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The dirty truth tattoos reveal about us

Lisa Fogarty


Lisa Fogarty

Lisa Fogarty has written numerous articles for USA Today, The Stir, Opposing Views and other publications. She has covered everything from red carpet events to the discovery of toxic PCBs on school windows. She lives on Long Island, N.Y....

A new study suggests antiquated stereotypes about people with tattoos may hold water

Researchers say people with tattoos are quicker to rebel.

Just when you thought all the old stereotypes about people with tattoos had been extinguished, a new study reveals that folks with body ink are more aggressive and rebellious. Wondering if that rule applies to new moms who tat their children's names on their bodies as well? Well, it remains to be seen whether a distinction can be made between those with "sweet" tats and those with badass ones, but the fact that it's now rare to find someone who hasn't been inked doesn't seem to make an iota of difference.

A professor at Anglia Ruskin University tracked 378 adults, including 181 women between the ages of 20 and 58, and found that 97 of them who have tattoos are more verbally aggressive, angry and exhibited "higher reactive rebelliousness" than those who don't sport tats. Angry behavior also seemed to increase with the number of tattoos a person has — the more you ink, the more likely it is you will curse someone out when they take your parking spot.

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"One explanation is that people who have higher reactive rebelliousness may respond to disappointing and frustrating events by getting tattooed," said Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University. "That is, when these individuals experience a negative emotional event, they may be more likely to react by pursuing an act that is seen as defiant. The act of tattooing is perceived as rebellious, or more generally tattoos themselves can signify defiance or dissent."

Of course, the problem with studies like this one, which rely on observational data, is that behavior that one researcher deems violent or aggressive might not be seen that way by another researcher. For example, I'm from New York City — yelling at other drivers is a favorite pastime. If I were given the task of observing people, behavior like this probably wouldn't even make it onto my "obviously warped" radar.

There is also the strong possibility that a researcher already has a bias against people with tattoos and is quicker to interpret that person's behavior as rebellious when compared to someone without tattoos.

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Add to it the fact that the study doesn't distinguish between women and men who have the words "Kill everyone" tattooed on their necks and those who sport teeny, tiny Minnie Mouse tats on their hips or a lotus flower on their shoulder, and you can see why a more in-depth look at tattooed subjects might be necessary before making a sweeping generalization about all people with body ink.

The small black sun I have on my right foot might have made me feel like a rebel for about five minutes when I had it done at 18. But I can assure you I blew my badass cover the second I stepped outside the tattoo parlor and began cooing at a puppy on the street.

There are simply far too many people with tats these days to make a solid, conclusive argument about their temperaments.

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