The Good Samaritan study

The parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus taught is about a Jewish man travelling down from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by bandits and left for dead. A Priest and a Levite passed by before a Samaritan stopped to aid this man. (Historically, Samaritans and Jews did not get along.)

In 1973, two physiologists, John Darley and Daniel Batson, took 67 students from the Princeton Theological Seminary to replicate the parable of the Good Samaritan. Half of them were asked to prepare a short talk on the types of jobs that seminary graduates could get, while the other half were asked to teach the parable. Each group was then broken down into three subgroups – high, medium, and low hurry. One-by-one each student was given a map of where to go and (depending on the group they were assigned to) were given one of these instructions:

  • “You’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. You better get moving.”
  • “The assistant is ready for you, so please go right over.”
  • “It’ll be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over.”

On their way, each student would have to pass a man who had fallen in a doorway that was coughing and pretending to be injured.

So the question was: how many seminary students would stop and help the injured person?

It turns out:

  • 40% of the seminary students offered to help the injured man.
  • 63% of the low hurry stopped and helped.
  • 45% helped in the medium hurry.
  • Only 10% of the high hurry students assisted the fallen individual.
  • Those who were asked to give a talk about careers offered to help 29% of the time.
  • 53% of those teaching the parable aided the individual.
  • As an interesting side-note: a few of the students stepped over the injured man.

What Darley and Batson found is that situations compromise our values. We put aside our instincts to help those in need if we feel rushed. It’s also why we need daily reminders for what is important. When something is on our mind, we are more likely to do it. We need to remember to slow down and notice what is going on around us.

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