Good Samaritan a fresh look

Social Psychologists¬†Darley and Batson (1973) looking at the story known as the Good Samaritan observe that people can envision various differences between the priest and Levite in on the one hand and the Samaritan on the other hand. The priest and Levite might have well have had their minds on religious matters, whereas the Samaritan probably did not. The priest and Levite were probably hurrying along to various appointments, whereas the Samaritan was probably less in a hurry. The parable also suggests that there is a difference in type of religiosity or morality. The priest and Levite in Jesus’s act virtuously in order to please God, where the Samaritan responds more directly to the needs of another person.

The standard interpretation of the parable focuses on the third of these variables, the type of religious or moral character of the agent.

Darley and Batson designed an experiment aimed at uncovering which of these differences might be most relevant to explaining the differences in behavior. Subjects in this experiment were students at Princeton Theological Seminary. As each subject arrived, he was informed that he was to give a talk that would be recorded in another building. Along the way to the place for the talk, the subject encountered a “victim” slumped in a doorway. The question was under what conditions would a subject stop to help the victim.

Half of the subjects were assigned to talk on the Good Samaritan Parable; the others were assigned a different topic. Some of the subjects were told they were late and should hurry; some were told they had just enough time to get to the recording room; and some were told they would arrive early. Judging by their responses to a questionnaire, they had different religious and moral orientations.

The only one of these variables that made a difference was how much of a hurry the subjects were in. 63% of subjects that were in no hurry stopped to help, 45% of those in a moderate hurry stopped, and 10% of those that were in a great hurry stopped. It made no difference whether the students were assigned to talk on the Good Samaritan Parable, nor did it matter what their religious outlook was.

Standard interpretations of the Good Samaritan Parable commit the fundamental attribution error of overlooking the situational factors, in this case overlooking how much of a hurry the various agents might be in. Invite someone to take a look at Christ who never seemed to be in a hurry and his church