In a classic 1970s experiment, seminary students were told they had to give a talk on the origin of the Good Samaritan morality. Just prior to their talk, three groups of students were given three different instructions creating different senses of urgency:
1. “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. You’d better get moving…” (High urgency)
2. “The assistant is ready for you, so please go right over.” (Medium urgency)
3. “…It’ll be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head on over…” (Low Urgency)
As the students were walking to the other building, they encountered a man (a student researcher) doubled over on a stoop. His eyes were closed and he was coughing. How many seminary students stopped to help?
63% in the Low Urgency group; 45% in the Medium Urgency group; only 10% in the High Urgency group stopped.
You would think that the vast majority of seminary students with the Good Samaritan code on their minds would stop to help. But the situation overpowered their personal moral code. Some became more concerned about being on time for the talk than helping the man in trouble.
This experiment has been used to show that the demands of a situation can over power the most moral of people.