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2. Helping: The Good Samaritan Experiment (1973)

The Biblical story of the Good Samaritan, if you hadn’t heard, is about a passing Samaritan helping an injured man in need, while other, self-righteous types walk right on by. Psychologists John Darley and C. Daniel Batson wanted to test if religion has any effect on helpful behavior.

The researchers had three hypotheses:
1. People thinking religious, “helping” thoughts would still be no more likely than others to offer assistance.
2. People in a hurry will be less likely to offer aid than others.
3. People who are religions in a Samaritan fashion will be more likely to help than those of a priest or Levite fashion. In other words, people who are religious for what it will gain them will be less likely than those who value religion for it’s own value or are searching for meaning in life.

The recruited seminary students for a study on religious education. First they completed personality questionnaires about their religion (to help evaluate hypothesis #3). Later they began experimental procedures in one building and then told to go to another building to continue. On the way they encountered a man slumped in an alleyway (the victims condition is unknown — hurt, or drunk?).

They varied the amount of urgency they told the subjects before sending them to the other building, and the task they would do when they got there. One task was to prepare a talk about seminary jobs, and the other about the story of the Good Samaritan. In one condition they told the subject they were late for the next task, in the other they said they had a few minutes but they should head on over anyway.

In an alleyway they passed a man sitting slumped in doorway, who moaned and coughed twice as they walked by. They set up a scale of helping:
0=failed to notice victim as in need
1=perceived need but did not offer aid
2=did not stop but helped indirectly (told the aide on their arrival)
3=stopped and asked if victim needed help
4=after stopping, insisted on taking victim inside and then left him.
5=refused to leave victim, or insisted on taking him somewhere
After arrival at the 2nd research site, they had the subject give the talk and then answer a helping behavior questionnaire.

The amount of “hurriness” induced in the subject had a major effect on helping behavior, but the task variable did not (even when the talk was about the Good Samaritan).

Overall 40% offered some help to the victim. In low hurry situations, 63% helped, medium hurry 45% and high hurry 10%. For helping-relevant message 53%, task relevant message 29%. There was no correlation between “religious types” and helping behavior. The only variable that showed some effect was “relgion as a quest”. Of the people who helped, those who saw religion as a quest were less likely to offer substantial help than those who scored low on this statement. But later analysis revealed this may not be caused be real religious differences.

Ironically, a person in a hurry is less likely to help people, even if he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Some literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building!). The results seem to show that thinking about norms does not imply that one will act on them. Maybe that “ethics become a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases”. Or maybe peoples cognition was narrowed by the hurriedness and they failed to make the immediate connection of an emergency.Many subjects who did not stop did appear aroused and anxious when the arrived at the second site. They were in a conflict between helping the victim and meeting the needs of the experimenter. Conflict rather than callousness can explain the failure to stop.

psychological-experiments-1. Conformity: Asch Experiments (1953)
psychological-experiments-3 Diffusion of responsibility: Bystander Apathy Experiment (1968)
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