Are You a Good Samaritan?

Find out whether bystanders will stop to help a stranger in distress.

ByABC News
March 10, 2008, 9:48 AM

March 11, 2008— -- It's the kind of headline guaranteed to make everyone smile: "A Good Samaritan Saves the Day!" It could be rescuing someone who fell off a subway platform, or going after someone who broke through the ice of a frozen lake.

But it makes you wonder: For every hero who saved a stranger, how many other people saw the same situation and did nothing?

What drives someone to help an individual they don't know? "What Would You Do?" decided to find out, by conducting an experiment based on a famous research project conducted on seminary students at Princeton back in the 1970s.

ABC News placed ads in a newspaper and on the Web site Craigslist. The ad said we were looking for people to participate in an "on-camera tryout" for ABC News. Those who responded were interviewed on the phone, and those selected were asked to come to appointments over the course of two days.

When they arrived for those appointments, the volunteers met with an ABC producer who talked to them in general about the audition, but did not go into specifics about what they were to do. She explained that each person needed to have a topic to discuss before the cameras, and that she was going to help them select that subject. She then showed each of them a sampling of cards and asked them to pick one.

What appeared to be random was in fact not a choice at all. The topic listed on all those cards was the same: The Good Samaritan story from the Bible.

The story is about a man who is beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. Two religious men come by and ignore the victim. But a third man, an outcast from society, a Samaritan, comes along next and not only stops to help the man and care for his wounds, he takes him to an inn and pays for him to stay in a room there and have meals. Jesus instructs his followers to follow the lead of the Good Samaritan.