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Psychological Reports: Mental & Physical Health
2012, 111, 1, 97-106. © Psychological Reports 2012
DOI 10.2466/09.07.21.PR0.111.4.97-106 ISSN 0033-2941
PERSONALITY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TATTOOED
AND NON-TATTOOED INDIVIDUALS1
Department of Psychology, University of Westminster, London, UK
Department of Psychology, HELP University College
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
JAKOB PIETSCHNIG, BIANCA BERTL, INGO W. NADER,
STEFAN STIEGER, AND MARTIN VORACEK
Department of Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods
School of Psychology, University of Vienna
Summary.—This study examined dierences between tattooed and non-tat-
tooed individuals on a range of personality and individual dierence measures. A
community sample of 540 individuals from the southern German-speaking area of
central Europe completed a survey consisting of measures of the Big Five person-
ality factors, Need for Uniqueness, Self-esteem, sensation seeking, Religious and
Spiritual Beliefs, Attitudes Toward Tattoos, tattoo possession, and demographics.
Preliminary analyses showed that 22% of the total sample possessed at least one
tattoo. Further analyses showed that, compared with non-tattooed (n = 420) indi-
viduals, tattooed participants (n = 120) had signicantly higher scores on Extraver-
sion, Experience Seeking, Need for Uniqueness, and held more positive Attitudes
Toward Tattoos, although eect sizes of these group dierences were generally
small- to medium-sized. These results are considered in relation to the contempo-
rary prevalence of tattoos in socioeconomically developed societies.
In many Western, industrialized nations, the art of tattooing has rap-
idly achieved an unprecedented mainstreaming since the early 1990s
(for a review, see Swami & Harris, 2012). For example, several research-
ers have reported that the incidence of tattooing among respondents in
North America and Europe is about 25% (Greif, Hewitt, & Armstrong,
1999; Armstrong, Roberts, Owen, & Koch, 2004; Laumann & Derick, 2006;
Stieger, Pietschnig, Kastner, Voracek, & Swami, 2010) and expected to rise
in the next decade (Anderson, 2006). Scholarly interest in the psycholo-
gy of tattooing is likewise beginning to develop, with growing interest in
motivations for obtaining a tattoo (e.g., Tiggemann & Hopkins, 2011), in-
terpersonal perceptions of tattooed individuals (e.g., Swami & Furnham,
2007), and psychological outcomes of obtaining a tattoo (Seiter & Hatch,
2005; Swami, 2011).
By far the largest body of research has focused on behavioral and in-
1Address correspondence to Jakob Pietschnig, Department of Basic Psychological Research
and Research Methods, School of Psychology, University of Vienna, Liebiggasse 5, 1010 Vi-
enna, Austria or e-mail (email@example.com).
V. Swami, et al.
dividual dierences between tattooed and non-tattooed respondents.
Broadly speaking, it is argued that the planning, permanence, and pain
involved in tattooing may reect real-world dierences between tattooed
and non-tattooed individuals (Tate & Shelton, 2008). For example, some
researchers have reported that tattoo possession is signicantly associated
with being sexually active (e.g., Carroll, Rienburgh, Roberts, & Myhre,
2002; Koch, Roberts, Armstrong, & Owen, 2010), becoming sexually ac-
tive at a younger age (Koch, Roberts, Armstrong, & Owen, 2005), and
greater willingness to engage in sexual relations in the absence of commit-
ment (Swami, 2012). Other work has shown signicant associations be-
tween tattoo possession and a range of risk-taking behaviors, such as use
of illegal substances (Carroll, et al., 2002; Brooks, Woods, Knight, & Shrier,
2003; Deschesnes, Fines, & Demers, 2006) and gang aliation among ad-
olescents (Roberts & Ryan, 2002; Deschesnes, et al., 2006). Also, a smaller
body of work has examined personality dierences between tattooed and
non-tattooed individuals, although the results of this work have tended
to be equivocal. For example, some studies have reported that tattooed
individuals have higher scores on measures of extraversion and related
traits, such as sensation seeking (Roberti, Storch, & Bravata, 2004; Stirn,
Hinz, & Brahler, 2006; Wohlrab, Stahl, Rammseyer, & Kappeler, 2007; Swa-
mi, 2012), but other studies yielded statistically non-signicant ndings
(Forbes, 2001; Tate & Shelton, 2008). In a similar vein, some researchers
have reported that tattooed individuals have lower scores on measures on
conscientiousness and agreeableness (Tate & Shelton, 2008), but the latter
association has not been found in at least one further study (Swami, 2012).
Related research has suggested that tattooed individuals have signi-
cantly higher Need for Uniqueness and distinctive appearance investment
compared with non-tattooed individuals (Tiggemann & Golder, 2006; Tate
& Shelton, 2008; Tiggemann & Hopkins, 2011; Swami, 2012). Nevertheless,
it should be noted that where signicant dierences have been reported,
these have tended to be small and the extent to which such dierences
have real-world implications has been questioned (Tate & Shelton, 2008).
One reason for the equivocal nature of these ndings may be related to
problems with sampling: with few exceptions, in most studies in which
dierences between tattooed and non-tattooed individuals have been ex-
amined have relied on college samples, which have low generalizability.
The present study sought to examine whether there are dierences
between non-tattooed and tattooed individuals recruited from the com-
munity in the southern German-speaking region of central Europe. Pre-
vious work has suggested that the prevalence of tattoos in a sample from
this region is relatively high (about 15%; Stieger, et al., 2010), which makes
this a useful sample to investigate. Specically, in the present study, tat-
PERSONALITY AND TATTOOS 99
tooed and non-tattooed individuals were compared on their Big Five per-
sonality traits, Need for Uniqueness, sensation seeking, Self-esteem, Spiri-
tual Beliefs, and Attitudes Toward Tattoos.
In all, 540 individuals (54.4% women; age M = 31.4 yr., SD = 13.7) from
the community participated in the present study. Participants were, for
the most part, from Austria (87.4%), whereas 9.1% reported being German
or of another nationality (3.5%). In terms of marital status, 37.2% were
single, more than half of the participants were in a relationship (38.1%) or
married (21.1%), 3.0% were divorced, and 0.6% widowed. As to highest
educational qualication, 5.6% had completed primary education, 21.9%
had nished their apprenticeship or vocational schooling, 51.0% reported
having completed secondary education, 18.6% had a university degree,
and 3.0% reported some other kind of highest educational qualication.
Big Five Factors of personality.—The Mini–IPIP (Goldberg, 1999) was
used in order to assess the Big Five Factors of personality. This scale com-
prises ve subscales (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience,
Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness) and requires participants to rate
the extent of their agreement with each of 20 statements using a rating
scale with anchors of 1: Strongly disagree and 5: Strongly agree.
Need for uniqueness.—Participants’ need to stand out from others was
measured using the Need for Uniqueness Scale (Snyder & Fromkin, 1977).
On this scale, participants were asked to indicate their agreement on each
of 32 items on a 5-point scale with anchors 1: Strongly disagree and 5:
Sensation seeking.—Version V of the Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS–V;
Zuckerman, Eysenck, & Eysenck, 1978; German form: Beauducel, Strobel,
& Brocke, 2003) was used to assess participants on the ve domains com-
prising this construct (Boredom Susceptibility, Disinhibition, Experience
Seeking, Thrill and Adventure Seeking). Participants rated a total of 40
items for agreement on a 6-point scale with anchors of 0 and 5: Totally
agree, 1 and 4: Fairly agree, 2 and 3: Somewhat agree (see Voracek, Tran,
& Dressler, 2010, for utilization of this reliability-increasing response for-
Self-esteem.—The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg,
1965; German form: von Collani & Herzberg, 2003) is the most widely
used measure of Self-esteem. Participants rated its total of 10 items for
agreement on a 4-point Likert-type scale with anchors of 1: Strongly dis-
agree and 4: Strongly agree.
V. Swami, et al.
Religious and spiritual beliefs.—The Systems of Beliefs Scale (SBI–15R;
Holland, Kash, Passik, Gronert, Sison, Lederberg, et al., 1998; German
form: Albani, Bailer, Blaser, Geyer, Brähler, & Grulke, 2002) was given to
assess participants’ attitudes towards their Religious and Spiritual Beliefs.
On this scale, 15 items were rated on a 4-point Likert-type scale with an-
chors of 1: Strongly disagree and 4: Strongly agree, yielding two subscales,
namely Attitudes Towards Beliefs and Practices and Attitudes Towards
General attitudes toward tattoos.—Participants’ were asked to rate their
general Attitudes Toward Tattoos on a semantic dierential comprising
eight pairs of characteristics on a 7-point scale with the rst word of each
item reecting a more positive attitude towards tattoos (beautiful vs ugly,
unique vs common, conformant vs rebellious, status symbol vs stigmati-
zation, socially acceptable vs socially unacceptable, makes sense vs does
not make sense, good vs bad, aggressive vs not aggressive). Then, an over-
all score was computed by taking the mean of all eight items, with higher
scores reecting more negative Attitudes Toward Tattoos. Reliabilities for
the used scales in the present sample are provided in the last column of
Demographics.—Participants were asked to provide basic demograph-
ic information, namely sex, age, nationality, marital status, highest edu-
cational qualication, and religious aliation. Additionally, participants
self-reported whether they were tattooed or not (see Stieger, et al., 2010).
When they reported having at least one tattoo, they were asked to state
how many tattoos in total they had across several body locations. For the
present purposes, we computed the sum of tattoos for each participant.
For two scales (MINI–IPIP, Need for Uniqueness) German forms were
not available, so the scales were translated into German by the second
to last authors using the parallel-blind technique (Behling & Law, 2000).
Using this approach, the authors translated the scales independently of
each other, subsequently comparing their respective translations. Disput-
ed translations were resolved through discussion. Participants were re-
cruited opportunistically by research assistants through their personal
contacts. Participation was anonymous, voluntary, and without remuner-
ation. After completion of the questionnaire, participants were verbally
Prevalence of Tattoos
Overall, 140 of the total sample of 540 (i.e., 22.2%) participants report-
ed having at least one tattoo. Among tattooed participants, the number of
PERSONALITY AND TATTOOS 101
descRiptive statistics and Results of Between-gRoups coMpaRisons foR all study vaRiaBles
Variable Nontattooed Tattooed Women Men Omnibus
Main Eect of
MSD MSD MSD MSD F R²Fηp
Extraversion 3.38 0.80 3.62 0.70 3.48 0.77 3.38 0.80 4.38†.02 10.15†.02 0.13 < .01 1.81 < .01 .75
Agreeableness 4.02 0.70 4.03 0.68 4.22 0.61 3.79 0.71 18.81‡.09 0.04 < .01 36.19‡.06 0.12 < .01 .76
Conscientiousness 3.57 0.74 3.51 0.81 3.59 0.74 3.51 0.78 0.81 < .01 0.62 < .01 1.66 < .01 0.08 < .01 .60
Neuroticism 2.76 0.80 2.66 0.76 2.88 0.76 2.56 0.80 9.60‡.05 1.13 < .01 8.19†.02 3.98 < .01 .67
Openness 3.75 0.76 3.78 0.69 3.68 0.76 3.84 0.73 2.86* .01 0.09 < .01 1.97 < .01 1.74 < .01 .69
Self-esteem 3.34 0.53 3.46 0.45 3.32 0.55 3.42 0.47 3.70* .02 5.58* .01 2.95 < .01 0.13 < .01 .87
Need for Uniqueness 3.18 0.41 3.44 0.37 3.19 0.43 3.30 0.39 17.83‡.09 37.29‡.07 5.48* .01 1.50 < .01 .79
Thrill and Adventure
3.85 1.20 4.06 1.13 3.64 1.11 4.20 1.21 11.75‡.06 4.40* < .01 27.23‡.05 1.22 < .01 .86
Experience Seeking 3.84 0.82 4.17 0.77 3.92 0.80 3.92 0.85 5.00†.02 14.37‡.03 0.01 < .01 0.03 < .01 .68
Disinhibition 3.48 0.89 3.69 0.84 3.37 0.85 3.71 0.88 10.10‡.05 7.79†.02 23.55‡.04 3.25 < .01 .77
Boredom Susceptibility 3.09 0.69 3.23 0.71 2.98 0.68 3.30 0.68 11.11‡.05 4.63* .01 20.88‡.04 0.01 < .01 .57
Religious Beliefs and
1.92 0.84 1.70 0.75 1.95 0.83 1.78 0.80 4.74†.02 5.82* .01 1.85 < .01 1.56 < .01 .94
Social Support 1.71 0.72 1.52 0.62 1.62 0.67 1.72 0.75 5.33†.02 4.67* .01 7.54†.01 6.59* .01 .82
4.30 0.91 3.25 0.69 4.09 0.94 4.05 1.00 101.12‡.20 139.12‡.21 1.66 < .01 0.56 < .01 .73
Note.—R² = corrected explained variance. *p < .05. †p < .01. ‡p < .001.
V. Swami, et al.
tattoos per individual ranged from one to 15, with a mean of 2.7 (SD = 3,
Mdn = 1.5, Mode = 1). There was no statistically signicant dierence be-
tween tattooed women (n = 70) and men (n = 50; 23.8 vs 20.3% respective-
ly reported having at least one tattoo) in the number of tattoos they pos-
sessed (Mann-Whitney U11 0 = 1,390.5, Z = −0.53, p = .60; 209 vs 262 tattoos,
Preliminary Between-groups Comparisons
Preliminary analyses showed that there were no statistically signi-
cant dierences in mean age between tattooed and non-tattooed partici-
pants (t538 = 0.59, p = .55, d = 0.05). In addition, there were no signicant dif-
ferences between tattooed (n = 120) and non-tattooed groups (n = 420) in
the distribution of sex, nationality, marital status, and highest educational
qualication (Table 2).
Next, it was examined whether there were dierences on key vari-
ables between tattooed and non-tattooed individuals. To do so, 2 (tattoo
status: tattooed versus non-tattooed) × 2 (sex: women versus men) analy-
ses of variance (ANOVAs) were conducted with the Big Five personal-
ity factors, Self-esteem, Need for Uniqueness, the sensation seeking sub-
scales, the systems of beliefs subscales, and the general attitude towards
tattoo score, respectively, as dependent variables. To control for Type
I error, a Bonferroni correction was applied, such that alpha was set at
.05/14 = .004.
Means and standard deviations and the results of all ANOVAs are
reported in Table 1. As can be seen, none of the tattoo status by sex in-
teractions reached statistical signicance following Bonferroni correction,
which led us to examine the main eects. Following Bonferroni correc-
tions, there were signicant main eects of tattoo status on Extraversion,
Need for Uniqueness, the Experience Seeking subscale of the SSS–V, and
the general attitude toward tattoos. In the rst three cases, tattooed indi-
viduals had higher scores than non-tattooed individuals, whereas in the
latter case, tattooed individuals had more positive Attitudes Toward Tat-
toos than non-tattooed individuals. There were also statistically signi-
coMpaRisons Between tattooed and non-tattooed individuals
χ2df p φ
Sex 0.94 1.33 < .001
Nationality 1.27 2 .53 < .001
Marital status 2.17 4 .70 .009
Highest educational qualication 8.79 5 .12 .016
PERSONALITY AND TATTOOS 103
cant main eects of sex on Agreeableness and three of the four subscales
of the SSS–V.
The present results showed that there were a number of statistical-
ly signicant dierences between tattooed and non-tattooed individuals
in terms of their personality and individual-dierence traits. Specically,
those tattooed had signicantly higher scores than non-tattooed individ-
uals on Extraversion, Need for Uniqueness, and the Experience Seeking
subscale of the SSS–V. In addition, compared with non-tattooed individ-
uals, tattooed participants also had signicantly more positive Attitudes
Toward Tattoos, which is unsurprising. These results are discussed in
greater detail below.
In terms of the Big Five, present results corroborate previous work
showing that tattooed individuals scored more extraverted than non-
tattooed individuals (e.g., Stirn, et al., 2006; Wohlrab, et al., 2007; Swami,
2012). Moreover, tattooed participants had higher scores on a subscale of
sensation seeking, which was related to the trait of Extraversion (see Ey-
senck, 1990). Importantly, however, there were no statistically signicant
dierences between tattooed and non-tattooed individuals on the remain-
ing Big Five factors, which stands in contrast to some previous work (e.g.,
Tate & Shelton, 2008). Overall, then, converging evidence appears to sug-
gest that tattooed individuals score more extraverted than non-tattooed
individuals, with this contrast being driven by their sensation seeking
The present results also corroborate previous work showing that tat-
tooed individuals have higher Need for Uniqueness than non-tattooed in-
dividuals (Tiggemann & Golder, 2006; Tiggemann & Hopkins, 2011; Swa-
mi, 2012). In general, these results support the idea that tattoos are now
used as a means of self-expression or construction of identity. Specically,
in societies in which the body is increasingly commodied, tattoos may
aord some individuals an opportunity to mark the self as being dier-
ent and thereby attain improved self-perceptions of uniqueness (Swami,
2011). Put dierently, tattoos may now be an important means through
which individuals can develop unique identities, particularly in the ap-
pearance domain (Tiggemann & Hopkins, 2011).
Although the results suggest that there are statistically signicant dif-
ferences between tattooed and non-tattooed participants in a number of
examined variables, it should be noted that the eect sizes of observed dif-
ferences were generally small. Specically, eect sizes of dierences were
smallest for Extraversion and Experience seeking (ηp
2 = .02–.03), slightly
larger for Need for Uniqueness (ηp
2 = .07), and largest for Attitudes To-
ward Tattoos (ηp
2 = .21). As discussed by Tate and Shelton (2008), real-
V. Swami, et al.
world implications of such and mostly small dierences between tattooed
and non-tattooed individuals may well be negligible. Moreover, present
results suggest no statistically signicant dierences between tattooed
and non-tattooed individuals on a number of other variables, including
Self-esteem and Religious and Spiritual Beliefs. However, small eect siz-
es of dierences may well be due to secular trends in types of body orna-
mentation and rising prevalence rates of tattoos (e.g., Armstrong & Kelly,
2001; Stieger, et al., 2010) thus reecting increased acceptance of tattoos in
the general population and, in consequence, levelling o of dierences.
The main limitation of this study is that, although we were able to
avoid relying on college samples, it is possible the recruitment technique
introduced sampling biases. In any case, the sample should not be consid-
ered representative of the wider population and should not be extrapo-
lated to other German-speaking regions of Europe. In addition, a limited
number of variables were included in this study. So it is possible that this
limited range masks other, more important dierences between tattooed
and non-tattooed individuals. Given the cross-sectional nature of the de-
sign, inferring causation in the present instance (e.g., to say that extrav-
ertive scorers will be more likely to obtain a tattoo) is not possible.
These limitations notwithstanding, the present results suggest there
are statistically signicant, albeit for the most part small, dierences be-
tween tattooed and non-tattooed individuals on a small number of per-
sonality and individual dierence traits. Given the rapid mainstreaming
of tattoos in socioeconomically developed societies (including almost a
quarter of participants in the present study), ndings such as those report-
ed here may prove useful for scholars seeking to understand motivations
for obtaining a tattoo. That is, an individual dierences approach may
help scholars identify certain proles of individuals who are more likely
to obtain a tattoo, which can only add to research in which motivational
aspects of tattooing have been approached from a sociological perspective
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Accepted July 18, 2012.