The Good Samaritan Wasn’t Too Busy
This is a longer post, but worth it I hope, if you have the time.
Keeping active has unquestionable health benefits, and keeping busy can be very compelling, but there is a significant downside to busy-busy-busy.
There is a famous ‘Good Samaritan’ experiment which demonstrates this beautifully. Question: Why did the Good Samaritan in the Bible story stop, when others had passed by a fellow human being who was in obvious need of assistance?
Earlier studies had not been able to find a link between personality traits and the likelihood of helping others in immediate need.
So, seminary students were recruited for a study on religious education, or so they were told, and split into several groups. All were asked to complete questionnaires about their personality traits and religious beliefs in one building and told the study task would continue in another building, some way off.
The researchers varied the amount of urgency conveyed to the participants before sending them across to the other building, and they allocated different tasks to complete on arrival. One task was to prepare a talk about seminary jobs, and the other was to talk about the story of the Good Samaritan. One group of participants was told they were late for the next task, the others were told they had plenty of time but they should head over to the second building anyway.
On the way to the second part of the test the scene was set for each of them, one at a time, to pass by a man slumped in a doorway who would moan and cough as they walked by. Then, on arrival at the second building each participant was asked to give their talk.
The researchers set up a scale to rate the helpfulness of each of the participants.
0 – Participant seemingly failed to notice the man was in need of assistance
1 – Participant seemed to notice that the man was in need but did not offer any help
2 – Participant noticed that the man needed assistance and helped indirectly (told the aide on their arrival)
3 – Participant stopped and asked the man if he needed help
4 – Participant stopped and insisted on taking the man inside and then left him
5 – Participant stopped to offer help and refused to leave the man, or insisted on taking him somewhere
Overall 40% of participants offered some help to the man – less than half. In un-rushed participants, 63% offered help; with increasing time pressure 45%, and high time pressure only 10% offered help. There was no correlation between which talk they were giving or stated religious beliefs and the participants’ helpfulness.
Helping behaviour clearly diminished in the participants who were rushed. Evidently and ironically, a person in a hurry is less likely to offer help, even if s/he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Some participants literally stepped over the coughing man on their way to give their talk. The researchers wondered if doing the right thing becomes a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases? Or maybe people failed to recognise the need for help when highly goal focused due to time pressure?
Whatever, wearing busy-ness as a badge of honour ‘that don’t impress me much’, in the words of Shania Twain. And like that Shania Twain song, it’s soooooo last century.
Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior”. JPSP, 1973, 27, 100-108.