John M. Darley
Dorman T. Warren Professor of Psychology
John M. Darley is the Dorman T. Warren Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. His past research examines the ways in which individuals construct their representations of the interpersonal world in which they find themselves. His original work demonstrated that people often failed to intervene in emergency situations because they falsely interpreted the signals they got from the behavior of others as indicating that no real emergency was taking place. Even when they interpreted the event as an emergency, their responsibility for intervening was diffused by their knowledge that others were present who could also respond. The book reporting this research, co -authored with Bibb Latane, received several prizes. In an American Psychologist article, he and Russell Fazio outlined a conceptualization of the psychological version of the self fulfilling prophecy, in which people unknowingly act to bring about confirmations of their erroneous perceptions of their interactants, making those originally false perceptions "true" at least for their interactions with those people, and occasionally true in deeper ways.
Lately, Darley has investigated an area at the intersection of criminal justice and ordinary people's moral judgments. The central question is why people have the impulse to punish an intentional transgressor who commits a moral offense, and how the "na´ve psychology of punishment" fits or contradicts the punitive justifications used by the criminal justice system. When a person receives a description of an individual committing a specific crime, the person rapidly forms judgments on the severity of the offense and the duration of appropriate punishment for it. Evidence is converging that those judgments are what we would now call "intuitive" judgments. Rather than being the result of a reason guided, step-by-step analysis the severity and punishment judgments seem simply to "pop into" the heads of the respondents. Thus they are similar to the heuristics, biases, and other shortcut decisions that the judgment and decision-making researchers have documented that we all use. Imaging research suggests that these intuitions draw on both evaluative and emotional areas of the brain. Behavioral research demonstrates that these intuitions are driven by intuitive ideas of "just deserts", i.e. retributive reactions rather than more reason-based deterrent or incapacitive considerations. The high degree of consensus within cultures on these judgments suggests that they are learned through early socialization processes, perhaps building on evolutionarily prepared cognitive structures.
In articles co-authored with Paul Robinson, a law professor, he has criticized the recent tendency of the criminal justice system to rely entirely on deterrence as the basis for assigning punishment durations to those who commit crimes. The problems with this stance are twofold: first, legislative attempts to reduce crime generally involve increased sentence severity, and a review of the psychological literature suggests that severity increases, as opposed to increases in the detection rate of crimes, has less effect on crime rates that people expect. Second, the resulting Draconian prison terms assigned often offend citizens' perceptions of the proper magnitude of a sentence for a crime. As is argued in the present chapter, punishment is an intrinsically multifaceted concept, and this allows the design of punishment treatments that are both more efficient and better expressive of the message that society wants to send. Darley and Robinson are currently exploring some consequences that this "justice as intuitions" account has for the judicial system.
Darley has received the distinguished scientist award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychologists. He is past president of the American Psychological Society. He has twice been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and held a Guggenheim Fellowship.