Bibb Latané

(1937- )

Compiled by Stacey D. Coates (May 2000)

Latane Biography
Time Line

Bibb Latané was born on July 19th 1937 in New York City. His parents were Henry Allen and Felicite Gillman (Bibb) Latané. He had a sister, Julie, who obtained a degree in psychology before her death in 1963. In 1958 he earned his BA at Yale in Culture and Behavior. He chose Culture and Behavior so he could stay up late and sleep in late (Latané, personal notes).

Five years later he earned a Ph.D. in Psychology with a minor in Journalism at the University of Minnesota). From 1963 to 1968 he held his first professional job at Assistant to Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Columbia University. In 1968 he received two awards in association with J. M. Darley, the AAAS Behavioral Science Award and the Richard M. Elliot Memorial Award. After working with Darley, Latané moved to Ohio State University where he was a Full Professor of Psychology and stayed until 1981. From 1982 to 1988 he served as the Director at the Institute for Research in Social Sciences. During this time he was a Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina. In 1989 he left the University to serve as the Chair of Psychology at Florida Atlantic University where he remains. In 1997 Latané received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology . Latané's father (URL 1) retired in 1980 and passed away in 1984 . His mother, Felicite (URL 2), passed on in 1999. Latané is married to social psychologist Deborah Richardson and is the father of three children, two girls and one boy (Latané, personal notes & vita ).


Latané developed with John Darley the Theory of Social Impact. In part, this was to explain social loafing and the diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility is the concept that each person is only responsible for an equal proportion of effort base on the number of people in a group. If you are one of two people you have a fifty percent responsibility, but if you are one of fifty people around you have a two percent responsibility to the situation at hand. Each individual in a group puts in less effort than if he or she were acting alone. When in a group a person contributes less because everyone is sharing the responsibility of the task. However, Latané found that when eight people clap the sound is not eight times more than the sound of one person clapping (Pettijohn, 1992).

There are three principles in Latané and Darley's theory of social impact. First, the number of people present and the influence the people have on an individual both contribute to the social effect. For example, a student normally is more nervous when performing in front of professors then when practicing in front of friends and family. For obvious reasons, in an academic setting professors have more influence over them. The second principle states that the impact of others increases as the number of people increases but the rate of impact does not increase with the number of others added. If a student must perform in front of a professor and another professor is added the impact is not twice what it was with only one professor. This is also true for each additional professor added to the audience of the student's performance. The third principle is that each person influences others, but as the audience size increases the influence decreases. The smaller the audience the more likely the audience will pay attention and be influenced by what the performer, or individual, has to present. (Pettijohn, 1992).

In 1981 Latané conducted a study to test this theory of social impact. In a restaurant setting, groups of six people who had individual checks left an average of a nineteen percent tip while groups of six people on a single check left about an average tip of thirteen percent per person. In another study of group influence he hypothesized that an evangelist (Billy Graham) would be more effective speaking to small audiences over larger audiences. The numbers of people who positively responded to Graham's call for converts in different sized audiences was examined. Consistent with the theory, those in smaller audiences were more willing to let local ministers contact them (Pettijohn, 1992).

Latané is also known for the passive bystander affect. In 1970 he and Barley published The Unresponsive Bystander: Why doesn't he Help? (Pettijohn). In this book they first proposed a series of steps that an individual goes through before responding to a situation. The steps are: notice that something is happening, correctly interpret the situation, assume responsibility, decide what to do and take action. These steps are most important in emergency situation but can be applied to other situations with the same accuracy. The bystander effect describes the fact that a single person is more likely to help in an emergency than a group of people. Diffusion of responsibility plays an important role in bystander effect. As more people are at an emergency there is less of a responsibility for an individual to respond to the situation. One explanation is that in a group an individual is anonymous and is not readily pointed out as an individual who can help. Another point is that an individual can feel that he or she is misinterpreting the situation and does not want to be embarrassed when reacting to nothing. Since no one else is reacting, that feeling is reinforced (Pettijohn, 1992).

Time Line
1937 Bibb Latané was born in New York City
1958 B.A. at Yale University in Culture and Behavior
1963 Ph. D. at University of Minnesota in Psychology with a minor in Journalism
1963-68 Assistant to Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Columbia University
1968-81 Associate to Full Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University
1968 AAAS Behavioral Science Award with Darley
1968 Richard M. Elliot Memorial Award with Darley
1969 Published Bystander Apathy in American Scientist with Darley
1970 Published The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn't He Help? with Darley
1980 AAAS Behavioral Science Award with Harkins and Williams
1981 Published The effects of group size on helping behavior in Altruism and helping behavior with Nida and Wilson
1982-89 Professor of Psychology at University of North Carolina
1982-88 Director at the Institute for Research in Social Science
1986 Donald T. Campbell Award, Society for Personality and Social Psychology
1989- Professor of Psychology at Florida Atlantic University
1989-90 Chair of Psychology at Florida Atlantic University
1997 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, Society of Experimental Social Psychology
1997 Professeur Invite at the Universite Blaise Pascal

Latané, B. From Student to Colleague: Retracing a Decade Personal Notes, unknown date.
Latané, B. Personal Vita. 2000.
Pettijohn, T. F., (1992) Psychology: A Concise Introduction 3rd Edition. Guliford: The Dushkin Publishing Group Inc.
-----(2000) Who's Who in America 2000 Millenium Edition, 54th Edition Volume 2, L-Z. Marquis Who's Who Inc.: Chicago, p 2313.
URL 1 The Henry A. Latané Distinguished Professorship In Economics (April 11,2000):
URL 2 News-Observer, Obituaries, Felicite Latane:
PHOTO taken from Latané's home page at Florida Atlantic University:

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