Some years ago two Princeton University psychologists, John Darley and Daniel Batson, decided to conduct a study inspired by the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. They met with a group of seminarians, individually, and asked each one to prepare a short, extemporaneous talk on a given biblical theme, and then walk over to a nearby building to present it. Along the way to the presentation, each student ran into a man slumped in an alley, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning. The question was, who would stop and help? Darley and Batson introduced three variables into the experiment, to make its results more meaningful.
First, they asked each seminarian on a questionnaire why they chose to study theology. Did they do it to find a means of personal and spiritual fulfillment? Or were they looking for a practical tool for finding meaning in everyday life? Then they varied the subject of the theme the students were asked to talk about. Some were asked to speak on the relevance of the professional clergy to the religious vocation. Others were given the parable of the Good Samaritan. Finally, the instructions given by the experimenters to each student varied as well. In some of the cases, as he sent the students on their way, the experimenter would look at his watch and say, “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. We’d better get moving.” In other cases, he would say, “It will be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over now.”
If you asked people to predict which seminarians played the Good Samaritan, their answers were highly consistent. They almost all say that the students who entered the ministry to help people and those reminded of the importance of compassion by having just read the parable of the Good Samaritan will be the most likely to stop. The truth is it did not significantly increase helping behavior. The only thing that really mattered was whether the student was in a rush. Of the group that was in a rush, 10 percent stopped to help. Of the group that had time to spare, 63 percent stopped. (The Tipping Point)
Source: Magazine Name, January 1, 2006