Donn Byrne headshotDonn Ervin Byrne was born on December 19, 1931, in Austin, Texas, to Bernard and Rebecca Singleton Byrne. After receiving his PhD degree in clinical psychology from Stanford University (Chair: Lee Wilder) in 1958, Donn held faculty positions at the University of Texas (1959–1969), Purdue University (1969–1979), and the University at Albany, SUNY (1979–2001). He chaired the Experimental Personality Program at Texas (1963–1969) and the Social-Personality Program at Purdue (1972–1978) as well as at SUNY Albany (1980–1984, 1989–1999), and served as chair of the Department of Psychology at SUNY Albany (1984–1989). In all, Donn chaired the doctoral committees of 53 students and created a legacy in the social psychologists he mentored. I was fortunate and blessed to be his 21st doctoral student at Purdue (1970-73).

Donn Byrne's 16-page article on the repression-sensitization scale in the Journal of Personality and his three-page article on attitude similarity and interpersonal attraction in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology demonstrated his forte as a personality and social psychologist. Further, his 1971 monograph The Attraction Paradigm was important in showing "the way in which research is conducted and … the way in which both theoretical and applied research may be seen to grow out of a base relationship [i.e., the law of attraction]" (p. 414). As Donn himself pointed out, "the attraction paradigm represents a continuing research program which may constitute a useful model for other research, and, if it has anything to offer, should continue to grow and to change" (p. 415). The mechanism underlying the attitude similarity–attraction relation is still a focal topic in social psychology theory and research. In fact, I have been doing more studies to explain his similarity-attraction relation and popularizing his attraction paradigm as the right way of running programmatic research in psychology and management. His repression-sensitization scale is still used by personality psychologists.

As a pioneer in research and theory concerning human sexuality, Donn first published a classic article on social psychology and the study of human sexual behavior in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 1977. In 1988, William Fisher, Leonard White, Donn Byrne, and Kathryn Kelley identified the personality dimension of erotophobia–erotophilia, developed a scale to measure it, and suggested how to undertake a paradigmatic research in it. Donn Byrne's work for the U.S. President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography is one of the first systematic studies of reactions to pornography.

Of his plentiful scholarly contributions to human sexuality, personality, and social psychology, Donn is most renowned for his classic similarity–attraction research. It was Donn Byrne who experimentally translated the well-known adage that birds of a feather flock together into a social psychological phenomenon. As a result, we have known since the 1960s that the greater the similarity is between the attitudes of two people, the greater the attraction between them. He was so attached to this "Law of Attraction" that he always queried me as to how well his regression equation (Y = 5.44X + 6.62, where Y is attraction on a scale of two to 14, X is the proportion of similar attitudes, and 5.44 and 6.62 are empirical coefficients for the slope and intercept of the regression line, respectively) fit each new set of data my students or I collected! In fact, Donn had this regression equation engraved in a tie clip.

Donn authored/co-authored around 30 textbooks in psychology. He co-authored four editions of an introductory psychology textbook with Henry C. Lindgren (1961, 1966, 1971, 1975) and two editions of a later new textbook with Robert A. Baron and Barry H. Kantowitz (1977, 1980). His textbook An Introduction to Personality: A Research Approach (1966) and its two subsequent editions (1974, 1981) effectively replaced the traditional contents of grand theories in personality courses with a more empirical approach to the assessment, antecedents, correlates, dynamics, and change of a dimension of individual differences (e.g., authoritarianism, intelligence, self-concept). His textbook Social Psychology: Understanding Human Interaction (1974), which was co-authored with colleague Robert A. Baron (now in its 14th edition with Robert A. Baron and Nyla R. Branscombe as the authors), has been very popular and its various editions have been translated into several languages and used across the globe.

Donn retired from SUNY Albany in 2001 as distinguished professor emeritus. He remained active revising his social psychology textbook, guiding research for doctoral dissertations of his students and SUNY colleagues, and painting until he died in Feura Bush, New York, on August 10, 2014. Jeffrey Fisher and I were fortunate to have visited him a week before the sad day to seek his final blessings. Nine of his doctoral students; his colleague and life-long friend, Robert A. Baron; and I paid our rich tributes to him in the article "Remembering Donn Byrne" in the November 2014 issue of the APS Observer. In addition, his obituary, authored by four of us, appeared in the May 2015 issue of the American Psychologist. For me as well as for most of his doctoral students, academic grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Donn Byrne remains the Guru nonpareil who made their learning and lives very enriched and fulfilling.

"When both Guru [teacher] and Govind [God] are standing in front of you, whom should you bow to first?" asked Indian mystic Kabir (1440–1518). Kabir directed, "All the glory should go to your Guru for showing the right way to Govind." Thus, I devotedly bow to my esteemed Guru, Donn Byrne, a world-renowned personality and social psychologist who made me whatever I am today.  - Ramadhar Singh, Ahmedabad University, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India


It was my good fortune to arrive for PhD study at Stanford in 1966, the same year Donn Byrne did a sabbatical year there from University of Texas ["Dr. Byrne" to me then, "Donn" thereafter]. His well-established attitude-attraction program of research gentled me over the Master's hurdle, as he patiently guided me through a series of studies which gained me admission to the PhD program to follow. He opened his home to us uncertain graduate students during his short stay, providing meals to us "hungry ghosts" and orienting us uncertain newcomers to the peculiarities of the Stanford Department at the time. Donn was always cheerful and welcoming, commenting on the local scene with an easy sense of fun and ironic twinkle in his eye. I corresponded with Donn throughout the rest of his career, eagerly awaiting his annual reviews and visiting his home and his department at Purdue or SUNY Albany on occasions when I crossed the Pacific from Hong Kong. He was a steady, reassuring point in my academic journey, an anchor in uncertain winds. I am grateful."

– Michael Bond

It is an absolute pleasure for me to endorse Professor Donn Byrne for the SPSP wall of fame. I write this from the perspective of a very seasoned academic social psychologist and researcher, and as one of Donn’s graduate students whose life was forever transformed working with him from 1971-1975 at Purdue University.

I arrived in West Lafayette, Indiana in Fall 1971, twenty-one years old, with an undergraduate psychology degree. I was immediately catapulted into the excitement accompanying Donn’s recent publication of The Attraction Paradigm, a scholarly monograph detailing his very substantial and influential research program on interpersonal attraction. I do not believe any social psychologist—before Byrne or since—has taken such a careful, programmatic, expertly implemented and integrated approach to a domain of research. The Attraction Paradigm presented Donn’s reinforcement-affect model of interpersonal attraction and voluminous tests of its assumptions in different contexts. Remarkably, Donn was only 39 when it was published. In addition to interpersonal attraction research, for which he is most well-known, Donn made very significant career contributions to personality psychology and focused on human sexuality research for a good part of his career.

Walking into the Purdue psychology building and attending my first Byrne lab group meeting in September 1971, the excitement was palpable. It was immediately clear that Donn had somehow created a “secret sauce” for graduate training and transmitted it by osmosis to his students. He was a remarkable theoretician and researcher, a careful yet creative thinker, and a wonderful and prolific writer. Donn taught his students how to create and systematically test social psychological models in laboratory and field settings—with gusto—and to write beautifully. The extremely high levels of intellectual curiosity, scholarly knowledge and creativity, commitment to the field, and work ethic of Donn’s students were remarkable. In 43 years in academia, I never saw it replicated. Donn led his graduate students to believe they could function like junior faculty and produce very high quality, even path-breaking research, and they did. He was deeply, unselfishly, interested in their research ideas, writing, career ambitions, and lives, whether or not they paralleled his own. My own research at the time focused on two areas—recipient reactions to receiving help, and environmental psychology—each only peripherally related to Donn’s interests, yet he was highly committed to my work and success. The fervor he established and ingrained in his students in graduate school never left many of them, and many made significant contributions to social psychology and related fields. 

My four years with Donn launched me into a rewarding career of social psychological research in the Lewinian tradition, in which I worked with colleagues to create, test, and apply social psychological theory and research to important social problems. Perhaps it is a result of growing up in the 1960s that I was committed to performing research to improve the human condition. My work can be distinguished from my mentor’s in its focus and context, but not in my systematic, conceptually-based approach to it.  My collaborators spanned the globe, but some of my most fruitful, longest-lasting collaborations were with others who gained their Ph.Ds. during the golden age of social psychology at Purdue. 

What graduate school with Donn gave me has been a huge blessing: to have always been deeply interested and engaged in my work, to have been quite good at it, to have loved the study of ideas and performing research, and to have done work that can help others. All of this germinated during my graduate study with Donn. I was never bored for a moment during my career and had opportunities to accomplish things I never thought imaginable. Our field owes a deep debt to Donn Byrne for his contributions to social psychology, and to the lives of those who studied and collaborated with him.

– Jeffrey D. Fisher

As a graduate student at the University at Albany in 1995, I took two graduate courses with Prof Donn Byrne. Coming from India, 'Social Psychology' by Baron and Byrne was prescribed reading, and of course I was excited to meet 'Byrne'.  I was surprised by how nice, soft-spoken and gentle Prof Byrne was.  Once on knowing that I had fainted in the department he said to me, "I hope you're eating your greens."  As a teacher, the distinct impression that got conveyed was that research was to be planned thoughtfully and carried out in an unhurried manner. 

– Mrinmoyi Kulkarni

Dr. Singh was my thesis advisor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Dr. Singh first told me about Dr. Byrne and his work 43 years ago. The very rational exuberance displayed by Dr. Singh in his remembrance of Dr. Byrne motivated me to read some of Dr. Byrne's papers. I used a framework to study phenomena advanced by Dr. Byrne in my doctoral work. I moved away from academics and joined industry, first as a manager and later as a consultant. In both careers, I used the Byrne framework to great advantage. This framework helped me in my personal life in areas such as marital harmony and parenting behaviors. My marriage is now in its 37th year. My son is a socially well-adjusted and responsible graduate of Dartmouth University. As you can tell, I owe a lot to Dr. Byrne as I do to Dr. Singh. In my faith, Sanatana Dharma, we believe that God shows up in both unmanifest as well as manifest forms. We also believe that Guru or Teacher is God.  Dr. Byrne is my unmanifest God. And Dr. Singh is my manifest God. They influenced my thinking in profound ways which have helped me navigate my life these 43 years.

– Nagananda Kumar 

As one of the admirers of  Donn Byrne, I am honored to pay my tributes to Donn Byrne on the Heritage Wall of Fame. During my graduate study at the Kansas State University (1971-74), I was mentored by William Griffitt, the 11th doctoral student of Donn at the University of Texas. Bill inducted me to the attraction paradigm. In my research in personality and social psychology until today, I have essentially been guided by Donn Byrne's paradigmatic suggestions for studying individual differences (1966) and social behaviors (1971). I bow to HIM for the legacy he left for us personality and social psychologists.

– Janak Pandey

Donn Byrne was my first research mentor, whether he knew it or not.  As an undergraduate at Purdue in the early 1970s, I was a student in one of Donn's advanced research classes, worked with several of his graduate students, and attended meetings of his lab group.  (Maybe he would have recognized me as one of the "kids" that hung around the lab.)  The most enduring lesson that I learned from my experience, however, was being introduced to the value of paradigmatic research and, more specifically, the schematic model that he presented to identify four important categories of research: stimulus generality, response generality, analytic research, and theory building.  I may not have pursued my own research programs strictly in line with Donn's unique pursuit of the attraction paradigm, but his conceptualization of the different paths that research can take provided me with a valuable blueprint of my future investigations.   Using these categories, I was able to help my students to better understand how their research work fit into the overall research enterprise and to recognize what the next steps in their programs might be.  This early introduction to his philosophy of science allowed me to appreciate what the practice of science was trying to achieve.  It was an important lesson that I tried to pass on as I mentored my own students.  It is part of his legacy.   I was happy that I had the chance to thank him personally for his contributions a number of years later.  Thanks again. 

– David Schroeder