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Summary of the Good Samaritan Study

In a candid camera-like study, theology students at Princeton University were told to give a Good Samaritan talk across campus and an emergency was staged while they were en route to the venue where they would have to give the talk.
What do you think happened?


The amount of “hurriedness” 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, in medium hurry situations, 45% helped, and in high hurry situations, 10% helped. For helping-relevant messages 53%, task-relevant messages 29%. There was no correlation between “religious types” and helping behavior. The only variable that showed some effect was “religion 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 by 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 to the emergency.

Many subjects who did not stop did appear aroused and anxious when they 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.


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