Body art, deviance, and American college students
Jerome Koch, Alden Roberts, Myrna Armstrong & Donna Owen, Social Science Journal, forthcoming
Abstract: This research examines the relationship between body art (tattoos and
piercings) and deviance. With the increasing mainstream presence of visible tattoos and piercings among entertainers, athletes, and even in corporate boardrooms, we wonder the extent to which long-time enthusiasts and collectors regard the phenomenon as encroachment. We use sub-cultural identity theory to propose that individuals with increasing evidence of body art procurement will also report higher levels of deviant behavior in order to maintain and/or increase social distance from the mainstream. We tested this proposition by surveying 1753 American college students, asking them to
report their level of body art acquisition and their history of deviance. Results indicate that respondents with four or more tattoos, seven or more body piercings, or piercings located in their nipples or genitals, were substantively and significantly more likely to report regular marijuana use, occasional use of other illegal drugs, and a history of being arrested for a crime. Less pronounced, but still significant in many cases, was an increased propensity for those with higher incidence of body art to cheat on college work, binge drink, and report having had multiple sex partners in the course of their lifetime.
Tattoo and piercing as signals of biological quality
Slawomir Koziel, Weronika Kretschmer & Boguslaw Pawlowski, Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming
Abstract: Tattoos and non-conventional piercings are used in many societies. There are several social reasons for which people use these forms of body decorations (e.g., marking social status or signaling membership within a subculture). However, it is interesting why only some people within a group that uses body decoration as a badge of membership decide upon such decorations. Since both tattoos and piercings can present health risks (e.g., due to blood-borne disease transmission risk), we postulate that people who decide to have such a body decoration might have relatively higher biological quality and that tattoos/piercings can be an honest signal of genetic quality. The possible opposite hypothesis is the “attractiveness increase hypothesis,” according to which people use body decorations to increase their own physical attractiveness or to hide some shortcomings in their appearance (e.g., low body symmetry). To test these hypotheses, we compared body fluctuating asymmetry, which is considered a good measure of developmental stability, between individuals wearing tattoos and/or non-conventional piercings (n=116) and a control group (without such body decorations) (n=86). We found that majority of the absolute and relative fluctuating asymmetry indices had significantly lower values in individuals
with tattoos/piercings than in the control group. This effect was strongly driven by males. Higher body symmetry of the men having tattoo or piercing indicates that this type of body decoration in the western society can be related to the honest signal of biological quality only for men. We did not find support for the “attractiveness increase hypothesis” for either sex.
This all seems rather odd to me. "Multiple sex partners over the course of a lifetime" is a sign of deviance? Maybe multiple sex partners at the same time, sure, but not over a lifetime.
And tattoos and piercings are signs of higher biological quality? But then men of higher biological quality are more to have had multiple female sex partners, if women use this signal correctly. And then it's the tatoos that cause the multiple partners, not the "deviance" that leads men to have tattoos.
(Nod to Kevin L, who has multiple tattoo partners)