Young People With Multiple Tattoos and Piercings More Likely to Become Deviants: New Research

Evidence shows that college students with several tattoos or piercings are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors than those who have just one "innocent" tattoo/piercing, according to a new article in the research magazine Miller-McCune, which also finds one tattoo has no correlation with bad behavior.

"My college-student daughter arrived home for Christmas vacation sporting a variety of tattoos and body piercings," someone who signed "Worried in Wichita" wrote to Miller-McCune. "Should I be concerned?"

Staff writer Tom Jacobs answered, "Body art is like real estate. The key factors are density and location, location, location."

He then cited Texas Tech University research just published in Social Science Journal that suggests the relationship between body art and deviant behavior is significant only for those who have adorned their exteriors in "extreme ways."

Surveying 1,753 students from four American colleges--two state-supported public schools and two highly selective religious institutions--a group of Texas Tech researchers found 37 percent reported at least one piercing and 14 percent were tattooed. Four percent reported having seven or more piercings, four or more tattoos, and/or at least one piercing in their nipples or genitals. Besides their body art, or lack thereof, students were asked about various aspects of their behavior, including drug and alcohol use, sexual activity and whether they cheat on tests.

As Jacobs reports:

The findings revealed "sharp differences in the levels of deviant behavior among those with just one tattoo vs. those with four or more, and among those with just one to three piercings vs. those with seven or more," reports sociologist Jerome Koch, the paper's lead author. "The level of deviance reported by respondents with low levels of body art is much closer to those with none than to those with multiple tattoos and piercings, or intimate piercings.

"Results indicate that respondents with four or more tattoos, seven or more body piercings, or piercings located in their nipples or genitals, were substantially and significantly more likely to report regular marijuana use, occasional use of other drugs, and a history of being arrested for a crime," the paper continues. "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 over the course of their lifetime."

The researchers are not saying the multiple tattoos and piercings automatically change the  person whose body is hosting them into Public Enemy No. 1. What the findings do indicate is a subculture traditionally associated with deviant behavior has been "encroached upon from the outside" by mainstream culture.

Writes Jacobs, "So those who feel a part of this subculture 'may need to modify or extend their behavior to maintain social distance.' Ergo, nipple piercings."

He concludes, "that butterfly on your sophomore's ankle is not a sign she is hanging out with the wrong crowd. But if she comes home for spring break covered from head to toe, start worrying."


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