psych point of view.

I made note of this extended metaphor (~4:38). Give it some time to expand:

So now we’ll look at a study by Eric Johnson and Daniel Goldstein, and what Johnson and Goldstein did was they looked at organ donation programs. And they looked at whether the program was an opt-in program or opt-out program.

So what that means is in an opt-in program you have to choose to be a part of the organ donation program. In other words, you’re not in the program until you check that little box that says I want to join the organ donation program. In an opt-out program it says, “You’re in the organ donation program. If you don’t want to be in the organ donation program, then you have to check this box that says, ‘I do not want to be in the organ donation program.’”

So the question is, how does this influence what people choose?

The answer seems to be that if it’s an opt-in program, enrollment rates are lower. Countries that have an opt-in program tend to have lower rates of enrollment in their organ donation programs. Countries that have an opt-out situation, where you’re part of the program unless you choose not to be, tend to have much higher rates of enrollment in their organ donation programs.

So what this demonstrates is that how things are framed, how we see things as a default option of being in this program or not, has an influence on the decision we make. And this is a decision that, you know, is tough to make. Perhaps, I mean, there are philosophical and religious implications of thinking about what’s going to happen to your body after you die. I mean, that might be a hard question to try to even begin to think about.

And so rather than think about it, the easier choice is just let this form decide. “The people who designed it, let’s just go with whatever happens, and then I don’t have to think about it. Then I don’t have to consider all the implications of this.”

Now this also means that we’re sort of sacrificing our free will a bit to the people who design the forms, right? We tend to just go with however things are framed and we tend not to think about, you know, whether or not we really want to be part of this program or not.

Now, of course you can say to yourself, “Well, that’s how other people behave and not me. I would think about it and I would have my choice of whether I’m in the organ donation program or not.” But if we look at the average, you’re probably like most people and you probably won’t actually do that. You’ll tend to go with the crowd just like many other people do.

→ So, whiteness is the organ donation program, and in the U.S. it’s opt-out. Everyone born with white skin is automatically placed in this program of whiteness, and they derive benefits and protections from just being in that program, in that category. For each individual, this is the default, and they would have to work up to selecting the option to leave whiteness. (This certainly is possible, if one becomes an anti-racist and vocal about it, or if other [white] people label you a “race traitor” for interracial dating or mere fraternization; that is, a person can get “kicked out” of the club, depending on beliefs or behavior.)

It’s easier to just follow the crowd and not buck the system, not bite the hand that feeds you (that provides these benefits and protections). Very few people have voluntarily checked the opt-out box. This, too, is by design.

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