From Jerusalem to Jericho: On Hurry, Helping and Hobbies

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.

#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.
Overall, the results revealed that the single biggest factor in helping was the hurry manipulation. The relevant statistic from the study was (% who stopped):
The Low Hurry Condition: 63% offered aid

The High Hurry Condition: 10% offered aid
And, 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.

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.

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11 thoughts on “From Jerusalem to Jericho: On Hurry, Helping and Hobbies”

  1. I tend to think that the factor most related to helpfulness/accessability isn't going to be which sermon is playing in one's head or the status of seminarian, but rather whether one has been in same position before oneself, whether one relates to the need at hand.

  2. I remember reading about this study in one of the Gladwell books a couple of years ago. It impacted me deeply. I was thinking about it again when reading the previous post on interruptibility. The results of this study are actually something I probably meditate on more than any sermon I've ever heard; it's certainly changed the focus of my life toward being less hurried and more available to others.

  3. I remember this study from my undergrad days at Southwestern ... wish I could remember if it was from intro to psychology or Christianity in the Secular World ...

    As a person whose mind all too easily goes down rabbit trails, I struggle with "interruptibility" because often it feels like the only way to stay on track is to be iron-clad rigid. If I let down, I may never get back on task. Currently I am working on dissertation and have set as my goal 40 hours + per week ... and seldom make it. Working from home, especially with two teens out of school for the summer, make those rabbit trails a lot more accessible than my proposal. Yet, I must hear the voice of my husband who, just this morning, said: "When I interrupt you ... you don't like me very much."

  4. Patricia, the authors' own conclusion lends some credence to your intuition...indirectly, but plausibly.  (Great article, very well written by these '70s-era dudes.)  The overwhelming conclusion?  SLOW DOWN.  Slow down so one has time to (A) perceive and process the events in one's surroundings, (B) subconsciously locate analogies in one's own experience, and finally (C) "relate to the need at hand" as an act of "compassion" (strictly and accurately defined).

  5. Taking your idea into that construct, then, one cannot be expected to "relate to the need at hand" if one does not have enough time to (a) perceive surroundings accurately, (b) ponder what one sees, and (c) correlate that with one's experience.  But not having time is not, strictly speaking, always an externality.  Which means that "slowing down" has a strongly ethical dimension; and Sabbath is therefore ethical genius.

  6. One last thought as I finish lunch...sorry...but Eugene Peterson's memoir, _The Pastor_, takes this very set of ideas into the operational space of shepherding a congregation.  The anecdotes are brilliant, the author's posture is humble and teachable, the social critiques of contemporary Christendom are good-naturedly vicious, and the conclusions line up in every particular with Professor Beck's post (as well as the Darley/Batson study).

  7. Hi qb, Thank you for all your reply and thoughts. I also tend to correlate the rich man and Lazarus story against the good Samaritan story, which has a very opposite ending. A guy who had means, knowledge and daily opportunity failed repeatedly to meet a need at his own gate, and thought it wouldn't matter.

    On an unrelated note, my husband good-naturedly remarked that you bear a striking resemblance to John Tesh. Just thought you'd like to know ...

  8. Sadly I find that even after all my years of good intentions I do not automatically do the right thing. I have to think to do it and when I am stressed I let my prOblem take the urgent position.

  9. If we can related this story in some way to the end of John 10 where Jesus remains to serve people even while his friend Lazarus was dying in John 11, I think some of the times we forget that it was the heart of God that called us and so allowed us the privilege of sharing with Him in ministry.  In doing so we make ministry a hobby or obligation rather than following the example of Christ and truly taking on the ministry of reconciliation.  In short, we know how to DO ministry, but forget how to truly BE a minister of God.  Sometimes the reality is that, in the busyness of doing ministry, we never stop long enough to be transformed into who we are trying to represent and in trying to fulfill a "mission" we often miss ministry.

  10. Fascinating! 

    Somewhere along the way, I heard a quotation - not sure of the attribution - 'hurry is of the devil.'  Metaphorically speaking.    Yet hurry permeates our lives, along with over-stimulation and over-choice. 
    What becomes of the impulse to serve in these circumstances? 

    I am also reminded on the chapter on service in Richard Foster's wonderful book, Celebration of Discipline:  the Path to Spiritual Growth  - about service as a discipline that can permeate our lives.  He makes a useful distinction between choosing to be a servant, and choosing to serve.  When we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. He also distinguishes between self-righteous service and true service. 

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