Bibb Latané is a contemporary social psychologist who researched bystander intervention and developed the theory of social impact. 

Professional Life

Bibb Latané was born in New York City on July 19th, 1937. He studied at Yale and received a bachelor’s degree in behavior and culture. He continued his studies at the University of Minnesota, where he earned his PhD in psychology in 1963.

Latané began teaching at Columbia University in 1961, and later, he taught at Ohio State University between 1968 and 1981, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1982–1989, and at Florida Atlantic University from 1989–2000. He was Director of the Institute for Research in Social Science between 1982 and 1988, and he has served as the Senior Fellow at the Center for Human Science in Chapel Hill since 2000. The center is a charitable organization designed to provide optimal conditions for scholarly work. It houses between 12 and 18 pre- and post-doctoral students at any given time, and the residents live, work, and research together.

At Columbia, Latané worked with John Darley to develop the theory of social impact, designed to explain the division of responsibility within large groups. The pair are best known for their research on the passive bystander effect. Working with Darley, Latané published The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn’t he Help? in 1970. The book described bystander intervention—the behavior of an individual behavior when responding to emergency circumstances. Latané and Darley were awarded the Richard M. Elliot Memorial Award in 1968 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Behavioral Science Award in 1968. Latané received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology in 1997. 

Contribution to Psychology

Latané and Darley first began researching the bystander effect after the much-publicized murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City. Genovese's murder was reportedly witnessed by 38 people who failed to intervene or call for help. The two researchers found that observers of violent acts and emergency situations are often passive, apathetic, and unhelpful, particularly when the other members of the group are strangers. Latané and Darley found that with many people present, bystanders may: 

  • Fail to notice or recognize the emergency.  
  • Fail to interpret the incident as something that warrants intervention. Bystanders may also refuse to help if they don't empathize with the victim or view the victim as someone worthy of help. 
  • Assume someone else will intervene or take responsibility. Bystanders are influenced by the reactions of those around them and are unlikely to take action if they do not see anyone else rushing to help.

If a bystander chooses to intervene, he or she can choose between direct intervention and detour intervention. Detour intervention is a form of intervention that occurs when a person seeks the help of another party. A child reporting a fight to a teacher and an adult calling the police are both engaged in detour intervention.

Latané has also conducted research into social influence, group behavior of human and animals, and social loafing. Social loafing, or employee shirking, is the tendency to work less hard when working in a large group.


  1. Bibb Latane. (2001). Contemporary Authors Online. Biography In Context. Retrieved from
  2. Witnesses to violent acts often fail to intervene. (1986, Jan 12). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from