Can getting a heart transplant change your personality?

By Seriously Science | July 31, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/charlottedownie

Photo: flickr/charlottedownie

You might think that in this day and age, we would be past seeing the heart–an organ that pumps blood–as a center of a person’s personality. However, the authors of this study regularly dealt with real patients who worried that their personalities would change after a heart transplant. In fact, they report that some patients refuse hearts from the opposite sex, and others experience anxiety about their sense of self after having a heart transplant.  To get a better handle on this phenomenon, the researchers surveyed heart transplant recipients to find out whether they thought their personalities changed after the surgery. The short answer? No. (Except for three people, who reported a distinct change in personality that they did not attribute to the life-changing experience of getting a new heart.) But our favorite response is from this patient: “’I love to put on earphones and play loud music, something I never did before. A different car, a good stereo-those are my dreams now. And I have thoughts now that I never had before.’ (remark: patient: 45 year old man, donor 17 year old boy).”

Does changing the heart mean changing personality? A retrospective inquiry on 47 heart transplant patients.

“Heart transplantation is not simply a question of replacing an organ that no longer functions. The heart is often seen as source of love, emotions, and focus of personality traits. To gain insight into the problem of whether transplant patients themselves feel a change in personality after having received a donor heart, 47 patients who were transplanted over a period of 2 years in Vienna, Austria, were asked for an interview. Three groups of patients could be identified: 79% stated that their personality had not changed at all postoperatively. In this group, patients showed massive defense and denial reactions, mainly by rapidly changing the subject or making the question ridiculous. Fifteen per cent stated that their personality had indeed changed, but not because of the donor organ, but due to the life-threatening event. Six per cent (three patients) reported a distinct change of personality due to their new hearts. These incorporation fantasies forced them to change feelings and reactions and accept those of the donor. Verbatim statements of these heart transplant recipients show that there seem to be severe problems regarding graft incorporation, which are based on the age-old idea of the heart as a centre that houses feelings and forms the personality.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: duh, feelings shmeelings
  • Bryan J. Maloney

    This is crap. This is as valid as asking a group of people “Are you mentally ill?” with no professional diagnosis.

  • Nic Bishop

    What about the 40 odd thousand neurons in the heart? Can they not possibly share some of the characteristics that make up what we “feel” in our brain? I would say it is at least plausible worthy of being tested, not just from a survey

    • Karl Rouse

      The problem with this theory is that during the surgery all nerves to the heart are severed with no attempt at reconnection as it’s not needed for the heart to function. In light of this, how would any latent emotions even find their way to the brain?

  • Ben Gazi

    If you got a New heart from a guy with a wife or hot girlfriend she probable would bang you just to listen to your heart.

    • anklio

      How insightful…

    • Karl Rouse

      Dream on, Ben…

  • Ryan

    I seem to recall a study showing that people with high blood pressure who were started on medications became less politically conservative. Not as a new personality from someone else, but simply the effects of lower blood pressure making people… calmer.

    Perhaps if this study holds up it has a similar cause. Not a lingering personality from the donor, but a healthy organ making people feel and act younger no matter who the donor was.

  • Roger

    This sounds kind of like a placebo effect. If people expect the new heart to affect their emotions and personality, then they self-report that it did.

    • http://twitter.com/balisane Sola Balisane

      This seems like the most plausible explanation, and reading back over the article, the report from the 57-year-old man sounds like his concept of what a 17-year-old might want, not what modern teenagers actually want.

  • Don’t Even Try It!

    Rubbish!

  • Pet Josh

    Heart transplant has absolutely nothing to do with your personality. This organ is just an organ like any other inside of you that serves a purpose. For the heart, its just a pumping machine for the circulation of your blood. Thats all. Heart has nothing to do with your intuition or feelings, which ever one you want to call it.

  • Karl Rouse

    Being a 28 year heart transplant survivor I can say that what really changes is a person’s perspective on life. We literally go from death’s door to weak but healthy and in doing so, we tend to have a keener appreciation for what being alive means and what life is about.

  • Karl Rouse

    Being a 28 year heart transplant survivor I can say that what really
    changes is a person’s perspective on life. We literally go from death’s
    door to weak but healthy and in doing so, we tend to have a keener
    appreciation for what being alive means and what life is about.

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Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
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