Are people with tattoos aggressive? Science says yes, but don't be so sure

Oct 18, 2015 at 11:00 p.m. ET
Image: Rekha Garton/Digital Vision/Getty Images

I have two tattoos: one on my shoulder blade (that I can't wait to have removed or covered) and one on the inside of my lower ankle. Both came about 15 years ago, right after I "got legal."

Tattoos were still a bit of a taboo even in 2000, but since then, the body art movement has exploded. People even look at one of my male friends like he has two heads when he explains why he doesn't plan to a get tattoo.

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Body art has permeated every part of our culture, which is cool, but it makes this new study from researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in the U.K. all the more a head-scratcher. According to lead researcher Professor Viren Swami, people with tattoos exhibit high levels of verbal aggression, anger and "reactive rebelliousness."

The team studied 181 women and 197 men and found that "tattooed adults had significantly higher reactive rebelliousness, but not proactive rebelliousness, compared with non-tattooed adults."

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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 Swami, "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."

While that absolutely had been true at one time, it seems like today tattoos are more an exhibition of personality, rather than acting out against "the man."

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Despite that, Swami adds that "although tattoos have now become commonplace in modern British society, our findings may have implications for understanding the reported associations between tattooing and risky behavior among adults."

tattooed women in the workplace
Image: Tiffany Hagler-Geard/SheKnows

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