A Psychological Analysis of the Perpetrator in the East London Acid Attack

Jameel Mukhtar and his cousin Reshma Khan were victims of a horrific acid attack which happened on June 21 2017 at 9.15am by a white man identified as John Tomlin in East London. Jameel fell into a coma, while his cousin, Reshma’s aspiring modelling career is over. They believe this was an Islamophobic hate crime. (https://discover-the-truth.com/2017/06/29/john-tomlin-who-threw-acid-on-two-muslims-followed-anti-muslim-facebook-pages/).
The psychological concept I will be discussing in relation to this event will be observational learning. This is a form of learning which gets lost in operant conditioning and classical conditioning. Unlike operant and classical conditioning it is passed through indirect passage of knowledge i.e. a child mimicking the actions of their parent.
The reason we mimic is because we have mirror neurological information i.e. mirror neurons that humans possess. These are neurons that are activated when we are paying attention to or observing someone who is doing something in an intentional way for example washing a car or mowing a lawn. Neurons are causing neurons in your motor cortex to fire up when you are observing someone doing something.
A psychologist by the name of Albert bandura conducted an experiment with two sets of children and a Bobo doll. One group of children were asked to watch a video of a man beating a Bobo doll with his fist. The second set of children were asked to watch a more neutral video. The first set of children were allowed now after watching the video of the Bobo doll being hit to interact with the Bobo doll with additional toys such as Hammers and guns. Subsequently, this group of children were behaving in an extremely violent way beyond what they perceived in the video to such an extent that one of the kids pointed a toy gun at the Bobo doll and pull the trigger. This type or level of emotion is explained by the simple fact that the children became aggressive after viewing aggressive or violent content.  Cognitively speaking, motor neurons were firing whilst they were watching the video.
Research shows that watching violent things can make you become violent. The level of exposure to a particular object or group can affect your behaviour. The psychological concepts support this claim are conformity, familiarity, in group versus outgroup.

John Tomlin threw acid on the victims whilst they were in traffic, at the lights, as reported. This demonstrates that he committed the crime at a time where he was less likely to be in danger of being caught, or in other words when he was safe to do so. So this is analogous to the behaviour of the children in Albert Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment. The children exerted their aggression when they found that it was safe to do so.
Observational learning is a passage of knowledge through an indirect way. We can all be indirectly influenced through media and social media and the people we watch. John Tomlin seems to be radicalised by the online anti-Muslim material from an anti-Muslim page who actively post hate for propaganda against Muslims.


The Facebook page ‘English and proud” have almost 300,000 followers, this itself can reinforce shared anti Muslim sentiments and radicalise an individual, as was the case with Tomlin. This is possible because the online space invites the presence of a large group of people who share the same views as each other and the notion is that John Tomlinson was influenced by watching the behaviour of those he followed online who spread hatred against Muslims, Islam, and even refugees.
As in the Bobo experiment, we see the children’s fluency in expressing their aggression was more fluent when others around them followed the same.

In conclusion, observational learning should be highlighted as a major component in the human development process. As we see in the case of John Tomlin that observation and exposure to hate material can play a big part in radicalise behaviour which can lead to violence or crimes possibly. In the interest of fairness there could be other variables that play a part in violent behaviour however if violence through observation plays a part there are many lessons to be learnt.

Firstly, it would teach us to be careful of who we associate with. Since we have mirror neurons, we must try our best to be a positive reflection towards our family children and society. We must be aware of our environment especially for our children who view us as role models. Finally, what we do and how we behave can be a result of past experiences present actions all future expectations.

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