Tattoos: Health Care and Tattoo

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Tattoos Can Harm Perceptions: A Study and Suggestions
Annette Resenhoeft, BA; Julie Villa, RN; David Wiseman, PhD

Abstract. Objective: Health researchers have claimed that perceptions toward a person with a tattoo are more negative than are perceptions toward non-tattooed persons. However, support for this has been obtained almost completely by nonexperimental research. Participants: In 2 experiments with 158 community college student participants, the authors found that tattoos harmed perceptions. Methods: Students viewed a photograph of a female model with and without a visible tattoo, and rated her on 13 personal characteristics. Results: In Experiment 1, ratings of a model with a dragon tattoo were significantly more negative (p < .05) on 5 of the 13 personal characteristics than were ratings of the same model shown without the tattoo. In Experiment 2, which included different participants, a different model, and a different tattoo, the authors found that a dolphin tattoo led to more negative ratings on 2 of the 13 characteristics. Conclusions: The authors discuss possible impacts of tattoos on person perception as well as implications of the results for college student healthcare providers. Keywords: college students, perception, tattoo

he desire to express oneself can lead to risky behaviors. Some of these behaviors, in turn, can cause health problems. One such behavior is tattooing. The physical risks of tattoos have been well-established (eg, infection, scarring, exposure to bloodborne illness, allergic reactions)1–3; however, a tattooed person also may experience negative social consequences, including negative perceptions formed toward that person because of the tattoo.4 Such negative perceptions or their own regret may ultimately induce a tattooed individual to undergo costly tattoo removal procedures. Results from a national probability sample of 253 women and 247 men aged 18 to 50 years indicated that 24% had tattoos.5 Given their popularity, the prospect that tattoos affect At the time of the study, Ms Resenhoeft was an undergraduate psychology student, Ms Villa was enrolled in the nursing program, and Dr Wiseman was an assistant professor in the Psychology Department at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ. Copyright © 2008 Heldref Publications 593


interpersonal perceptions merits study. Although an experimental approach can determine cause–effect relations most directly, few researchers have used this method to assess whether a person’s tattoo may affect others’ perceptions of that individual. Hawkes et al6 and Degelman and Price4 conducted 2 such studies. In their study of 268 male and female undergraduates at a medium-sized Canadian university, Hawkes et al6 presented students with a written description of a fictional young woman, including age, body build, current school status, work status, and information about a tattoo she had. The researchers found that when the woman was described as having a tattoo (particularly a relatively large and visible tattoo), participants rated her in more negative terms than when she was described as not having a tattoo. Degelman and Price4 presented 2 groups of participants (a majority [57%] of whom were high school students) with a photograph of a female model. One group saw the pictured model with a tattoo, and the other saw the model without a tattoo. After viewing the photo, participants rated the model on 13 interpersonal characteristics. The researchers found that participants rated the model with a tattoo less positively on many characteristics than they did the model without a tattoo. These 2 study findings suggest that tattoos can cause others to judge a person more negatively than would be the case without the tattoos. To our knowledge, no prior experimental investigatiors have used photographs to analyze interpersonal tattoo perception among college students. In our study, we used an...
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