In 1973 a research team at Princeton University was seeking to identify the factors that make people more or less inclined to help a stranger in need. They set up an experiment in which a group of theology students were asked to give a short speech either about their motives for studying theology or about the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. On the day they were due to give their speech they were told that it was to be delivered in another building on campus and were asked to walk to that building. One third of the theology students were told that they had plenty of time before the speech was due to be delivered; one third was told there was just enough time to get there; and one third were told that they were running very late. Meanwhile, the psychologists conducting the experiment had arranged for an actor to be stationed on the path between the two buildings, slumped over, coughing and obviously in bad shape. The researchers wanted to see who would stop and offer assistance.

The results were astonishing. It made no difference whether the theology student was giving a talk on their motivation to study theology or on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The overwhelming factor in determining whether a student stopped was how late they were running. 63% of those who believed they had ample time stopped to help the man in difficulty; 45% of those who believed the time was tight stopped to help; and only 10% of those who believed they were running very late stopped to help.

We live in a society where the pace of life is frenetic. In our drive to acquire more and to experience more we have become time poor. Yet, as the Princeton experiment showed, busy people are less likely to take the time for others.

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