John M. Darley is an emeritus Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College and his Master's and Ph.D. from Harvard University, under the supervision of Elliot Aronson. He received the distinguished scientist award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, is past president of the American Psychological Society (now Association for Psychological Science), has twice been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and has held a Guggenheim fellowship.
His contributions to psychological science cover a vast range — from social comparison and attribution processes, expectancy confirmation, deviance and conformity, and stereotyping and prejudice to energy conservation, health psychology, morality and the law, the function of punishment, and the way organizations inadvertently promote evil.
Darley is best known for his innovative theory and research, in collaboration with Bibb Latané, on bystander intervention in emergencies. That research interest largely stemmed from the historic 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death near her home in New York City in the presence of 38 witnesses, none of whom even phoned the police.
Darley’s research has consistently provided an exemplary model, as well as a catalyst, for those wishing to bring theoretically sophisticated analysis of basic psychological processes to bear on important social problems.
- John sent one of his first emails to me eleven years ago, just before I left Australia for Princeton. He was about to become my advisor, and he wanted to reassure me that it was okay to feel unsettled by the move. He wrote:
"You are about to make a long journey into a new environment, and you will find yourself realizing that you have made some significant, although perhaps tentative career decisions. All of those things, in somewhat hard to separate tangles, will provoke some perhaps unsettling emotional reactions as well as some quite excited ones. Or at least similar journeys did so for me. Be prepared for them. In a remarkably short period of time you will have settled in, and will be barely able to think back on the feelings of the first few days. So the feelings are useful to muse on....."
Anyone who knows John knows that he speaks and writes in Zen koans. Sometimes you’re not sure you’ve understood the full weight of what he’s telling you, but you know it’s important. That was true of John’s email, and it was true of our time together during my five years at Princeton. It was clear to me, from very early on, that John was brilliant, and that his brilliance came in part from seeing the world differently from everyone else. No one writes or thinks or speaks quite like John, and he brought that unique perspective to every research conversation we had. He’d take a pedestrian idea and turn it into something that seemed far deeper and more profound than it could have been without his magic touch.
The other thing John’s email shows is how supportive he was as an advisor. He always seemed to understand, ahead of time, what my next challenge was likely to be, and he pre-empted each challenge with a vote of reassurance. He was a giant in the field, but he never made me feel small, and he managed to balance the roles of friend and mentor perfectly. I’m lucky to be a part of this field, today, first because I read John’s bystander intervention studies in my first psychology class, and second, because John cultivated my love for the field that was immeasurably improved for his contribution.
- In addition to being a warm, clever, and brilliant research adviser, John was personally very caring. When an earthquake struck California in pre-cell phone 1989, and my family was out of touch near the epicenter, John arrived at my door with a big bottle of something strong and watched the news with me and a group of fellow grad students. I felt greatly comforted by that and I will never forget it.
- Meeting John changed my life. When I applied to Princeton to do graduate work in social psychology, my plan was to work with Harry Schroder on the cognitive complexity of religious beliefs. But between when I applied and matriculated, Harry left Princeton. So I found myself casting about for a new advisor. Cloistered in a seminary, I knew nothing about John or the bystander research he and Bibb had done. Reading up, my jaw dropped—here was a way to do ethics experimentally! I was hooked. Fortunately for me, John was willing to adopt an academic orphan of questionable lineage. I’ve been grateful ever since.
- I have known John Darley since he hired me as an assistant professor at Princeton University in 1969. He was my mentor from Day 1 and he remained my mentor even when I did not know I needed one. As a professional, no one is like John. He is a pioneer in conducting research on problems that seemed intractable, from his groundbreaking work on bystander apathy to his research on law and morality. His taste or ‘feel’ for what is worth investigating is exceptional. He is my friend and I am thankful for every moment I have been able to spend with him.
- When I originally came to Princeton as a visiting student to work with John I knew that he was a brilliant researcher, but I did not anticipate that my 3-months visit would soon make me want to move to the U.S. for five years – I simply could not imagine anymore not to work with John. I was his graduate student right before he retired and I enjoyed every day. John did not only care about his students' professional development and gave them all the support they needed, but he also always had a genuine interest in them as people. For my research, John inspired me to ask the questions that really fascinate me and he encouraged me to be creative about which approaches to use. In addition, John taught me that it's important to sometimes take a break from everyday work to get some room for new ideas. John, there are no words that could express how thankful I am to you for your intellectual guidance and your personal warmth and care throughout my time at Princeton! You are not only a brilliant researcher to me but also a very dear person that I will never forget.
- I first met John at Princeton in 1969 when I was still a graduate student at Duke. I was immediately taken with his generosity and openness. A few years later I had a fabulous sabbatical at Princeton where John and I started work together on attribution and social comparison. He greatly deepened my understandings of both. I have treasured our friendship over the years. Our annual weekend getaways together during the 1990s are especially dear in my memory. His warmth and brilliance have contributed so much to social psychology.
- I first got to know John Darley when I served as his teaching assistant in a social interaction course at graduate school. John was a fabulous teacher -- lucid, penetrating, self-deprecating, and slyly funny at every turn. The students loved him and so did I. Later, doing research with John was great fun. John has an incredible knack for finding the most interesting kernel of an idea; his incisive observations always made me think twice in order to bring this out best. John's mentoring style was a unique combination of affectionate and conspiratorial -- he was always extremely generous with his time, and he had a way of making you feel like you were working on a very important problem, and that you had to plot and think very carefully in order to do it right. But he never took himself too seriously in this process, had a great sense of humor about himself and the work, and was always open to new ideas. This same style and flair is evident in all of John's classic research papers, which are founded on profound social observations and analysis, but which invariably have subtle moments of John's insouciant humor tucked away as well. John Darley (or 'JD' as we referred to him in grad school) was an incredibly wise and affectionate mentor who I feel extremely lucky to have met and worked with.
- It is hard to find the right words to describe John and how much his mentorship has meant to me. It was an honor to be John’s graduate student. Being part of John’s lab meant that you had incredible access to John’s insights on psychology (and life in general) and came to know and love all of the Darley-isms (and could translate them for uninformed others!). His ability to see big ideas (“You do not want to study something your grandmother knows”), to ask the questions that move ideas forward, and to breathe life and humor into the communication of social psychology are only some of the qualities that make him such a giant in the field. John is a brilliant social psychologist and a wonderful person. I am so grateful to have been advised by him, and simply to know him.
- If I have any understanding about what a scholar is, it is because I studied with John Darley. John is a clear and convincing writer, brilliant experimentalist, the founder of a series of research programs in social psychology that are widely cited within and outside of psychology, a thoughtful mentor, tireless organizer, and I am sure a long list of other superlatives. But it was his intellectual commitment to thoughtful, wide-ranging theory coupled with careful empirical work that shaped my idea of what a psychologist as scholar ought to be. His predilection for long footnotes comes from his desire to follow the trail of an idea wherever it might lead. His interdisciplinary reading and knowledge are wider than his already eclectic reference sections. And his generosity in supporting others anchors his work in the community of scholars.
- The night before my interview for a job at Princeton, there was a knock on my hotel door at about 7 PM. There, unannounced, was John Darley with my itinerary for the next day. I had not met John prior to that (aside from a quick hello after a talk he gave at NYU when I was a student). If he had not been there I can only imagine how intimidating my meeting the next day at 1 PM with the following trio would have been: Anne Treisman, John Darley, Danny Kahneman. Thus, from my first moment on campus, before even being hired, John was mentoring me and preparing me for the world of the academy. He brought me as his guest to my first SESP, and drove with me (and Jeff Stone) to Massachusetts for my second, also as his guest (where we spent the entire drive discussing the nature of evil). His brilliance was matched by his kindness.
-Gordon B. Moskowitz
- In the first few years of my PhD, my classmates and I began referring to John as “the Darley” – a nod to the Dalai Lama, and a reflection of how John always seemed to us students something rarer than a mere academic. John’s research set a difficult-to-unattainable standard for his students (and for all social scientists): design experiments that are cleverer by far than anyone else’s, that just happen to have the downstream property of saving people’s lives.
My favorite story about John as an advisor is a small one that has grown in meaning to me over the years. In a meeting with Joe Vandello, in which Joe and I were getting bogged down in the details of the design of some Study 5c, John suddenly held up his finger and waited for us to trail off. “Tour,” he said. (Long pause; we waited expectantly.) “Let’s take a tour,” he continued, “and come back to that.” After which he proceeded to try to get us out of the weeds and back to a higher level discussion of whether and how what we were studying mattered. I think of this interaction frequently as I advise my own students, reminding me to remind them to aim high, to be looking for that perfect experiment that might actually affect people’s lives.
- John was my colleague for 24 years, from the time I arrived to take up my first academic job in the Princeton Psychology Department until the time he retired after 44 years on the Princeton faculty. During those 24 years, I learned a great deal from watching John. I learned how to spot a compelling phenomenon, the value of good, old-fashioned psychometrics, and the fearful beauty of the 2 X 2 design. I learned how to conceptualize the social in social psychology and the roles psychologists can play in interdisciplinary exchanges. I learned that careers that have stupendous first acts can go on to have significant second and third acts as well. And I learned that a good sense of humor makes every situation better.
Most of all, I learned about mentoring. Mentoring came naturally to John. He loved working one-on-one with students, especially graduate students and senior thesis advisees. He had a strong intuitive feel for the mentor-mentee relationship, and was prepared to play a mentor role for post-docs and younger colleagues as well. John enjoyed nothing more than spending an hour or two with a student, post-doc, or new assistant professor, tossing around ideas, designing research, and bonding. When I was a new assistant professor, I had many such interactions with John, sometimes several a week. In those interactions, John managed to communicate three very important messages to me: that psychological research mattered, that it was a great deal of fun, and that I had something to contribute. Many a career in academic psychology was launched, nurtured, or reinvigorated by an hour or two spent with John.
- John's creativity and sense of humor were priceless. I remember discussing ideas in his office and always leaving feeling energized and brimming with ideas. John's interest in truly fascinating topics was a blessing. His body of work was never banal or derivative or simply to clarify - this he left to others while his mind soared with imagination and a huge talent for creating social situations. His methodologies, cover stories, and use of confederates were no less than brilliant. On a personal level, John was caring and fun. I always felt he cared about how I was doing emotionally and I felt comfortable going to him with anxieties, stresses, and problems. This is no small deal with going through graduate school!
- It was a true highlight to have had the chance to work with John on my first published paper in graduate school. His way of thinking and love for the important questions had an important influence on my early career and still resonate today. Thanks John for all your important contributions to social psychology and for your mentorship.
- At the beginning of my career at Princeton (1970-75) John was both a colleague and mentor. Over the years he has continued to be one of my dearest friends. Certainly, when I look back to those early days at Princeton, it's clear to me that John was, in fact, instrumental in launching my career. Put simply, I am forever in his debt.