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Simple Jury Persuasion: The Sunshine Samaritan Effect

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
posted by Douglas Keene

sunny dayIf you want to prevail at trial, would it be useful to be able to control the weather? New research would say it depends on whether you want the jurors to help the plaintiff or defendant or not. Seriously? Seriously. It’s called the Sunshine Samaritan Effect.

“Your Honor, I’d like to recess until the sun shines…”

European researchers looked at the prior research on human social interactions and sunshine. What they found was that people are more likely to grant interview requests by surveyors when the sun is shining. Food servers who tell you weather conditions are pleasant as they deliver food to your windowless hotel room (a windowless hotel room?) receive larger tips than those who tell you it’s nasty outside. When a restaurant server writes either nothing, a favorable weather condition for the next day, or an unfavorable weather condition for the next day on the back of your check–those customers given a favorable forecast leave a bigger tip. So, curious researchers that they are, the authors of this paper wondered if the good weather effect would translate to spontaneous helping activity toward strangers.

They conducted experiments on sunny and cloudy days between 9am and 1pm in two towns near the Atlantic Coast in France. They did not conduct the experiment in the rain and were careful to only work when the outdoor temperature was between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Eight confederates (4 male and 4 female, all around 21 years old and dressed in jeans, t-shirts and boat shoes) approached 221 men and 243 women (estimated to be between age 20 and age 50) at random while they were walking alone in pedestrian streets.

We assume the confederates did not look at all threatening even though they were told to avoid anyone who was “a child, a teenager, an elderly man/woman, or a member of a group”.

The confederates (who carried a handbag–presumably a “man bag” for the males) would identify a target passerby and begin walking in the same direction but about 10 feet in front of the target. Then, they would “accidentally drop a glove”. (Why they would have gloves on sunny days was not explained.) Observers (strategically placed 164 feet away and with apparently excellent eyesight or good binoculars) noted the reaction of the passerby, his/her gender and an estimate of the target age.

“Responses were recorded if the target passerby warned the confederate within 10 seconds of dropping the glove. If not, the confederate acted as if he/she was searching for something within his/her handbag, looked around in surprise, and returned to pick up the glove without looking at the participant.”

And here’s what happened. When it was a sunny day, 65.3% of the participants spontaneously helped the confederate by alerting them to the dropped glove within 10 seconds. On cloudy days, only 53.3% of them did. This, the researchers inform us, is statistically significant at the p = .009 level. They conclude we are more likely to help spontaneously on predominantly sunny days.

And that is why you may want to consider the impact of the weather on helping behavior. There is research that says asking for help is more successful on sunny days. Now this research says spontaneous helping is more likely on sunny days as well.

Guéguen, N., & Lamy, L. (2013). Weather and Helping: Additional Evidence of the Effect of the Sunshine Samaritan The Journal of Social Psychology, 153 (2), 123-126 DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2012.720618


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