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The Bystander Effect

A very revealing study was developed by Darley and Batson (1973, From Jerusalem to Jericho. A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior) inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan.



A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite (a theologian), when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came to the place where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on him oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him, The parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30-37.

It was conducted with students at a theological seminar who were sent to deliver a presentation on two topics: (a) Help condition, the parable of the Good Samaritan; (b) Task oriented condition, professional opportunities for seminarians. One group was told that they were late and the other that they still had a few minutes, but should go straight there. On their way, they passed a man slumped in an alleyway.

“A person not in a hurry may stop and offer help to a person in distress. The person in a hurry is likely to keep going. Ironically, he is likely to keep going even if he is hurrying to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan, thus inadvertently confirming the point of the parable,” Darley and Batson, 1973.

The researchers found no differences between those who were going to give a sermon on the parable and those on possible vocational roles. In other words, “thinking about the Good Samaritan did not increase helping behaviour, but being in a hurry decreased it […] Personality and religious variables_ (Religion as Means, End, and Quest) _were not useful in predicting whether a person helped or not.

Of course, there are many more factors: characteristics of the victim (gender, ethnicity, body odour, etc.), characteristics of the witness (age, mood, gender) and the situation (ambiguity of the situation, number of people ― the greater the witnesses, the less likely people are to help ―), having a personal relationship or affiliation with the victim, someone who is already helping, capacity for empathy and solidarity of the witness, being skilled and knowledgeable, etc.

These results are just incredible! What shall we do?

We cling to memories and empty words as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us. I really should know better by now,Anawim.

However, laws will never be as harsh as your conscience. Do you want to be happy? Have peace of conscience, personal integrity, be generous, and practice compassion.

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