My post yesterday on the speed of love and interruptibility made me think again of the famous Good Samaritan study. I lecture over this research every semester as I feel its message, while depressing, is important for ACU students to internalize.
In 1973, John Darley and Daniel Batson published one of the most famous papers looking into helping behavior. The study was entitled From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior.
The Jerusalem to Jericho study was effectively a modern-day reenactment of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The study involved seminarians preparing for the ministry. The seminarians were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group was asked to prepare a sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The second group prepared a sermon on a non-helping subject. The seminarians were then scheduled to deliver this sermon at an appointed time and place.
Upon arriving at the designated place the seminarians were told that the location of the sermon had been changed at the last minute and that they were to go to a new location. At this point the seminarians were randomly assigned again, this time into three groups. A third of the seminarians were put under strong time pressure, told that they needed to get to the new venue in a hurry (the high hurry condition). The second third was put under moderate time pressure (the intermediate hurry condition). And finally, the final third was told that they could take their time getting to the new venue (the low hurry condition). After this hurry manipulation the seminarians were pointed to the exit and directed to proceed to the next venue.
Along the route (an alleyway) to the next venue Darley and Batson had placed a person who showed signs of distress. Specifically, they were sitting slumped against the wall, head down and eyes closed. As the subject passed, the confederate would cough twice and groan. Basically, they showed signs of abdominal pain. As the seminarians passed the key variable was recorded: Would they stop to check on the groaning person?
In short, what we have is a controlled simulation of Jesus's parable. We even have seminarians standing in for the priest and Levite.
So who stopped to help? There were three main predictions that were being tested:
#1: Given that these were individuals bound for Christian ministry most everyone would stop.Overall, the results revealed that the single biggest factor in helping was the hurry manipulation. The relevant statistic from the study was (% who stopped):
#2: Those who were thinking about the Parable of the Good Samaritan would stop. Again, as they were walking to the new venue 50% of the seminarians had a sermon about the Good Samaritan in their heads. Thus, conceivably, those thinking about Jesus's parable would be more likely to recognize the situation: "Hmmm. This situation looks strangely familiar...."
#3: Those who were less hurried would stop. That is, the biggest predictor of helping would be the hurry-manipulation. Those who have the time will help. Those who don't have the time won't.
The Low Hurry Condition: 63% offered aidAnd, incidentally, some seminarians in the high hurry condition literally stepped over the groaning person on the way to deliver their sermon on the Good Samaritan.
The High Hurry Condition: 10% offered aid
Writing about this study a few years ago I made the following observation:
Jerusalem to Jericho makes this acute observation: Most of us pursue spirituality as a hobby. That is, Life with God is pursued as a leisure activity. Why do I say this? Well, hobbies and leisure activities are what we pursue when we have free, expendable time our our hands. But when we have "stuff to do," we tend to place our hobbies to the side. They are not allowed to interfere with our urgent agenda. If so, then the Jerusalem to Jericho study suggests that helping others, for many, is a hobby. It's something to do on weekends, when you have some spare time. This is a penetrating diagnosis. Too many Christians treat altruism as a hobby rather than as a central and urgent feature of their life.