The study was done in 1973 by psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson and was a sort of modern-day reenactment of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The participants in the study were seminarians preparing for the ministry. The seminarians were randomly assigned to one of two groups, the first group asked to prepare a sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the second group asked to prepare 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 and that they were to go to a new location.
At this point the seminarians were randomly assigned, a second time, into three groups. A third of the seminarians were put under heavy 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, as I noted, the study was a controlled simulation of Jesus's parable. We even have seminarians standing in for the priest and Levite.
So who stopped to help? Those on their way to preach a sermon about the Good Samaritan? Or those who had the time to help?
Overall, the results of the study revealed that the biggest factor in helping was having the time. The relevant statistic from the study was (% who stopped):
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
When I lecture over this study the point I make is this: Most of us Christians are Jesus hobbyists.
Hobbies are what we pursue during our free and leisure time. And the results of Darley and Batson's study suggest that this is how many of us approach our faith. We approach Christianity as a hobby, as something we do if we have the time.
And so that's what I challenge my students with.
Are you an actual follower of Jesus? Or are you a Jesus hobbyist?