Potential jurors in the trial of Boston Marathon bombing defendant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who consider themselves social conservatives and who harbor feelings of superiority over criminals and outsiders are more likely to view the accused bomber as non-white, in spite of his ethnic Caucasian background, according to a new Kellogg School of Management study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Those who were surveyed and who measured high in traits of "right-wing authoritarianism" and "social dominance orientation" were also more likely to support harsher treatment, including capital punishment, for Tsarnaev because of his perceived outsider status, the authors of the study said.
The labeling of whites as "Caucasian" dates from the 19th century, but in fact people from the Caucasus region are often called "blacks" by Russians.
“Perceiving the brothers as non-white was uniquely associated with greater support for denying them legal rights and endorsing the death penalty," the authors said. Right-wing authoritarianism can predict a person’s prejudice toward groups considered to be violators of the norms of the group, while social dominance orientation can suggest a person’s feeling of superiority over outsiders makes them more supportive of inequality, the authors asserted.
The study, titled “‘Not One of Us’: Predictors and Consequences of Denying Ingroup Characteristics to Ambiguous Targets,” was conducted online, three days after the April 15, 2013, bombings took place and after photographs of Tsarnaev was released by authorities to the public -- but before the public knew his name and his background in the former Soviet Union.
While all survey respondents were white, the authors did not conclude that those traits were exclusive to whites and suggested that the effects of "social dominance orientation" and "right-wing authoritarianism" should be explored in nonwhite groups as well. And while right-wing authoritarianism can coincide with anti-minority sentiments, labeling all those who measure high in the trait as racist is reductive of the trait’s nuances, one of the study’s authors said.
Jury selection began for Tsarnaev on Monday and is likely to last through Jan. 26.