The Good Samaritan Experiment

I should probably mention my prejudices up front. I am generally quite appreciative of the concept of Schadenfreude. Especially when seminarians are involved. Ha ha. It reinforces my misanthropy and stokes my generally dim view of anything with a clerical bend. Which is probably why I liked this experiment. That’s not to say I would fare any better… in fact it is very likely I would react the same way they did. Still… It gives me a chance for some holier-than-thou smugness while furled up on the sofa with my Macbook.

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Quick recap…

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. It is about a traveler who is stripped of  his clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler.

Samaritans were not thought… eh… highly of by the Jews. So the irony would not have been lost on the audience. In any event, the Samaritan helps the injured man while the two religious clerical types ignore his plight.

But this wouldn’t happen in real life? Right?

The gist of the experiment was as follows. Seminarians were called to a lecture hall and asked to give an impromptu lecture on the ‘Parable of the good Samaritan’ to a group of people in a lecture hall across campus. The time pressure was then varied on how long they had to get there.

Researchers then placed a man directly in the path that the seminarian would have to take to get to his lecture hall. The man would be slumped up against the wall and groan when the seminarian passed.

The experiment showed that the amount of “hurriedness” or urgency induced in the subject had a major effect on his helping behavior. Overall 40% of the seminarians offered some form of help to the ‘victim’. In low urgency situations, 63% helped, in medium urgency 45% and high urgency only 10%. Some seminarians literally stepped over the victim on their way to their lecture.

Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior”.