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
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.”