Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Good Samaritan Experiement: Darley & Batson (1973)

Does circumstance and having one's mind occupied by moral/religious thoughts increase likelihood of helping someone in an emergency?

A good Samaritan

In their classic social psychology study the experimenters recruited 67 students from the Princeton Theological Seminary and told them it was a study about religious education and vocations. They were asked to fill in some personality questionnaires and told they were going to give a brief talk in a nearby room. Some were asked to give a short talk about the types of jobs for seminary graduates, while the others were asked to talk about the parable of the 'Good Samaritan'.
While making their way to the other office to give their talk, they would encounter an experimental confederate lying in a doorway, doubled over, eyes closed and coughing. Participants would have to pass the apparently highly distressed man, but would they stop to help?
The experimenters thought it would depend on how much participants were hurried, so they manipulated this by giving them one of the following three instructions:
  1. "Oh, you're late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. We'd better get moving..."
  2. "The assistant is ready for you, so please go right over."
  3. "...It'll be a few minutes before they're ready for you, but you might as well head on over..."
This created three conditions: high, medium and low hurry. Each of these conditions were also split into two: half about to deliver a talk on the Good Samaritan, the other half on job prospects for seminary graduates. This meant that the experimenters could assess both the effect of hurry as well as the talk they were giving on the students' helping behaviours.


On average just 40% of the seminary students offered help (with a few stepping over the apparently injured man) but crucially the amount of hurry they were in had a large influence on behaviour. Here is the percentage of participants who offered help by condition:
  • Low hurry: 63%
  • Medium hurry: 45%
  • High hurry: 10%
The type of talk they were giving also had an effect on whether they offered help. Of those asked to talk about careers for seminarians, just 29% offered help, while of those asked to talk about the parable of the Good Samaritan, fully 53% gave assistance.
What these figures show is the large effect that subtle aspects of the situation have on the way people behave. When the effect of personality was compared with situation, i.e. how much of a hurry they happened to be in or whether they were thinking about a relevant parable, the effect of religiosity was almost insignificant. In this context, then, situation is easily trumping personality.

It is important to realise that the 'fundamental attribution error' is especially prominent here. It is the inclination to overemphasize the influence of dispositional factors (e.g. personality) and underestimating the role of situational factors (e.g. weather) on a persons behaviour.

Also, what is it that really defines a good samaritan? Perhaps there may have been a difference in perception between what may have been helping another. There may have been a conflict between helping the experimenter and helping the unknown victim. The perception of what is more important to them could vary.

What are the other characteristics in such a situation that may have caused the results to vary greatly?


  1. The Good Mood Effect
    Robert Baron (1997) conducted an experiment to see if one’s mood would affect their likelihood to help someone in need. He did this by drawing a relationship between good scents and good moods and studied whether individuals would be helped in locations with pleasant smelling environments as opposed to neutral smelling environments. Results showed 60% helped in pleasant smelling environments where as only 20% helped in neutral environments. So the good mood effect shows when individuals are happier they are more helpful.

    In the Good Samaritan Experiment (Darley & Batson, 1973), when participants were told they had a few minutes, they would be more relaxed in which case they are in a good mood and more likely to help someone in need (as the results have shown). I wonder how these statistics would differ (if at all) from the same people that originally were in a hurry but would they help on their way back, as they were returning from giving their speech?

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  3. I believe that another reason why some people did not stop to help was because of “diffusion of responsibility” (362, Kassin, Fein, Markus). The “diffusion of responsibility” is the belief that others will or should intervene. In other words, people assume that another will take care of the situation, and therefore do not offer to help. Thus, I think this experiment also depends on how many people were around the place where the distressed man was. If there were more people, people would be less willing to help. If there were less people, maybe more people would be willing to help.

    In addition, it is said that “diffusion of responsibility” usually takes place under conditions of anonymity (363). “Bystanders who do not know the victim personally, are more likely to see others as responsible for providing help” (363). Therefore, in this case, I believe some did not help because they were strangers to this an. These people were just participants in an experiment, and were encountering this man outside of the experiment.

    “Diffusion of responsibility can also depend on a person’s occupation or role in life. For example, during September 11th, retired firefighters went out to go help. This was part of their instinct, to go help even when they were retired.

    However, my question is, if the age of the experimenters had to do anything with the results. If wonder if students were older, like an adult age of 50, if they would be willing to help more or less.

  4. The empathy-Altrusim Hypothesis (Batson, Early, & Salvarini, 1997; Stotland, 1969) could prove additional relevance in the reasons why 40% assisted the confederate. The Hypothesis states that people are more willing to help if they can empathize with the person in need. If the person can empathize then they act Altrusitic (selfless) and they will do everything in there power to reduce the others distress.

    A major factor in this is due to the confederate being of somewhat average passive need. "lying in a doorway, doubled over, eyes closed and coughing. " which is very close to that which we see in the homeless and become immune to. The individual may feel less urgent in helping, and could have been empathetically understood but reduced in urgency. Therefore as expected, the people who were currently versed in "The Good Samaritan" and in a lower hurry could have acted more Egoistic seeing the confederate as in more of personal distress than anything else.

  5. One important reason why people help each other is because it’s rewarding. If the potential rewards of helping are higher than the potential costs, then people will be more likely to help another (Kassin, pg. 350). Helping others simply just feels good (Smith et al., 1989; Williamson and Clark, 1992). It can make one feel better about themselves and it can increase one’s own mental and physical health (Brown et al., 2003; Dulin and Hill, 2003; Piliavin, 2003; Post, 2005; Schwartz et al., 2003).

    There is also the sense of moral obligation, believing that it’s the right thing to do. Being consistent with moral principles can motivate people to help one another. However, inhibiting oneself from moral concerns can lead people to act more inhumane toward others through violence, discrimination, etc. (Bandura, 2004; McAlister et al., 2006; Staub, 2004).

    Another reason for helping might be for a selfish desire of social rewards with the appearance of morality. “The reference here is to moral hypocrisy, whereby people try to convince themselves and others that they are driven to help others by moral principles when in actuality they are motivated to benefit themselves by appearing to be moral” (Kassin, pb. 352).

  6. I agree with Karleigh that the diffusion of responsibility was a major factor in the people stopping. Also, using the model in the book on page 360, the five steps of helping others, many people probably got stuck on steps 1-4. The fact that no one seemed to be around, they were not the only person in the building, and their own concerns played a large factor. This study though disproves the "bystander effect" which states that the fewer people around, the more likely help is to be given.