Are tattooed adults different from non-tattooed adults in terms of their impulsivity and willingness to take risks? They may have been–once upon a time when tattoos were much more risquee and fringe than they are today. But a new study published in Personality And Individual Differences found that these days they are not… or rather, not much.
Psychologist Viren Swami and colleagues at the University of Westminster, London, wondered whether tattooed individuals would be more risk-taking, impulsive, and prone to boredom than their non-tattooed counterparts. If so, does more tattoos mean more risk taking and impulsivity? To find out, the researchers surveyed over 1,000 participants from central Europe between the ages of 18-76, 19% of whom had at least one tattoo, and had them rate themselves on several scales of risk taking, impulsivity, and boredom proneness.
The graph below present the results from one of these scales: People’s stated likelihood of engaging in risky attitudes or behaviors in five domains of life (ethics, finances, health and safety, social, and recreation). As predicted, tattooed people were somewhat more willing to take risks when it came to health and safety and recreation. However, there were no differences in two other domains (ethical and social), and tattooed people were actually less likely to take financial risks than non-tattooed people.
In addition to the risk-taking scale, participants also filled out scales to assess their impulsivity and boredom proneness. Tattooed people did report greater Motor Impulsiveness (the tendency to act on the spur of the moment), but not more Attentional Impulsiveness (not being able to stay focused on a task, having intrusive thoughts, and racing thoughts), nor more Non-Planning Impulsiveness (lack of careful thinking and planning, and enjoyment of challenging mental tasks). Finally, there was no difference between tattooed and non-tattooed people in how prone to boredom they were- both in terms of needing External Stimulation (need for variety and change) and Internal Stimulation (perceived inability to generate sufficient stimulation for oneself).
These findings suggest that, contrary to expectations, tattooed and non-tattooed adults are more similar than different. Most aspects of risk taking and impulsivity showed no differences, and even those they did, the size of these differences was negligible to small. And more tattoos did not mean higher scores on each of the risky personality measures: There was no association between the number of tattoos possessed and any of the tested variables.
What this means, then, is that tattoos have become so mainstream as to render any boundaries between the tatted and the non-tatted meaningless: At least as far as risk taking personality is concerned.