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In 1973, John Darley and Daniel Baston from Princeton University decided to research the effects of different time constraints on a person’s willingness to help someone in need. In their study “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior” they choose to study a group particularly known for caring for “the least of these”, seminary students (Darley & Baston, 1973). These students were tasked with preparing a message on the Bible story about the Good Samaritan and then convinced that they were under a certain time constraint, either hurried or unhurried. The experimenter then observed how many people from these groups would stop to help a stranger clearly in need when they were on their way to deliver the message. Their results showed that even seminary students when hurried would only stop ten percent of the time to help a stranger in need (Darley & Baston, 1973).The main hypothesis tested in this study is that “Persons encountering a possible helping situation when they are in a hurry will be less likely to offer aid than persons not in a hurry.” (Darley & Baston, 1973, p.101-102).
This experiment fits into a broader field of social psychology, the study of helping behavior. Helping behavior is a branch of social psychology that studies explanations for why people voluntarily help an individual or group (Darley & Baston, 1973). This hypothesis examines how this behavior is changed when different levels of hurriedness are imposed on a subject. Understanding the implications of being in a rush or constant busyness on others in society can help explain some of the reasoning why people interact in the ways they do. The results of this hypothesis may even give insights into how homeless people and others in need are treated in contexts such as cities, environments in which the people interacting are generally more hurried or busy.
In social psychology, it may help to develop new theories in the study of helping behavior that are more focused on outside factors and less on individual personality. The process of operationalization defines the measurement of variables that are not quantitative in nature (Darley & Baston, 1973). “The independent variables in this study were the degree to which the subject was told to hurry in reaching the other building and the talk he was to give when he arrived there” (Darley & Baston, 1973, p.102). For the first independent variable, the level that the subject was told to hurry, one of three scripts were read to determine the level of time constraint placed on the subject. The level of hurry was measured as low, intermediate, or high (Darley & Baston, 1973).
The second independent variable was whether the subject was assigned to give a talk on the Good Samaritan or careers after graduation from seminary. “The dependent variable was whether and how the subject helped the victim” (Darley & Baston, 1973, p.102). The level of helping was broken up into a 0 to 5 rating based on how much, if any, help was given to the person in perceived need (Darley & Baston, 1973). Helping the victim was considered any rating from 2 to 5 and not helping was either 0 or 1 (Darley & Baston, 1973). As discussed above the measurements were broken up into two main categories, those assigned to the Good Sarmatian message and those assigned to the career message, then further broken down into the low, intermediate, and high levels of hurry.
Each subject was also assigned a helping rating from 0 to 5 based on the observations of the experimenters. To better analyze the data the experimenters split the subjects based on their previously defined groups into those who did help (2-5) and those who did not help (0-1) and then analyzed and discussed them as percentages of their group (Darley & Baston, 1973). This measurement was a valid scale to determine whether the subject was helping the victim because it was determined by a board of individuals who were not acquainted with the group (Darley & Baston, 1973). This measurement was a valid scale to determine whether the subject was helping the victim because it was determined by a board of individuals who were not acquainted with the research (Darley & Baston, 1973).
However, it might not be a very reliable measurement because it was based on the experimenter’s observation which allows for a lot of bias and misinterpretation. The data from this study shows that of those in a hurried condition only 10% stopped, intermediate condition 45% stopped, and 63% of participants in a low hurry situation stopped (Darley & Baston, 1973). The data also revealed that the type of message the participants were preparing to give did not strongly affect whether they would stop (Darley & Baston, 1973). The more hurried an individual is the less likely they are to stop and help someone who is clearly in need of help, which proves the original hypothesis (Darley & Baston, 1973).
Based on personal evaluation, the data suggests that the person who felt they were already late for a previous commitment was less likely to perceive the person needing help as a priority and stop, which would cause them to neglect their first commitment. The research was valid because the subject was unaware that anyone was observing their actions when passing the victim, so their response to the situation was genuine. All the participants were kept anonymous, so there were not any negative effects on the subject’s personal or professional lives, and none of the participants were physically harmed which allowed for this study to be ethical. This study’s sample consisted of all religious men who were training to become leaders in their field (Darley & Baston, 1973).
The consistency of the sample tested does allow for the researchers to rule out many confounding variables dealing with the effects of personality in this experiment. However, if this experiment was repeated a separate sample group of women or individuals that are not in training to be in leadership roles would allow for further hypotheses regarding personality and helping to be analyzed in more depth. Replicating the experiment under the exact same conditions and using a new sample group with the exact same qualifications would allow for the data to be considered more reliable if the same results were found. If different results came from replication then it would reveal that the researchers missed a significant confounding variable that skewed their results when they were conducting the study.
The study overall is a very interesting experiment with results that counter what many would like to believe about human behavior.
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