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Tattoos are common in the United States; however, tattooed persons may be perceived as having more negative character and as more deviant than people without tattoos. College students (Study 1) and community members (Study 2) viewed images of men and women with tattoos or the same images with the tattoos digitally removed and rated the targets' characteristics. Half of the participants viewed a target with a tattoo, and half viewed that target without it, allowing for both within- (participants all rated one male and one female target with a tattoo and another without) and between-participants (participants rated either the tattooed or non-tattooed version of a single target) comparisons. Tattooed targets, especially women, were rated as stronger and more independent, but more negatively on other character attributes than the same target images with the tattoos removed. The stigma associated with tattoos appears to still exist, despite the prevalence of tattoos in modern culture.
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The Journal of Social Psychology
ISSN: 0022-4545 (Print) 1940-1183 (Online) Journal homepage:
Tattoo or taboo? Tattoo stigma and negative
attitudes toward tattooed individuals
Kristin A Broussard & Helen C Harton
To cite this article: Kristin A Broussard & Helen C Harton (2017): Tattoo or taboo? Tattoo stigma
and negative attitudes toward tattooed individuals, The Journal of Social Psychology, DOI:
To link to this article:
Accepted author version posted online: 21
Sep 2017.
Published online: 21 Sep 2017.
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Tattoo or taboo? Tattoo stigma and negative attitudes toward
tattooed individuals
Kristin A Broussard
and Helen C Harton
Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO, USA;
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA, USA
Tattoos are common in the United States; however, tattooed persons may
be perceived as having more negative character and as more deviant than
people without tattoos. College students (Study 1) and community mem-
bers (Study 2) viewed images of men and women with tattoos or the same
images with the tattoos digitally removed and rated the targetscharacter-
istics. Half of the participants viewed a target with a tattoo, and half viewed
that target without it, allowing for both within- (participants all rated one
male and one female target with a tattoo and another without) and
between-participants (participants rated either the tattooed or non-tat-
tooed version of a single target) comparisons. Tattooed targets, especially
women, were rated as stronger and more independent, but were rated
more negatively on other character attributes than the same target images
with the tattoos removed. The stigma associated with tattoos appears to
still exist, despite the prevalence of tattoos in modern culture.
Gender; stereotypes; stigma;
Tattoos are fairly common in the United States, with an estimated 2129% of Americans having at
least one tattoo and around 1520% having two or more tattoos (Blanton, 2014; Laumann & Derick,
2016; Shannon-Massal, 2016). Tattoos are common across age groups, genders, and races; 47% of
millennials have tattoos, while 36% of Generation Xers, and 13% of baby boomers do (Shannon-
Massal, 2016). Thirty-one percent of women and 27% of men have tattoos (Shannon-Massal, 2016).
The prevalence of tattoos is relatively similar across ethnic groups as well, with 21% of European
Americans and 21% of African Americans possessing a tattoo (Blanton, 2014). Despite this popu-
larity, however, many Americans think that tattoos make people less attractive (Blanton, 2014;
Shannon-Massal, 2016), and tattoos historically and at present are often associated with criminality
and deviant behavior (Fisher, 2002; Laumann & Derick, 2016), suggesting that there is a stigma to
having a tattoo.
Stigma refers to the socially constructed relationship between a socially undesirable attribute and
a stereotype (Goffman, 1963). An individual viewed as deviating from the majority in ability,
physical appearance, behavior, or health may be avoided or discriminated against based on the
stereotypic preconceptions others hold about her. The negative stereotypes held by the general public
about a stigmatized group that inform negative feelings and prejudicial behavior toward that group
are greater when the stigmatized person can be held responsible for his situation (controllable
stigma), such as in the case of drug abusers, persons with obesity, or smokers with lung cancer
(Reeder & Pryor, 2008). Because tattoos are a controllable stigma, they also represent a choice made
by the tattooed person rather than an unavoidable, inherited attribute, which may help legitimize the
publics negative perceptions (Larsen, Patterson, & Markham, 2014).
CONTACT Kristin A Broussard, Experimental Psychology, Saint Louis University, Morrissey Hall, Room
2303, 3700 Lindell Blvd., Saint Louis, MO 63103-2097, USA.
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at
© 2017 Taylor & Francis
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Prejudice toward tattooed individuals
Although tattoos have historically carried negative associations, the popularity of tattoos and their
acceptance in society tends to ebb and flow across time and between generations (Fisher, 2002).
Because of the unpredictable popularity and social perceptions of tattoos at any given time, we focus
here on recent research.
Although the prevalence of tattoos has risen steeply over the past decade (Shannon-Massal, 2016),
perceptions of tattooed individuals have remained negative. People view tattooed individuals as
possessing a number of negative character attributes, including being less inhibited (Wohlrab, Fink,
Kappeler, & Brewer, 2009), less competent, having worse character, being less sociable (Seiter &
Hatch, 2005), and being more sexually promiscuous (Wohlrab et al., 2009).
Studies examining only women have found further negative stereotypes. In Canadian samples,
women with tattoos were judged more negatively than women without tattoos by both men and
women (Hawkes, Senn, & Thorn, 2004). In Britain, tattooed women were judged as more promis-
cuous, heavier drinkers, and as less attractive (Swami & Furnham, 2007), and in France, men
expected that tattooed women would be more likely to have sex on a first date than non-tattooed
women (Guéguen, 2013). Studies on American college student participants have also found that
women with tattoos are perceived as less attractive, less caring, and less intelligent or less honest and
religious, depending on the type of tattoo (Resenhoeft, Villa, & Wiseman, 2008). This prejudice
against women with tattoos may stem from sexist beliefs based on tattooed femalesviolation of
traditional gender norms (Hawkes et al., 2004). One exception to this prejudice may be relevant to
women in creative fields: College students perceived a tattooed female professor as more imaginative
than the same woman pictured without a tattoo (Wiseman, 2010; see also Resenhoeft et al., 2008).
Many recent studies (e.g., Hawkes et al., 2004; Swami & Furnham, 2007) have not directly
compared perceptions of tattooed women and tattooed men, but only examined perceptions of
women with tattoos, a limitation addressed by the current study. The few that have compared men
and women have generally either found that women are judged more negatively or that there are no
differences. One recent study compared perceptions of both male and female surgeonsor
mechanicswith tattoos superimposed on their necks in a headshot (Baumann, Timming, &
Gollan, 2016). Participants rated tattooed individuals more negatively in both job contexts and
rated tattooed women more negatively than tattooed men overall. Hospital patients rated a tattooed
female, but not a tattooed male, care worker as less professional (Westerfield, Stafford, Speroni, &
Daniel, 2012). A third study used photographs of men and women with various tattoo designs
superimposed on their upper arms, but found no interactions between target gender and tattoo
status (Burgess & Clark, 2010).
The impact of prejudicial attitudes towards tattooed individuals ranges from workplace discrimi-
nation to inadvertent discrimination against demographic groups who are more likely to have visible
tattoos (i.e., ethnic minorities; Miller, McGlashan Nicols, & Eure, 2009). Tattoos are one of the few
physical categorizations that are legal to discriminate against in the workplace, and in many cases,
courts have upheld the discrimination of tattooed individuals based on the violation of corporate
appearance policies (Ponte & Gillian, 2007). Interviews with tattooed persons revealed that many
tattooed individuals believed that they could not find employment because their tattoos were visible,
suspicions that hiring managers confirm (Timming, 2015). Indeed, most hiring managers in
Timmings study explicitly stated they would not hire a visibly tattooed candidate, both because it
would mar the image of the company and because of their personal dislike of tattoos. Potential
customers have also tended to perceive tattooed employees as less capable (Dean, 2011) and as
riskier and less physically appealing (Ruggs, 2013).
Tattooed persons may sometimes, but not always, be more accepting of others with tattoos.
Tattooed individuals who have body art similar in size, location, or content have tended to view each
other more positively (Larsen et al., 2014). Tattooed participants also have endorsed stereotypes
about the tattooed to a lesser degree than do non-tattooed participants (Martin & Dula, 2010) and
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have held more favorable attitudes toward individuals seen as part of the tattoo culturethan have
non-tattooed people (Snell, Hodgetts, & McLeay, 2011). Hawkes et al. (2004) found that those who
had or were planning to get tattoos judged women described as having tattoos more favorably than
did participants without tattoos. Interestingly, however, tattooed people sometimes also harbor
negative explicit (Shannon-Massal, 2016; Timming, 2015) and/or implicit (Zestcott, Tompkins,
Kozak Williams, Livesay, & Chan, 2017) attitudes toward other tattooed individuals. Although
tattooed individuals may sometimes form an ingroup on the basis of their tattoo status, tattooed
individuals may stigmatize other tattooed individuals if their tattoos are large or unconcealable, such
as on the face, hands, or neck (Timming, 2015), or if their tattoos are seen as overly trendy and
lacking authenticity (Larsen et al., 2014). Thus, the stigmatization of tattooed individuals is not
limited to the non-tattooed. This finding is not entirely surprising, given that stigmatized people may
internalize their stigmas and express the same negative attitudes toward others in their stigmatized
group, such as in the case of persons with obesity (Schwartz, Vartanian, Nosek, & Brownell, 2006).
Basis for stigmatization
A system-justification view posits that stereotypes can be used to rationalize social roles and serve to
justify the derogation of certain groups (Jost, 2001; Jost & Banaji, 1994; Jost, Banaji, & Nosek, 2004).
In the system-justification view, stereotypes legitimize differences in social status and success,
helping to explainsocial discrepancies between groups (Jost & Banaji, 1994; Stangor, Sechrist, &
Jost, 2001). In the case of tattoos, stereotypes about tattooed individuals, such as being criminal,
dangerous, or drug addicts, legitimize the fact that they are discriminated against because of physical
appearance. By accepting the stereotype that tattooed individuals are dangerous, others can be
justified in holding prejudiced attitudes toward another person based on their appearance.
Alternatively, the negative stereotypes associated with tattoos may prevail because the stereotypes
are assumed to have at least a kernel of truth(Allport, 1954). The kernel of truthhypothesis
posits that stereotypes about a certain group have some basis in an observable truth, such as that of
criminals often having tattoos. Several studies have investigated kernels of truth,comparing
tattooed and non-tattooed adults with mixed findings. Differences have been found between tattooed
and non-tattooed individuals in Big Five personality traits (Swami, 2012; Tate & Shelton, 2008),
measures of rebelliousness or needs for uniqueness or distinctive appearance (Swami, 2012; Swami
et al., 2015; Tate & Shelton, 2008), risk-taking behavior or attitudes (Swami et al., 2016; Wohlrab,
Stahl, Rammsayer, & Kappeler, 2007), prevalence of problem drinking (Laumann & Derick, 2016),
illegal drug use (Zrno, Frencl, Degmečić,&Požgain, 2015), and uninhibited sexual behavior
(Wohlrab et al., 2007), and education levels (Laumann & Derick, 2016), with tattooed individuals
generally having less desirable traits, greater risk-taking behavior and rebelliousness, and more
deviant behavior. However, some authors suggest these differences are too small to generalize to
the general population and that tattooed and non-tattooed individuals are likely more similar than
different (Swami et al., 2015; Tate & Shelton, 2008). Additionally, among college students, those with
four or more tattoos self-reported more deviant behavior, including heavy drinking, multiple sexual
partners, marijuana use, and arrests (Koch, Roberts, Armstrong, & Owen, 2010). However, students
with less than four tattoos were not significantly different in deviant behavior from non-tattooed
students (Koch et al., 2010). Other studies have found that type of tattoo, rather than tattoo
ownership per se relates to self-reported criminal or deviant behavior (Zeiler & Kasten, 2016).
Conversely, a study assessing actual arrestees found no significant associations between tattoo
ownership or tattoo location, size, or style and severity of charges (Camacho, 2014).
Limitations in previous research
Several limitations exist in prior research assessing attitudes toward tattooed individuals. First,
some studies have focused exclusively on women with tattoos as targets of prejudice (e.g., Hawkes
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et al., 2004;Swami&Furnham,2007), excluding tattooed male targets from the experiments.
Second, many prior studies have utilized digital or line-drawing animations for the tattooed
stimuli (e.g., Durkin & Houghton, 2000;Swami&Furnham,2007; Wohlrab et al., 2009)or
simple written descriptions of the person with the tattoo (e.g., Hawkes et al., 2004). This type of
design allows for excellent internal validity, but has less external validity. Third, many studies
have used only college student participants (e.g., Hawkes et al., 2004;Swami&Furnham,2007;
Wohlrab et al., 2009). Fourth, many studies have been conducted on samples outside the United
States (e.g., Guéguen, 2013; Hawkes et al., 2004;Swami&Furnham,2007; Wohlrab et al., 2009),
and cultural attitudes toward people with tattoos may differ. Furthermore, many studies are more
than half a decade old; with the increased prevalence of tattoos, perceptions of tattooed indivi-
duals may be changing toward increased acceptance (Shannon-Massal, 2016). Finally, few pre-
vious studies have assessed the extent to which stereotypes about people with tattoos may hold a
kernel of truth.
Current study
Thecurrentstudyaddressedeachofthelimitations in previous research on tattoo prejudice by
assessing attitudes toward both male and female tattooed targets, utilizing photographs of actual
tattooed people (and with the tattoos digitally removed), and obtaining a community sample of
Americans via mTurk in addition to a college student sample. Participants viewed images of men
and women with tattoos or the same images with the tattoos digitally removed. We used a 2
(gender of stimuli; within-group factor) × 2 (tattoo status of stimuli; within-group factor) × 2
(participant tattoo status; between-subjects) × 2 (participant gender; between-subjects) × 2 (sti-
muli condition; between-subjects) factorial design. The two stimuli conditions allowed for
within- and between-participant analyses. The computer randomly assigned each person to one
stimuli condition, which included one set of four images: a woman and a man with a tattoo and
a woman and a man without tattoos. We arranged the stimuli conditions so that an image seen
with a tattoo by one group was seen without the tattoo by the other group (between-
We hypothesized that tattooed individuals would be rated more negatively on character
attributes than non-tattooed individuals (H1) and that tattooed women would be judged more
harshly than tattooed men (H2). We also hypothesized that participants with tattoos would rate
tattooed individuals more positively on character attributes than participants without tattoos, as
tattooed participants may show some in-group favoritism (e.g., Martin & Dula, 2010;Snelletal.,
Finally, we wanted to assess an additional research question: To what degree are the negative
attributions toward tattooed individuals found in previous research (i.e., more negative person-
ality traits, heavier drinkers; e.g., Resenhoeft et al., 2008;Swami&Furnham,2007)true?We
examined differences among tattooed and non-tattooed participants in both samples on a non-
Big Five measure of personality (as most previous research has used the Big Five; e.g., Swami,
2012;Tate&Shelton,2008) and frequency and quantity of drinking behaviors. We also examined
potential differences between tattooed and non-tattooed persons in intelligence. Although intelli-
gence does not seem to have been addressed in previous studies comparing tattooed and non-
tattooed persons (although Laumann & Derick, 2016 examined education level), we addressed it
here because of its possible association with professionalism/competence, a stereotype that has
been associated with tattooed persons (e.g., Dean, 2011; Resenhoeft et al., 2008;Seiter&Hatch,
2005). We conducted two studies: one with a sample from the introductory psychology student
pool at a Midwestern regional university (data collected in the fall semester of 2013) and a
replication with a sample recruited through Amazons Mechanical Turk (mTurk; data collected
between October 2013 and January 2014). All stimuli and measures for Study 1 and Study 2 are
available at
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Study 1
One hundred and forty-two undergraduate students participated in exchange for course credit in
their introduction to psychology course. Students were recruited through Sona Systems, where they
selected our study from a list based on a short description. Cohens power table, using effect size
magnitudes from prior research (moderate, on average), indicates a minimum sample size of N=64
per group to obtain 80% power (Cohen, 1988). Because our design was both within- (i.e., tattooed vs.
non-tattooed stimuli) and between-subjects (i.e., target gender; male vs. female), a minimum of
N= 128 should suffice for the two between-subjects groups. Most participants were female (63.4%),
with a mean age of 19.2 (SD = 1.44). The majority of students who reported their ethnicity were
European American (90.1%), with 4.9% being African American, 1.4% being Asian American, and
3.5% being of other ethnicities. Thirty-four participants (23.9%) had at least one tattoo. Students
received course credit for participation.
We collected a series of non-copyrighted images of young men and women with large tattoos
mostly black ink in fine-line detail design (some with color also), taking up most of their upper arm
through a Google image search. All of the images were of men and women in their early to mid-
twenties, who were moderately attractive and dressed in casual clothing (e.g., tank-tops and jeans).
All images showed only the upper body and face, with the tattooed arm positioned in the fore-
ground. We digitally removed the tattoos using Photoshop. We then assigned the final eight images
(four with tattoos, four with tattoos removed) to two separate conditions so that each participant
would rate two different men (one with a tattoo and the other with the tattoo removed) and two
different women (one with a tattoo and the other with the tattoo removed). We included six
distractorimages of men and women of similar age and attractiveness without visible tattoos, so
that participants each rated 10 images.
Character ratings
Participants rated the person in each image using a modified Semantic Differential scale (Osgood,
Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1958). Our modified scale contained 13 character attributes (e.g., good-bad,
honest-dishonest, intelligent-unintelligent) rated on a 7-point bipolar scale. We selected 10 of our 13
character attributes from Osgood et al.s(1958) original Semantic Differential scale and added three
character attributes (i.e., intelligent-unintelligent, trustworthy-untrustworthy, capable-not capable)
that are stereotypical of tattooed individuals and have previously been used in modified Semantic
Differential scales (e.g., Hawkes et al., 2004). We placed anchors in a random order (sometimes the
positive word was on the left, and sometimes on the right) and reverse-coded items as needed. Other
versions of this scale have been shown to be valid and reliable with similar samples (Hawkes et al.,
2004; Osgood et al., 1958).
Based on previous research (i.e., Hawkes et al., 2004), we included some general evaluative factors
(e.g., good-bad, safe-dangerous) and some potency factors (i.e., weak-strong, dependent-indepen-
dent) from Osgood et al.s(1958) scale. In factor analyses of the character for each target image,
there tended to be two separate character attribute factors across most analyses: (1) all character
attributes except strong-weak and independent-dependent (broad characteristics factor; average
α= .91, 11 items); and (2) strong-weak and independent-dependent (strength-independence factor;
average α= .46 two items). See for factor analysis output files. This finding is
supported by prior research that indicated that tattooed women are seen as stronger and more
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independent than non-tattooed women (Hawkes et al., 2004); however, because the reliability for the
strength-independence factor was inadequate, we analyzed strong-weak and independent-dependent
items separately.
Participant personality traits
The International Personality Item Pool: Interpersonal Circumplex (IPIP-IPC; Markey & Markey,
2009)assessed eight personality subscales: assured-dominant, arrogant-calculating, cold-hearted,
aloof-introverted, unassured-submissive, unassuming-ingenuous, warm-agreeable, and gregarious-
extraverted. This 32-item scale uses a five-point Likert scale, from 1 (very inaccurate) to 5 (very
accurate). This scale is valid based on previous research (Markey & Markey, 2009). Short personality
measures often have low reliability, both because there are few items on each subscale (four in this
case) and because they attempt to maximize validity (Gosling, Rentfrow, & Swann, 2003). As
expected, and similar to previous research (Markey & Markey, 2009; Markey, Anderson, &
Markey, 2013), the reliability estimates were relatively low: arrogant-calculating α= .68; cold-hearted
α= .31; aloof-introverted α= .77; unassured-submissive α= .45; unassuming-ingenuous α= .36;
warm-agreeable α= .72; gregarious-extraverted α= .79; assured-dominant α= .66. Many studies
(e.g., Locke & Adamic, 2012; Markey & Markey, 2013) using this scale have chosen to combine
subscales to create warmth and dominance dimensions which have greater reliability, but because
our purpose was to explore potential differences using a variety of personality traits, we used the
subscales separately in our studies, as has been done in prior studies utilizing the IPIP-IPC (e.g.,
Markey, Suzuki, & Marino, 2014).
Drinking behavior
The first two items from the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT; Saunders, Aasland,
Babor, De La Fuente, & Grant, 1993) assessed drinking frequency and quantity using a five-point
Likert scale. Responses to the first question, How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?
could range from 1 (Never) to 5 (4 or more times a week). Responses to the second question, How
many drinks containing alcohol do you have on a typical day when you are drinking?could range
from 1 (1 or 2) to 5 (10 or more). According to the AUDIT handbook, shortening the scale is
appropriate for specific purposes; in our case frequency of drinking (item 1) and typical quantity
(item 2) were the only items of interest. We opted to use established items for this assessment rather
than create our own items. The AUDIT has been shown to be valid across a variety of populations
(Bohn, Babor, & Kranzler, 1995; Saunders et al., 1993). The reliability for our two items used here
was α= .77.
Cognitive ability
We selected nine practice questions from the SAT verbal and quantitative sections as a proxy
measure of cognitive ability. Prior research has suggested that short sections of SAT reading and
math items are reliable (King, Huff, Ewing, & Andrews, 2005) and that SAT scores are highly
correlated with gintelligence (Frey & Detterman, 2004; Koenig, Frey, & Detterman, 2008). All items
were multiple-choice with five response options. We also requested student ID numbers to access
student cumulative GPAs from the Registrar as an additional proxy of cognitive ability.
Procedure. Participants came to a campus computer lab for a study on judgments of people based
on their appearance (i.e., You will view pictures of people and be asked to rate them on different
characteristics), where they read a consent form and then began the study. Participants rated each
of the 10 images of men and women on the 13 character attributes (Semantic Differential). The
images consisted of two male stimuli pictures and two female stimuli pictures (one of each gender
with a visible tattoo and one of each gender with the tattoo removed digitally), and six distractor
images (pictures of men and women without any visible tattoos). The computer program randomly
assigned participants to receive one of two conditions that varied which male-female stimuli pair had
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the tattoos visible. The pre-randomized order of the 10 images remained constant in both conditions
(distractor female; target male; target female; distractor male; target female; distractor female; target
male; two distractor males; distractor female).
Following the ratings of the images, participants completed demographic questions, including
age, sex, religion, and political orientation. Participants then completed the IPIP-IPC personality
questionnaire (Markey & Markey, 2009), followed by a second set of demographic questions that
asked about their drinking behavior and tattoo status (i.e., Do you have any tattoos?Yes (how
many?), No) and non-earlobe piercings. We also asked participants how visible their tattoos were
(always visible, visible in revealing clothing, not visible when clothed). Participants then answered the
practice SAT questions, followed by two open-ended questionsone asking what they thought the
study was about and one allowing them to provide additional comments. All participants read a
digital debriefing statement explaining the purpose of the study and the reason for the deception and
were thanked.
We conducted three separate 2(target gender: male, female) × 2(target tattoo status: tattooed, non-
tattooed) × 2(participant gender: male, female) × 2(participant tattoo status: tattooed, non-tattooed)
repeated-measures ANOVAs, using one character attribute factor (or individual item in the case of
strong-weak and independent-dependent) as the dependent variable for each analysis. We also
examined perceptions of the particular person in each target photograph with and without their
tattoo using between-participants 2(target tattoo status: tattooed, non-tattooed) × 2 (participant
gender: male, female) × 2 (participant tattoo status: tattooed, non-tattooed) ANOVAs. Participant
tattoo status was operationalized as whether the participant answered yesto whether they had any
tattoos. Missing data were handled using listwise exclusion in each analysis. In some cases, sig-
nificant findings that did not relate to tattoo status (e.g., interaction of participant gender and target
gender) are not reported for the sake of simplicity.
Broad characteristics factor
The broad characteristics factor is comprised of all character attributes from the Semantic
Differential except strength and independence.
There was a main effect of target tattoo status, F(1, 136) = 21.28, p<.001, ƞ
= .05. Participants
rated tattooed targets (M=3.77, SE = .08, CI
[3.61, 3.93]) more negatively than non-tattooed
targets (M=4.21, SE = .07, CI
[4.07, 4.36]; Figure 1). There was also a main effect of target
gender, F(1, 136) = 77.49, p<.001, ƞ
= .12. Participants rated male targets (M=3.65, SE = .08, CI
[3.50, 3.80]) more negatively than female targets (M=4.34, SE = .07, CI
[4.21, 4.47]; Figure 1).
There was also a main effect for participant tattoo status, F(1, 136) = 5.19, p=.02, ƞ
= .04. Non-
tattooed participants (M=3.86, SE = .06, CI
[3.74, 3.98]) rated all stimuli more negatively than
did tattooed participants (M=4.13, SE = .10, CI
[3.93, 4.33]). Finally, there was a main effect of
participant gender, F(1, 136) = 5.46, p=.02, ƞ
= .04. Male participants (M=3.86, SE = .09, CI
[3.67, 4.04]) rated all stimuli more negatively than did female participants (M=4.13, SE = .07, CI
[3.99, 4.27]). There were no significant interaction effects.
We conducted between-participants ANOVAs examining differences in the broad characteristics
ratings of each individual image with and without a tattoo (Figure 2). Although we standardized the
stimuli as much as possible, the images are of real people and therefore may have interindividual
variability that we believed was important to assess. For target male A, there was a main effect of
target tattoo status, F(1, 132) = 10.04, p=.002, ƞ
= .06. Participants rated target male A more
negatively on broad trait characteristics when he was seen with a tattoo (M=4.00, SE = .11, CI
[3.79, 4.22]) versus without a tattoo (M=4.51, SE = .11, CI
[4.28, 4.73). For target male B, there
were no differences in ratings when viewed with a tattoo versus without a tattoo, F(1, 132) = 0.04,
p=.85, ƞ
< .01. For target female A and target female B, there were significant effects of tattoo
Downloaded by [] at 04:57 09 November 2017
status, A: F(1, 132) = 10.48, p=.002, ƞ
= .06; B: F(1, 132) = 10.21, p=.002, ƞ
= .07. Participants
rated both target female A (M=3.76, SE = .13, CI
[3.51, 4.02]) and target female B (M=4.34,
SE = .14, CI
[4.06, 4.61]) more negatively when she was seen with a tattoo versus without a tattoo
(M=4.37, SE = .13, CI
[4.10, 4.63]; M=4.96, SE = .14, CI
[4.69, 5.24]).
In the analysis using only ratings of the attribute strong-weak, there was a main effect of target tattoo
status, F(1, 136) = 9.30, p=.003, ƞ
= .02. Participants rated tattooed targets as stronger (M=4.62,
Strength Independence Broad Characteristics Strength-Independence Broad Characteristics
Study 1 Study 2
(high numbers indicate more positive)
Tattooed Male Tattooed Female Non-Tattooed Male Non-Tattooed Female
Figure 1. Effects of target gender and target tattoo status on attribution factor ratings of images for Study 1 (student sample) and
Study 2 (mTurk sample). Error bars represent standard error.
Figure 2. Ratings of individual targets with and without tattoos, Study 1 (student sample). Error bars represent standard error.
Downloaded by [] at 04:57 09 November 2017
SE = .11, CI
[4.41, 4.84]) than non-tattooed targets (M=4.18, SE = .10, CI
[3.98, 4.38];
Figure 1). There was also a main effect of target gender, F(1, 136) = 6.08, p=.02, ƞ
= .01.
Participants rated female targets (M=4.24, SE = .11, CI
[4.02, 4.46]) as weaker than male targets
(M=4.57, SE = .09, CI
[4.38, 4.75]; Figure 1).
We found a two-way interaction of target gender and target tattoo status, F(1, 136) = 4.16, p=.04,
= .01 (Figure 1). Simple effects tests indicated that participants rated male targets similarly,
regardless of tattoo status (tattooed: M=4.60, SE = .16, CI
[4.29, 4.92]; non-tattooed: M=4.53,
SE = .17, CI
[4.20, 4.85]), F(1, 136) = 0.08, p=.78, ƞ
< .01), but female targets as stronger when
they had a tattoo (M=4.64, SE = .14, CI
[4.37, 4.91] vs. M=3.84, SE = .15, CI
[3.55, 4.13], F(1,
136) = 19.35, p< .001, ƞ
= .12).
To test for differences in strength factor ratings for each target image, we conducted between-
participants ANOVAs (Figure 2). For target male A, there was not a significant effect of tattoo
status, F(1, 132) = 0.69, p=.41, ƞ
< .01; however, there was a 3-way interaction of target tattoo
status, participant tattoo status, and participant gender, F(1, 132) = 4.46, p=.04, ƞ
= .03. For
tattooed participants, there were no differences in ratings of target male A by gender (F(1,
30) = 0.18, p=.68) or target tattoo status (F(1, 30) = 0.12, p=.73). For non-tattooed
participants, there was a main effect for participant gender F(1, 102) = 8.37, p=.005, ƞ
= .07,
and target tattoo status, F(1, 102) = 4.77, p=.03, ƞ
= .04. Non-tattooed female participants
(M=5.80, SE = .14, CI
[5.53, 6.08]) rated target male A as stronger than non-tattooed male
participants (M=5.13, SE = .19, CI
[4.76, 5.50]). Non-tattooed participants also rated target
male A as stronger without a tattoo (M=5.72, SE = .16, CI
[5.40, 6.04]) versus with a tattoo
(M=5.21, SE = .17, CI
[4.88, 5.55]).
For target male B, there was not a significant difference in ratings on the strength factor based on
target tattoo status, F(1, 132) = 0.79, p=.38, ƞ
< .01. For target female A, there was a significant
effect of target tattoo status, F(1, 132) = 11.38, p=.001, ƞ
= .08. Participants rated target female A as
stronger when seen with a tattoo (M=4.48, SE = .20, CI
[4.08, 4.87]) versus without a tattoo
(M=3.52, SE = .20, CI
[3.11, 3.92). For target female B there was not a significant effect of target
tattoo status, F(1, 132) = 3.36, p=.07, ƞ
= .02.
Independence factor
In the analysis using only ratings of the attribute independent-dependent, there was a main effect of
target tattoo status, F(1, 136) = 24.40, p<.001, ƞ
= .06. Participants rated tattooed targets as more
independent (M=5.18, SE = .13, CI
[4.94, 5.43]) than non-tattooed targets (M=4.41, SE = .12,
[4.18, 4.64]; Figure 1). There were no effects for participant gender (F(1, 136) = 0.94, p= .33,
= .01) or participant tattoo status (F(1, 136) = 2.98, p= .09, ƞ
= .02.
There was a two-way interaction of target gender and target tattoo status, F(1, 136) = 5.25, p=.02,
= .01 (Figure 1). Participants rated male targets similarly regardless of tattoo status (tattooed:
M=5.05, SE = .19, CI
[4.69, 5.42]; non-tattooed: M=4.66, SE = .16, CI
[4.34, 4.97]), F(1,
136) = 2.78, p=.10, ƞ
= .02), but female targets as significantly more independent when tattooed
(M=5.31, SE = .14, CI
[5.03, 5.59]) versus not tattooed (M=4.17, SE = .16, CI
[3.86, 4.48]), F
(1, 136) = 30.05, p< .001, ƞ
= .18).
Finally, there was also a four-way interaction of target gender, target tattoo status, participant
gender, and participant tattoo status, F(1, 136) = 8.58, p=.004, ƞ
= .02 (Figure 3). For female
targets, there was a main effect of target tattoo status, F(1, 136) = 30.05, p< .001, ƞ
= .18).
Participants, regardless of gender or tattoo status, rated tattooed female targets as more independent
(M=5.31, SE = .14, CI
[5.30, 5.59]) than non-tattooed female targets (M=4.17, SE = .16, CI
[3.86, 4.48]). There was also a three-way interaction between target tattoo status, participant gender,
and participant tattoo status, F(1, 136) = 4.04, p= .047, ƞ
= .02. Tattooed participants rated the
target women as more independent when the targets had a tattoo (M= 5.43, SE = .20, CI
5.85] than when they did not (M= 4.33, SE = .27, CI
[3.77, 4.88], F(1, 32) = 15.39, p< .001,
= .31, as did nontattooed participants (M= 5.19, SE = .15 CI
[4.90, 5.48] vs. M= 4.02, SE = .16
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[3.71, 4.32], F(1, 104) = 28.44, p< .001, ƞ
= .21. For nontattooed participants, there was a
tendency (interaction effect p= .06) for the effect to be stronger for male participants than for female
Analyzing only male targets, there was not a significant main effect of target tattoo status, F(1,
136) = 2.78, p=.10, ƞ
= .02, indicating that independence factor ratings of male targets did not
differ based on the targetstattoo status. There was a three-way interaction between target tattoo
status, participant gender, and participant tattoo status, F(1, 136) = 4.86, p=.03, ƞ
= .03. Examining
tattooed participants only, there was an interaction between participant gender and target tattoo
status, F(1, 32) = 4.90, p=.03, ƞ
= .13, such that tattooed male participants rated tattooed male
targets (M=5.39, SE = .46, CI
[4.46, 6.31]) as more independent than non-tattooed male targets
(M=4.08, SE = .39, CI
[3.28, 4.88]), whereas tattooed female participantsratings of the male
targets were not significantly different based on the targets tattoo status (tattooed male target:
M=5.19, SE = .36, CI
[4.46, 5.92]; non-tattooed male target: M=5.48, SE = .31, CI
6.11]). Non-tattooed participantsratings of the male targets were not significantly different based on
participant gender (F(1, 104) = .10, p=.75, ƞ
< .01) or target tattoo status (F(1, 104) = 1.34, p=.25,
= .01).
We also assessed ratings of each target image individually. There were no significant effects of
target tattoo status, participant tattoo status, or participant gender on the ratings of target male A or
target male B. The was a significant main effect of target tattoo status for both female target A (F
(1,132) = 11.43, p= .001, η
= .07) and female target B (F(1,132) = 16.16, p< .001, η
= .10). Both
female targets were rated as more independent with a tattoo (target female A: M= 5.03, SE = .22, CI
[4.58, 5.47]; target female B: M= 5.52, SE = .20, CI
[5.13, 5.92]) than without a tattoo (target
female A: M= 3.94, SE = .23, CI
[3.49, 4.40]; target female B: M= 4.41, SE = .19, CI
[4.02, 4.79]).
Are the stereotypes true?
Are tattooed individuals actually different from non-tattooed individuals in some of the stereotypical
ways (i.e., heavier drinkers, more negative personality traits, less intelligent)? To assess this question,
we conducted t-tests comparing tattooed participants and non-tattooed participants on measures of
drinking behavior, personality, and cognitive ability.
Figure 3. Effects of participant gender, participant tattoo status, stimulus gender, and stimulus tattoo status on the Independence
Factor ratings of images, Study 1 (student sample). Error bars represent standard error.
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Tattooed participants reported significantly higher quantities and frequencies of drinking beha-
vior than non-tattooed participants (t(140) =2.27, p=.03, d=0.44; Table 1). Tattooed participants
were significantly older (M= 19.68, SD = 1.99, CI
[18.97, 20.39]) than non-tattooed participants
(M= 19.07, SD = 1.21, CI
[18.84, 19.30]), t(135) = 2.11, p= .04, d= 0.37, possibly because the
younger student participants only recently became of legal age for getting a tattoo (i.e., 18 years old),
whereas the older student participants had been of legal age slightly longer. Because drinking may
also vary with age, we conducted an ANCOVA with age as a covariate. When age was included as a
covariate, the effect of tattoo status was no longer significant, F(1, 134) = 2.61, p=.11, ƞ
= .02,
indicating that the difference between tattooed and non-tattooed participants in drinking behavior
may in part be due to age.
Tattooed participants were also higher in the personality trait assured-dominant (t
(140) =2.06, p=.04, d=0.38) and lower in the trait unassured-submissive (t(140) =2.68,
p=.01, d=0.54; Table 1), although it should be noted that the reliability for the unassured-
submissive trait in particular was low. These traits are polar opposites on the dominance pole of
the dominance-warmth personality plane. The assured-dominant trait can be understood as high
warmth and high dominance, whereas unassured-submissive represents high warmth and low
dominance (Markey & Markey, 2009). There were no differences between tattooed and non-
tattooed participants on the arrogant-calculating, cold-hearted, aloof-introverted, unassuming-
ingenuous, warm-agreeable, or gregarious-extraverted traits. We also computed ipsatized scores
for these scales to control for possible acquiescence bias (DeYoung, Weisberg, Quilty, & Peterson,
2013;Locke,2010); however, the conclusions were not altered when using the ipsatized data. We
also conducted an ANCOVA with age as a covariate for the personality traits. The unassured-
submissive trait remained significantly different between tattooed and non-tattooed participants,
F(1, 134) = 10.20, p=.002, ƞ
= .07; however, the assured-dominant trait only approached
significance, F(1, 134) = 3.05, p=.08, ƞ
= .02, suggesting that differences in this trait may be in
part due to age rather than tattoo status.
Table 1. Descriptive statistics for tattooed versus non-tattooed student participant characteristics (Study 1).
Do you have any tattoos? N M SD d
Drinking behavior Yes 34 2.43 1.05 0.44*
No 108 1.98 .98
Cold-Hearted Yes 34 2.60 .60 0.10
No 108 2.54 .61
Aloof-Introverted Yes 34 2.75 .90 0.18
No 108 2.91 .89
Unassured-Submissive Yes 34 2.95 .63 0.54*
No 108 3.30 .68
Unassuming-Ingenuous Yes 34 3.64 .59 0.02
No 108 3.65 .59
Warm-Agreeable Yes 34 4.13 .62 0.08
No 108 4.18 .59
Gregarious-Extraverted Yes 34 3.68 .97 0.20
No 108 3.50 .88
Assured-Dominant Yes 34 2.80 .82 0.38*
No 108 2.51 .67
Arrogant Calculating Yes 34 2.18 .82 0.06
No 108 2.13 .66
Correct SAT questions Yes 21 3.05 1.60 0.34
No 74 3.55 1.29
GPA Yes 21 3.17 .47 0.09
No 55 3.22 .60
Age (in years) Yes 31 19.68 1.99 .35*
No 106 19.07 1.21
Note: * indicate significantly different means at p< .05. Negative ds indicate the tattooed group had lower scores than the non-
tattooed group.
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There were no significant differences in cognitive ability by participant tattoo status, as measured
by the number of correct SAT questions; however, there was a floor effect for the SAT questions,
with a mean score of 3.05 correct out of 9 questions. We asked student participants for permission to
access their cumulative college GPAs as another measure of cognitive ability; the mean GPAs for
both groups were remarkably similar (tattooed: M=3.17, SD = .47, CI
[2.97, 3.37; non-tattooed:
M=3.22, SD = .60, CI
[3.06,3.38]); Table 1).
Our college student participants rated tattooed men and women more negatively than non-tattooed
men and women on a broad characteristics factor, supporting previous research suggesting that
tattooed individuals are judged more negatively than non-tattooed individuals. This result was
consistent across both within-participant analyses (judgments of one target with a tattoo vs. another
target without) and between-participant analyses (judgments of the same target with vs. without a
tattoo), for male targets and for female targets, for male and female participants, and for those with
as well as without tattoos. Although it might be expected that younger people may view tattoos more
positively than older adults (Timming, 2015), our results indicate that young people still judge
tattooed individuals negatively. The only exceptions were on strength and independence, where
participants perceived tattooed women (but not tattooed men) as stronger and more independent.
These stereotypes may have some basis in fact, as tattooed participants scored higher in dom-
inance and deviant behavior (in this case, alcohol use) than those without tattoos, although the
alcohol finding may have been in part due to age-related differences.
These findings expand on previous research, using more ecologically valid measures (i.e., photo-
graphs of targets), but this study as well as most previous research used a college student sample.
College students may have different concerns and reactions to tattoos than the general public. In
Study 2, we examined whether a more diverse sample would have similarly negative views of
tattooed individuals.
Study 2
The mTurk sample (N=104; M
=42.69, SD
=14.5) was older with a more varied age range.
They were also more ethnically diverse than the undergraduate sample; of 99 participants who
responded to the ethnicity question, 77.8% were European-American; 9.1%, African American; 7.1%,
Asian American; 5.1%, Hispanic; and 1%, other ethnicities. Finally, the mTurk sample was also more
diverse in location (i.e., region of the country: 44.4% from the South, 22.2% from the West, 19.2%
from the Midwest, 14.1% from the Northeast, compared to 95.8% of the student sample from the
Midwest). Twenty-seven participants (27.3%) had at least one tattoo. mTurk workers provided their
worker ID to receive $0.25 compensation. Requirements for participation were that they were U.S.
residents with worker ratings of 95% or higher.
After workers who selected this study consented to participate, they began the study. As Study 2 is a
replication of Study 1, sampling from a different, non-student population, the methods and materials
were identical to Study 1, with the exception of not requesting GPAs and some minor differences in
demographic items (e.g., level of education vs. college major). We also added an open-ended item
about their perceptions of cultural attitudes toward tattooed people (i.e., What prejudices do you
think there are against people with tattoos?). This item appeared at the end of the demographics
section, after the ratings of all targets.
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We conducted factor analyses on each character attribute for each target image, as in Study 1, and
found a similar pattern: Strong-weak and independent-dependent tended to load on one factor
(strength-independence factor; average α= .55
) and all other character attributes tended to load on
another factor (broad characteristics factor; average α= .94). Scale reliabilities for most of the
remaining measures were similar to those in the college sample: AUDIT α= .59; IPIP subscales:
arrogant-calculating α= .81; cold-hearted α= .33; aloof-introverted α= .77; unassured-submissive
α= .61; unassuming-ingenuous α= .61; warm-agreeable α= .84; gregarious-extraverted α= .86;
assured-dominant α= .85.
As in Study 1, we conducted separate 2(target gender: male, female) × 2(target tattoo status: tattooed,
non-tattooed) × 2(participant gender: male, female) × 2(participant tattoo status: tattooed, non-
tattooed) repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVAs), with one character attribute factor as
the dependent variable in each analysis (because of the higher reliability, we combined strength and
independence into one factor in this study). We also conducted between-participant analyses to
examine different perceptions of each target with or without a tattoo (i.e., 2(target tattoo status:
tattooed, non-tattooed) × 2 (participant gender: male, female) × 2 (participant tattoo status: tattooed,
non-tattooed) ANOVAs).
Broad characteristics factor
Participants rated tattooed targets (M=4.16, SE =.14, CI
[3.89, 4.43]) more negatively than non-
tattooed targets (M=4.52, SE = .10, CI
[4.32, 4.73]), F(1, 94) = 9.59, p=.003, ƞ
= .03.
Participants also rated male targets (M=3.94, SE = .12, CI
[3.71, 4.17]) more negatively than
female targets (M=4.74, SE = .12, CI
[4.49, 4.98]), F(1, 94) = 51.61, p<.001, ƞ
= .14 (Figure 1).
There were no significant main effects or interactions for participant characteristics (i.e., gender,
tattoo status).
As in Study 1, we also compared ratings of each individual target with and without a tattoo.
Participants tended to rate target male A more negatively when seen with a tattoo (M=3.75,
SE = .18, CI
[3.39, 4.11]) than when seen without a tattoo (M=4.30, SE = .21, CI
[3.88, 4.72]),
F(1, 90) = 3.90, p=.05, ƞ
= .04. There was no effect of target tattoo status for target male B, F(1,
90) = 0.66, p=.42, ƞ
< .01, target female A, F(1, 90) = 0.17, p=.68, ƞ
< .01, or target female B, F(1,
90) = 2.74, p=.10, ƞ
= .03; Figure 4).
Strength-independence factor
Participants rated tattooed targets (M=4.83, SE =.14, CI
[4.56, 5.10]) as stronger and more
independent than non-tattooed targets (M=4.43, SE = .12, CI
[4.19, 4.68]), F(1, 94) = 8.90,
p=.004, ƞ
= .03 (Figure 1). As in the broad characteristics factor analysis, there were no significant
effects of participantstattoo status or participant gender on the ratings of stimuli, nor an effect of
target gender.
We also conducted ANOVAs comparing ratings of each target viewed with and without a tattoo.
There was no significant difference in strength-independence ratings with a tattoo versus without a
tattoo for target male A, F(1, 90) = 2.62, p=.11, ƞ
= .03, or target female B, F(1, 90) = 2.45, p=.12,
= .03. Participants tended to rate target male B as stronger and more independent when seen with
a tattoo (M=4.50, SE = .25, CI
[4.00, 5.00]) than when seen without a tattoo (M=3.86, SE = .22,
[3.42, 4.29]), F(1, 90) = 3.78, p=.06, ƞ
= .04. Participants rated target female A as stronger
and more independent when seen with a tattoo (M=4.94, SE = .22, CI
[4.50, 5.38]) than when
seen without a tattoo (M=4.07, SE = .26, CI
[3.56, 4.58]), F(1, 90) = 6.49, p=.01, ƞ
= .06
(Figure 4).
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Are the stereotypes true?
There were no significant differences between tattooed and non-tattooed participants in drinking
behavior, personality traits (i.e., assured-dominant, arrogant-calculating, cold-hearted, aloof-intro-
verted, unassured-submissive, unassuming-ingenuous, warm-agreeable, gregarious-extraverted), or
cognitive ability (i.e., SAT question scores; Table 2). We computed ipsatized scores for the person-
ality traits; however, as in Study 1, the conclusions were not altered from the tests conducted on the
non-ipsatized data. It should be noted that there were floor effects on both the number of correct
SAT questions (about three correct answers out of nine questions) and drinking behavior (an
average score of less than two for both samples). Tattooed participants were significantly younger
(M= 36.96, SD = 12.13, CI
[32.33, 41.60]) than non-tattooed participants (M= 44.87, SD = 14.75,
Table 2. Descriptive statistics for tattooed versus non-tattooed mturk participant characteristics (Study 2).
Do you have any tattoos? N M SD d
Drinking behavior Yes 27 1.80 .89 0.04
No 72 1.76 .86
Cold-Hearted Yes 27 2.54 .68 0.27
No 72 2.72 .64
Aloof-Introverted Yes 27 3.05 .97 0.27
No 72 3.30 .96
Unassured-Submissive Yes 27 3.60 .64 0.16
No 72 3.72 .81
Unassuming-Ingenuous Yes 27 3.72 .70 0.08
No 72 3.78 .71
Warm-Agreeable Yes 27 4.01 .83 0.10
No 72 3.93 .75
Gregarious-Extraverted Yes 27 3.21 1.10 0.28
No 72 2.92 1.03
Assured-Dominant Yes 27 2.10 .95 0.04
No 72 2.14 .91
Arrogant-Calculating Yes 27 2.06 .80 0.04
No 72 2.02 .91
Correct SAT Questions Yes 22 3.14 1.83 0.18
No 49 2.84 1.56
Age (in years) Yes 27 36.96 12.13 0.59*
No 71 44.87 14.75
Note: * indicate significantly different means at p< .05. Negative ds indicate the tattooed group had lower scores than the non-
tattooed group.
Figure 4. Ratings of individual targets with and without tattoos, Study 2 (mTurk sample). Error bars represent standard error.
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[41.40, 48.35]), t(96) = 2.48, p= .02, d=0.59. As in Study 1, we conducted an ANCOVA
comparing tattooed and non-tattooed participants on drinking behavior, cognitive ability, and
personality traits with age as a covariate. None of the variables became significant when controlling
for age.
The findings in Study 2 largely mirror the findings in Study 1 with a more demographically diverse
sample: mTurk participants rated tattooed targets as stronger and more independent (both men and
women in this case) than non-tattooed targets, but more negatively overall. These effects did not
differ depending on whether the participant was male or female or had a tattoo. The community
participants generally did not rate the individual target images differently when seen with or without
a tattoo, with the exceptions of one male target who they rated more negatively when tattooed, and
one target female they rated as stronger and more independent when tattooed. Together, these
findings may indicate a stigma against tattooed individuals that does not vary much with age or
demographics. There were no differences between participants with and without tattoos in drinking
behavior, performance on SAT questions, or personality, suggesting that the stereotypes may be
based more on social perceptions than fact.
General discussion
Across both studies and several stimuli showing both men and women, participants rated targets
with an arm tattoo more negatively than the same target images with the tattoos digitally removed,
with an average small effect size. The only exception was that participants rated tattooed targets, and
especially tattooed women, as stronger and more independent than non-tattooed targets. These
findings are consistent with prior research showing that people view tattooed women as less passive
and more powerful than non-tattooed women (Hawkes et al., 2004).
The unique contributions of this study to the field of tattoo prejudice include increased ecological
validity through the use of photographs of real people rather than drawings or descriptions of people
and high internal validity through the use of both a within- and between-subjects design.
Additionally, we compared judgments of both male and female targets, whereas some previous
research (see Baumann et al., 2016; Wohlrab et al., 2009; for exceptions) has only examined attitudes
toward tattooed women versus non-tattooed women.
Interestingly, people with tattoos were no less negative toward tattooed targets than the non-
tattooed. This finding may reflect a dissociation between the self and others such that people judge
others more negatively than the self (i.e., Its okay for me, but not for them). It is also possible that
tattooed individuals have internalized tattoo stigma (i.e., come to agree with the negative stereotypes
associated with their identity; Quinn et al., 2014), which leads them to endorse tattoo stereotypes not
only about themselves, but about other tattooed persons. Additionally, perceptions of tattoo stigma
as a controllable stigma may contribute to tattooed individuals negative judgments about the
location, design, or quality of otherstattoos, resulting in the type of negative sentiments found in
prior research (e.g., Timming, 2015). It should be noted that the number of participants with tattoos
in both samples was relatively small, which may have influenced the power of these comparisons;
however, the number of tattooed participants (students = 23.9%; mTurk = 27.3%) was comparable to
national estimates of tattoo ownership (2030%; Shannon-Massal, 2016; Laumann & Derick, 2016)
and to rates found in previous studies (e.g., Swami et al., 2015; Zescott, Tompkins et al., 2017).
Furthermore, our investigation of actual differences between tattooed and non-tattooed partici-
pants on several stereotypical traits (i.e., drinking behavior, personality traits, intelligence) revealed
that tattooed college students in our sample engaged in more alcoholic drinking behavior and were
higher in dominance than their non-tattooed counterparts. These tests of stereotype accuracy were
not the main focus of our study, however, and the measures provide only a very general test of
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whether tattoo stereotypes may have some validity. The findings for drinking behavior among
college students were weaker when age was controlled, and in the community sample there were
no differences (and little variability) between tattooed and non-tattooed participants. Similarly, some
of the personality variables assessed had relatively low reliability, and the effects only emerged for the
college sample. Interestingly, although participants viewed female targets in particular as stronger
and more independent, tests for interaction effects between participant gender and participant tattoo
status on personality traits were non-significant in both samples. Finally, neither of our proxy
measures of intelligenceperformance on SAT questions nor GPA for the college samplediffered
for tattooed vs. non-tattooed participants. Together these findings suggest that common stereotypes
of people with tattoos as more rebellious, higher in risk taking, and less intelligent and motivated
may not be true. Instead, these stereotypes may be used as a justification for and legitimization of
prejudice toward people based on how they look, as suggested by system justification theory (Jost &
Banaji, 1994; Jost et al., 2004).
Despite an increased prevalence of tattoos and little evidence that people with tattoos are different
in important ways from those without, stereotypes of people with tattoos remain strong, even among
those with tattoos themselves. These stereotypes can have far-reaching implications. For example,
tattoo discrimination in hiring is legal in both the United States and in Europe (Timming, 2015),
even when tattoos are part of a cultural heritage (Akoorie, 2013). Indeed, many companies
especially those providing customer servicehave explicit no visible tattoohiring policies, as do
some branches of the military, several police departments in major U.S. cities, and even some U.S.
school districts (Tat2x, 2015). Negative associations with tattoos may be partially reinforced by
corporate appearance standards, either directly or indirectly, because individuals with visible tattoos
are either not hired for jobs, not promoted to higher positions, or hide their tattoos in their
corporate roles. The removal of visible tattoos from corporate occupations, from the service industry
to corporate management, may serve as a confirmation bias that tattooed individuals are not capable
of holding steady jobs, possibly because of the undesirable attributes they possess.
Limitations and ideas for future research
The number of critical stimuli used in the current studies (two males and two females) is somewhat
small, and it could be argued that our findings are not necessarily due to the tattoo status of the
individual but rather to some other visual characteristics. However, we addressed this by using both
between-participants (each image was rated by separate groups of participants with vs. without a
tattoo) and within-participants (each participant rated one man and one woman with their original
tattoo and the other man and woman with their tattoos digitally removed) comparisons.
Based on our suspicion probe question at the end of both studies, it appears that social desirability
is unlikely to have affected target ratings, as only a handful of participants in either study thought the
study had anything to do with tattoos. In Study 1, only five participants (4%) mentioned tattoos
when asked what the study was about. Two participants thought the study was about how individual
differences of the participants (e.g., tattoo status) affected perceptions of people with tattoos or
piercings. The other three thought the study was about judgments of people based on their
appearance (which was the cover story for the study), but specifically mentioned tattoos as one
part of appearance people might be judged on (in addition to professional dressand hair color).
In Study 2, only 11 (10%) mentioned tattoos. The slightly higher percentage of people ascertaining
our purpose may have been higher because of the additional question we added about stereotypes of
people with tattoos, but it should be noted that this item (and all tattoo-related questions) came after
the target ratings.
We also had a relatively small sample size for Study 2, which may have prevented the detection of
some of the effects we found in Study 1 (e.g., effects of participant gender or tattoo status, interaction
between target tattoo status and target gender). Future research may benefit from replicating this
study with additional mTurk or other community samples with larger sample sizes.
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Although we informally pilot tested the stimuli images to control for attractiveness and other
physical characteristics, the images selected were all of young White individuals. It is possible that
some of the differences would be amplified if different ethnicities or ages were represented in the
stimuli. Racial minorities with tattoos may experience hiring discrimination at a greater rate than
tattooed Whites (Miller et al., 2009), but little to no research has examined stigmatizing attitudes
toward tattooed individuals of different ethnicities directly. Additionally, it would be of interest to
examine whether or not professional or formal clothing influences attitudes toward visibly tattooed
individuals and if there are differential effects of gender, ethnicity, and age for those with tattoos.
Future research should also examine tattoo content and location more directly. One study using
written descriptions showed that college students judged women with more visible tattoos more
negatively than women with more hidden tattoos (Hawkes et al., 2004). The style and content of
tattoos also has an impact on perceptions of the tattooed individual. College students and university
employees did not rate people with cutetattoos differently than people without tattoos; in
comparison, those same individuals shown with tribal tattoos were rated more negatively and
were seen as less suitable for hiring (Burgess & Clark, 2010). People also judge those with tribal
neck tattoos more negatively than those with neck tattoos of positive symbols (e.g., Baumann et al.,
2016; Zestcott, Bean, & Stone, 2017). Future research would benefit from integrating tattoo content
with tattoo location and visibility; to date, most studies using photographs have limited their targets
tattoos to the neck (Baumann et al., 2016) or to the upper arm (Burgess & Clark, 2010; this study).
Religious tattoos may be judged differently than abstract or tribal tattoos, and tattoos on the neck,
face, or hands (i.e., difficult to conceal) may be judged differently than tattoos on the upper arm, leg
or trunk.
People tend to make first impressions based on appearance that are often generalized to the general
character of the individual (Zebrowitz, Kikuchi, & Fellous, 2010). Negative stereotypes about
tattooed persons may lead people to generalize negative attributes to all tattooed individuals and
create the expectation that all tattooed individuals possess undesirable qualities (Goffman, 1963).
Alternatively, this same process of generalization could lead to more positive perceptions, especially
of tattooed women, who were seen as stronger and more independent in the current study, although
still more negatively than non-tattooed women on many other character traits including honesty,
intelligence, success, and capability. Tattoos represent a controlled stigma, incurring blame as well as
discrimination on the basis that tattoos are a voluntary contraction (Reeder & Pryor, 2008), and it
appears that tattooed persons may internalize this public stigma and stigmatize other tattooed
individuals. The widespread and acceptable stigmatization of tattooed individuals may remain
regardless of the popularity of tattoos.
1. After acceptance but before publication, we realized that the reliability for these two items had initially been
incorrectly calculated at .71. Given the correct reliability coefficient, we would have likely analyzed the two
items separately as in Study 1. Analyses of the separated items are available at and are
similar to those reported here with a few minor exceptions.
Disclosure statement
The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors alone are responsible for the content and writing of the article.
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... This finding corroborates previous studies suggesting visible tattoos and piercings are associated with diminished chances of employment (McElroy et al., 2014;Timming, 2017;Timming et al., 2015). Consistent with the theory of stigma (Goffman, 1963), negative evaluation of applications with tattoos and piercings emanates from the perceived or real association of such body modifications with negative attributes and deviant behaviours (Broussard & Harton, 2018;Dickson et al., 2014;Timming & Perrett, 2017;Zestcott et al., 2018). In the organizational context, the presence of visible tattoos or piercings on a job applicant elicits negative attributions about the individual and thereby projects a negative impression to recruiters about his or her suitability for employment (McElroy et al., 2014). ...
... This finding also partially supports that of Timming et al. (2015), which reported that tattoos and piercings were more disadvantageous for men than women. Our results are, however, at variance with those of other studies suggesting that attitudes towards tattoos are less negative for women than men (e.g., Baumann et al., 2016;Broussard & Harton, 2018). ...
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This study examined the effects of visible body modifications on the perceived employability of job applicants, and whether the type of body modification, applicant's gender, and job type influence these perceptions. Results from a mixed analysis of variance indicate that applicants with tattoos, piercings, and both tattoos and piercings were rated significantly lower on employability than applicants with no form of visible body modification. The type of visible body modification, however, made no significant difference in the employability ratings of job applicants. The negative effect on employability was lower for pierced female job applicants, tattooed male job applicants, and applicants seeking non-customer-facing jobs. These findings underscore the importance of appearance in employment selection and call for more attention to the potential consequences of visible body modifications.
... Individuals or groups are stigmatized when they are labeled, treated differently, or associated with unwelcome characteristics, resulting in a loss of status along with discrimination (Link and Phelan 2001;Rodhain and Gourmelen 2018). Examples of stigma are consumer bankruptcy stigma (Chin et al. 2019), stigma of obesity (Puhl and Heuer 2009;Rodhain and Gourmelen 2018;Shapiro et al. 2007), tattoo stigma (Broussard and Harton 2018), and region stereotype (Abdelwahab et al. 2022). ...
... Second, this study enhances the literature on stigma by association. Previous studies have mainly focused on how stigmatized people deal with the negative impacts of stigma (Broussard and Harton 2018;Chin et al. 2019), negative stigma by association (Argo and Main 2008;Hebl and Mannix 2003;Rodhain and Gourmelen 2018), or positive effects of undesired people on others under certain conditions (Shalev and Morwitz 2012;Warren and Mohr 2019;White et al. 2014). And previous studies showed that the stigma could spread through meaningful relationships (Baudino et al. 2021) or coincidental factors (Argo and Main 2008). ...
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This study examines how new brand users with stigma influence original brand users. This study investigates the negative impact of new brand users with stigma on the repurchase intention of original brand users, the mechanism of this effect, and the boundary conditions. Four experiments with 472 participants are conducted in the present study. Results from these experiments indicate that new brand users with stigma have a negative impact on the repurchase intention of original brand users, which is mediated by original brand users’ self-identity threats. In addition, the negative effect of new brands users with stigma on original brand users is strengthened by the degree of group similarity between the original and new stigmatized brand users. In contrast, this negative effect will be attenuated by original brand users’ group affirmation. Finally, managerial implications and limitations are discussed.
... However, within society it is evident that stereotype biases do exist and these have been shown to impact patient perceptions within healthcare. For example, extravagant hair colour (Yonekura et al. 2013) or tattoos (Baumann et al. 2016;Broussard and Harton 2018) have been shown to negatively impact patient perspectives in a healthcare setting. In addition, people with a Liverpool English accent have been perceived as less trustworthy than those with a Standard Southern British English (SSBE) accent (Torre et al. 2018). ...
... Whilst it is reassuring that any potential assessor biases did not appear to translate into a negative impact on candidates' scores, our findings suggest that the presence of a notable characteristic may lead to higher scores possibly as the candidate stands out. In relation to the tattooed candidate these findings are novel, as previous research has identified either no discernible difference or negative impacts on patient perceptions (Baumann et al. 2016;Broussard and Harton 2018;Cohen et al. 2018). Additionally, whilst higher scores were demonstrated for the candidate with purple hair both in this study and a previous study looking at medical examiners (Sam et al. 2021b), previous research has demonstrated that extravagant hair colours impact negatively on patient perceptions (Yonekura et al. 2013). ...
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Background: We have previously shown that clinical examiners' scoring is not negatively impacted when a candidate has a tattoo, unnatural hair colour, or a regional accent. We investigated whether these physical attributes in exam candidates impact patient scoring. Methods: Simulated/real patients were randomly assigned to watch five videos of simulated candidate performances of a cranial nerve examination: clear fail, borderline, good, 'clear pass' without an attribute, and 'clear pass' with one of the attributes (tattoo, purple hair, accent). Participants scored domains of communication and professionalism. We compared scores for the clear pass candidates with and without attributes. Results: One hundred and eighty three patients participated. The total scores for the candidates with tattoos and purple hair were higher than the candidate with no physical attribute (p < 0.001). For the candidate with a Liverpool English accent no difference was identified (p = 0.120). Conclusions: The presence of certain physical attributes (tattoos or purple hair) was associated with higher scores given by patients to candidates in a simulated physical examination station.
... As body modifications have increased in global popularity, so too have studies of body modifications proliferated in a way that is theoretically and methodologically diverse. Despite this, we were surprised to find recent studies that seemed to take antiquated theoretical perspectives by framing research in terms of correlations with risk behaviour (e.g., Broussard and Harton, 2018). Why do researchers continue to revisit the notion that people with body modifications represent or are from stigmatised groups despite the overwhelming number of studies indicating that body modifications more accurately reflect prosocial rather than anti-social means of social communication (examples of significant treatments include Atkinson, 2004;Lingel and Boyd, 2013;Pitts, 2003)? ...
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Body modification is a blanket term for tattooing, piercing, scarring, cutting, and other forms of bodily alteration generally associated with fashion, identity, or cultural markings. Body modifications like tattooing and piercing have become so common in industrialised regions of the world that what were once viewed as marks of abnormality are now considered normal. However, the psychological motivations for body modification practices are still being investigated regarding deviance or risky behaviours, contributing to a sense in the academic literature that body modifications are both normal and deviant. We explored this inconsistency by conducting a scoping review of the psychological literature on body modifications under the assumption that the psychological and psychiatric disciplines set the standard for related research. We searched for articles in available online databases and retained those published in psychology journals or interdisciplinary journals where at least one author is affiliated with a Psychology or Psychiatry programme (N = 94). We coded and tabulated the articles thematically, identifying five categories and ten subcategories. The most common category frames body modifications in general terms of risk, but other categories include health, identity, credibility/employability, and fashion/attractiveness. Trends in psychology studies seem to follow the shifting emphasis in the discipline from a clinical orientation regarding normality and abnormality to more complex social psychological approaches.
... Tattoos are the final manipulation that we explored under this category. Historically, police agencies in many places have barred officers from visibly displaying tattoos while in uniform, frequently citing a concern about their potentially negative perceptual effects (McMullen & Gibbs, 2019; see also Broussard & Harton, 2018). Nonetheless, several agencies, at least in the United States, have started to relax their policies in recent years (if not already relaxed) for a number of different reasons, including difficulties recruiting new officers and changes in generational norms. ...
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Tattoos are less prevalent in Mexico and tattooed persons are frequently stigmatized. We examine the prevalence and correlates of interest in receiving tattoo removal services among 278 tattooed Mexican adults living in Tijuana, Mexico who responded to interviewer-administered surveys, including open-ended questions. Overall, 69% of participants were interested in receiving free tattoo removal services, 31% reported facing employment barriers due to their tattoos, and 43% of respondents regretted or disliked some of their tattoos. Having a voter identification card, reporting moderate/severe depression symptoms and believing that tattoo removal would remove employment barriers were independently associated with interest in tattoo removal. Our findings suggest that there is substantial interest in tattoo removal services. Publicly financed tattoo removal services may help disadvantaged persons gain access to Mexico's labor market and it may positively impact other life domains such as mental well-being and interactions with law enforcement.
... Przy czym wytatuowane kobiety charakteryzowały się niższą samooceną własnej cielesności niż kobiety bez takich modyfikacji [12,13]. Wytatuowane ciało postrzegane jest jako silniejsze i bardziej niezależne, chociaż jednocześnie jest ono negatywnie oceniane pod względem innych atrybutów [14]. Kobiety po upływie kilku tygodni od wykonania tatuażu zgłaszały odczuwanie niepokoju w związku z oceną własnego fizycznego Ja [11]. ...
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Cel pracy Tatuaż i kolczykowanie ciała stają się coraz bardziej popularne. Psychologiczne podejście do takich modyfikacji ciała wciąż pozostaje heterogeniczne. Celem niniejszej replikacji było oszacowanie poziomu satysfakcji z życia i samooceny oraz ujawnienie subiektywnie doświadczanych objawów zaburzeń zdrowia psychicznego u osób, które deklarowały posiadanie tatuażu i/lub piercingu w trakcie epidemii koronawirusa. Metoda Badania zostały przeprowadzone w okresie od kwietnia do czerwca 2020 w formie on-line. Uczestnicy (N = 557) byli w wieku 15-68 lat. Wyniki Nie stwierdzono istotnych różnic w postrzeganej satysfakcji z życia, samoocenie i ocenie zdrowia psychicznego pomiędzy osobami z modyfikacjami ciała i bez nich. Ujawnione różnice w wymiarach samooceny oraz ilości subiektywnie odczuwanych objawów depresji okazały się mieć charakter przypadkowy. Wnioski Wszyscy uczestnicy badania (niezależnie od posiadania modyfikacji ciała) mieli świadomość posiadania i umięjętności wykorzystania zasobów osobistych, by radzić sobie z sytuacją pandemii COVID-19. Modyfikacje ciała nie należy traktować jako czynnik ryzyka. Szczególnie wśród osób wytatuowanych wraz ze wzrostem satysfakcji z życia wzrastała samoocena funkcjonowania psychologicznego.
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Using narrative inquiry, we explored 10 participants’ tattoo narratives. The purpose of this qualitative study was to see how participants’ tattoo narratives reflect their lifestyle as conceptualized in Adlerian theory. Results indicate that participants used tattoo narratives to reveal information related to the assumed premises of the lifestyle syllogism. Three themes emerged from a thematic narrative analysis of the interviews: (a) view of self, (b) view of others, and (c) view of the world. Key concepts that emerged from a discussion of the themes were (a) communicative power of tattoos and (b) spirituality. Limitations, recommendations for future qualitative and quantitative research, and implications for practice were discussed.
Tattoos are common practice in underrepresented groups. However, institutional policies often prohibit visible tattoos of healthcare professionals. This affects marginalized groups where tattoos may be the cultural norm. There are conflicting findings on perceptions of tattoos on medical professionals from the perspectives of peers, patients, and learners. Tattoo restriction can be discriminatory against already marginalized persons and send a message of exclusion. Policies surrounding tattoo restriction should be re-evaluated to create an inclusive environment for all.
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Tattoos are increasing in popularity, yet minimal research has examined implicit attitudes or the relationship between implicit and explicit attitudes toward tattooed individuals. Seventy-seven online participants (Mage = 36.09, 52% women, 78% white, 26% tattooed) completed measures assessing implicit and explicit attitudes toward tattooed individuals. Results revealed evidence of negative implicit attitudes, which were associated with less perceived warmth, competence, and negative explicit evaluations. However, implicit attitudes were not correlated with measures of disgust or social distance. In addition, age predicted implicit prejudice, but other individual difference measures, such as personal tattoo possession, political identity, and internal/external motivations to respond without prejudice, did not. These findings are discussed in terms of how attitudes toward tattooed individuals may be multifaceted and research may benefit from measuring implicit and explicit attitudes.
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Background: Many people have prejudices that subjects with tattoos have a tendency to criminal behavior. This article deals with the question if there really are differences in the inclination to criminal behavior between tattooed and non-tattooed people. Method: The investigation was conducted using 15 short descriptions of criminal behavior, which represent different crimes i.e. theft, burglary, malicious damage, consuming drugs, drinking alcohol in public transport or acting violent. The participants had to rate from zero to ten how they would react in these situations. A total of 110 persons (average age 23.5 y., 66.4% male, 33.6% female; 55% no tattoo, 45% tattooed) were interviewed. Results: There was a small but significant difference between tattooed and non-tattooed people. Interestingly there was a significant intra-group difference between more pacific and more aggressive tattoo themes. In consideration of the gender, the number of tattoos and the visibility of tattoo no significant differences or correlations were discovered. Conclusion: Decisive for the tendency toward criminal behavior is not, whether someone has a tattoo or not; more important is what the tattoo shows. Apparently people with aggressive tattoos are more prone to criminal behavior, but not people with peaceful tattoos.
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Three studies examined if people express negative implicit attitudes toward individuals with a tattoo near the face. In Study 1, participants who completed an Implicit Association Test (IAT) expressed moderately negative implicit attitudes toward individuals with a tribal tattoo on one side of the neck. Study 2 replicated Study 1 when the tattoo was symmetrical, suggesting that negative affect, and not processing fluency, underlies the implicit negative evaluation of individuals with a tribal tattoo near the face. Study 3 showed dissociation between explicit and implicit attitudes toward individuals with a tribal tattoo near the face, and that the negative implicit evaluation was attenuated if the tattoo image was an objectively positive symbol. The implications for displaying a tattoo near the face are discussed.
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Emerging evidence suggests that there are few differences in the personality profiles of tattooed and non-tattooed adults. To add to this literature, we compared tattooed and non-tattooed adults in terms of their willingness to take risks in multiple domains, as well as their impulsivity and boredom proneness. Adults from central Europe (N = 1006) completed measures of the afore-mentioned concepts and reported the number of tattoos they had. In total, 19.1% of respondents had at least one tattoo, with no significant differences as a function of sex, nationality, education, or marital status. We also found that tattooed adults had higher motor impulsivity and were more willing to take risks in recreational and health and safety domains. However, effect sizes of these differences were negligible to small. Among tattooed adults, there were no significant associations between the number of tattoos possessed and any of the measured variables. These results suggest that tattooed and non-tattooed adults nowadays are more similar than different.
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Heavy Metal fans have a unique style of dress, music and interaction via which a sub-cultural community is formed and maintained. This article explores how this community is embodied through tattoos and the display of cultural symbols associated with the shared identity of Metallers. We employ the concept of metonym as a means of exploring the bodyscape of a particular Metaller and his interactions with others. The concept of the bodyscape is used to theorise links between community and identity as enacted at sub-cultural events.
The purpose of this experiment is to examine the gendered effects of body art on consumers' attitudes toward visibly tattooed employees. We analyse the reaction of 262 respondents with exposure to male and female front line staff in two distinct job contexts: a surgeon and an automobile mechanic. The results demonstrate differences on three dimensions: (a) job context, (b) sex of face and (c) stimulus (i.e., tattooed or not). We demonstrate significant interaction effects on those three dimensions, and our findings point to the intersectionality of gender-based and tattoo-based discrimination. Consumers have a negative reaction to body art, but perceptions of tattoos on male and female front line staff differ significantly. A key marketing challenge is how to balance employees' individual rights to self-expression and at the same time cater to consumers' expectations regarding appearance of staff. Our study forms the basis for this debate that is only just emerging.