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Take Time to Be a Good Samaritan

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Man laying on the ground in need of help


People often turn a blind eye to others in need. 


Reduce time pressure to get people to help. 

The Details

Social psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson wanted to know why people help in some situations but not others. They decided to study one allegedly charitable group: seminary students training to become priests.

The researchers asked each of 67 seminary students to deliver a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan,  a Bible story about helping strangers in need. The researchers then randomly assigned the students to one of two conditions. In the hurried condition, a research assistant concluded the sermon instructions with “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. We’d better get moving.”

In the unhurried condition, the research assistant ended the instructions with, “It’ll be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head on over.”

Each student walked alone to the building where he would deliver the sermon. On the way, the student encountered a man slumped in a doorway with his eyes closed, coughing and moaning, clearly in distress.

From afar, researchers watched: Would the seminary student stop to help the stranger in need?

Darley and Batson found that only 10% of seminary students in the hurried condition stopped to help the man. In comparison, 63% of the participants in the unhurried condition stopped. In other words, being in a hurry can lead even a seminary student with the Good Samaritan on the mind to ignore a person in distress. 

Why This Works

When pressed for time, people must choose between helping and meeting other goals. But when people are not hurried, they can pursue multiple goals, in order of importance. In addition, people with time to spare can broaden their attention and notice more details about their environments.   

When This Works Best

Even seminary students benefited from slowing down. Likewise, reducing time pressure will likely help most people pay attention to their surroundings and respond more readily to others in need. 

The Original Study

Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. D. (1973). "From Jerusalem to Jericho": A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology27(1), 100.

Related Topics

Civil Society


Text by Sarah Lyons-Padilla

Photo CC by Oiluj Samall Zeid