The pretty young face of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar (Jahar) Tsarnaev was good enough proof for some young women to believe he is innocent. Tweets and messages from schoolgirls who obviously have a crush on Tsarnaev appeared on the Internet after the bombings. Experts believe judgment can get overclouded by a person’s attractive looks, which is what happened to the girls who have been crying over Tsarnaev.
Sherry Hamby, a research professor of psychology at Sewanee, the University of the South, said people should be very cautious when it comes to drawing conclusions based on appearance.
“People are influenced by appearances and it is well-established that attractive people are judged less harshly and Tsarnaev is photogenic,” Hamby said in an exclusive interview with Allvoices. “Some women have rescue fantasies and believe they can reach out to him and help him. For others it might be a defense against believing there are people who can be so violent and reckless--it might be comforting to them in some way to think it was mostly Tamerlan who brainwashed his brother.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in April in a gun battle with the police after bombings at the Boston Marathon injured more than 260 people and killed three.
There have been thousands of posts on social networks, mainly written by teenage girls, saying Dzhokhar is too cute to be a killer. One of the girls wrote on Twitter: “I know I didn’t know Jahar and I shouldn’t be saying this but … I miss Jahar. Is that weird? Don’t think I’m weird.”
Another teenager wrote: “I thought he was very sexy when I first saw him. I am glad to know I'm not the only one who feels this way.” Many other girls were saying he is a “super attractive” innocent guy with a pretty face.
But the photogenic, pretty face seems to be hiding a dark side of Dzhokhar’s personality. That dark side he managed to keep secret from his closest friends and family. In Professor Hamby’s opinion, one part of hiding a dark side is the ability to maintain a seemingly positive public image or persona.
“We are often surprised when people with positive public images show dark sides, sometimes extreme dark sides, so yes it is very possible to hide a dark side even from those who are close to you,” she said.
Dzhokhar was relatively young when he was suspected of committing a horrible crime. The media has been speculating his elder brother Tamerlan was probably the “brains” of the attack. Hamby said it still seems possible that Dzhokhar was strongly influenced by his elder brother, although as more information comes out, it seems to suggest a lot of involvement on his part as well. She said usually any team has one person who is more of a follower and one more of a leader.
“Dzhokhar is still relatively young,” Hamby said. “Psychologists now realize that the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s and so in that sense any young person is likely to be more impulsive and easier to manipulate than older adults. He looks very young in photographs and he is the younger brother, so he might seem easy to manipulate but we should be cautious about drawing conclusions just based on appearance. Recent stories about his ‘fan girls’ show the sympathy that can be generated by a photogenic face, but my sympathies go to the victims.”
Whether he’s a good or ordinary looking guy, a potential terrorist is hard to recognize.
Trying to recognize the signs of someone about to commit violent acts is often, according to Hamby, like looking for a needle in a haystack.
“Many of the warning signs apply to many people who are not violent and we don't want to turn into a society of suspicion and accusations,” she said. “However, in cases like these, sometimes family or neighbors are aware of stockpiling weapons, increasingly explicit threats and extreme statements and other indicators that should be taken seriously. Current reports suggest that law enforcement agencies need to continue to work on interagency communication. Federal agents may have had information suggesting a real possibility of danger that was not known to state or local authorities.”