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Psychol Rep. 2001 Dec;89(3):774-86.

College students with tattoos and piercings: motives, family experiences, personality factors, and perception by others.

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  • 1Department of Behavioral Sciences, Millikin University, Decatur, IL 62522, USA. GFORBES@MAIL.MILLIKIN.EDU


The motives, family experiences, and personality characteristics of 341 college students with and without tattoos or piercings were studied. Participants completed Lippa's 1991 measures of the Big Five personality factors, a shortened version of the Body Cathexis Scale, a series of questions about their childhood experiences, and questions about risk-taking behaviors. In addition, reasons to have or not have body modifications and the perceptions of people with body modifications were investigated. Of the 116 men and 186 women, 25% and 33%, respectively, had at least one tattoo or body piercing. There were very few differences in the childhood experiences or personality characteristics of people with or without body modifications. Although people with body modifications did not differ from people without modifications on the Big Five personality measures, people without modifications perceived people with modifications as much different from themselves on these measures. These results indicate that tattoos and piercings in college students are associated with significantly more risk-taking behavior, greater use of alcohol and marijuana, and less social conformity. However, the traditional stereotype that body modifications are indicators of social or personal pathology does not describe contemporary college students.

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