The experience of the Good Samaritan

The experience of the Good Samaritan

The experience of the Good Samaritan
The busy man

How well do you provide help to people in distress that you may come across? Do you think that your state of mind, your beliefs or the time you have available have an impact on this action?

This is what two American researchers by the names of John M. Darley (also known for his research and popularization of the bystander effect) and C. Daniel Betson wanted to understand. To do this, they relied on a parable known to Judeo-Christian culture : this is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Nothing obliges us at all to be a believer to understand this text from the New Testament. Let's see it as a text with a message.

Let's sum it up quickly: a man travels from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way, he comes across robbers who rob him and beat him, leaving him for dead. A priest who comes down by chance sees the man but does not stop. He is followed by a Levite (a member of the tribe of Levi, in the Judaic religion), who acts in the same way. They are succeeded by a Samaritan (Jew from Samaria), who comes to his aid and then takes him to an inn on his mount to (have) him treated.

In view of this story, the goal of the two researchers was to understand what motivated the Samaritan and the other two characters. They therefore made 3 hypotheses:

How did the study go?

1st step: students in theology (studies of religious questions based on sacred texts) were asked from Princeton Theological Seminary, a private university dedicated to theology (not to be confused with Princeton University ), to answer a questionnaire on their religious motivations. It was essential that the latter had them, in order to validate - or not - hypotheses.

2nd step: the next day, to analyze the religiousness variable of the study, they were asked to prepare a 3 to 5 minute oral session to record. Some of the students had to present their professional projects as a seminarian. The other part was to give its point of view on all or part of the parable of the Good Samaritan. After these exercises, one would expect that students who have worked on their religious vocation will be more inclined to help than those who have studied a general text such as the parable.

3rd step: finally, to analyze the time variable, the same students were separated into three groups. The three groups were going to run into a person in distress (not a real one, it was an actor) between Building A where they were and Building B where they were going. Some of them had time to get there and were even "early", the second just on time, while the last was told she was "late". It was during this transit from one building to another that their ability to come to the aid was tested.


Of the students who were early, 63% assisted, 45% of those who were right on time helped, while 10% of those who were late stopped. The researchers' second hypothesis, namely that according to which a person's degree of haste is decisive in their decision to help a person in distress, is therefore clearly verified. Basically, the more late you are, the less you will care about someone who needs help.

On the other hand, those who were asked to study the parable of the Good Samaritan were 53% to stop, while those who were asked to speak about their vocation as seminarians were 29%. This tends to partially validate the researchers' first hypothesis (while remaining cautious): it is not because one is dedicated to religion (and that one has been thinking on their religious motivations for several hours in order to explain vocation) that one is more able to stop than someone else.

Finally, nothing has confirmed the third hypothesis established by John M. Darley and C. Daniel Betson. (It was well worth it that it was so complicated to explain and understand ...)

In short: the hypothesis clearly verified by the researchers, that is to say the one to retain from this study, is that the time we have in front of us is a determining factor in our decision-making and our morals! So, make a little effort in the future and make the world a better place if you can by helping that distressed person you meet, even if you are late.

For more information, and if you read English, we invite you to read the original study "From Jerusalem to Jericho".

Written by Anne (11/03/2021)
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