STAMINA & STRENGTH: How Do People View Men With Tattoos?

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Friday, December 9, 2016

How Do People View Men With Tattoos?

Tattooing has enjoyed a long history, and in many societies, has served as a way to attract potential mates. But does this form of invasive ornamentation say anything about the person displaying it?
This question was the focus of a forthcoming study (link is external) conducted by researchers Andrzej Galbarczyk and Anna Ziomkiewicz of Poland. Previous work has proposed that such decorations are, technically speaking, honest signals of genetic quality among men. In other words, they advertise good genes and good health. Of particular importance they may indicate a stronger resistance to pathogens, which would have been a great survival benefit in our evolutionary past. In preindustrial times, tattooing was a life-threatening endeavor, and you had to be made of tough stuff to be able to survive it. Yet even in today's world the process is painful and could give rise to various health problems, most often an infection, ranging in severity. Thus, the thinking goes that tattoos may not only advertise a man's high tolerance for pain, but also good health, good genes, and a strong immune system. Moreover, it has been suggested that they may influence how men are perceived by others with respect to personality — that is, they are seen as bad boys.
Building on previous research, Galbarczyk and Ziomkiewicz wanted to see if tattoos would alter how people view men, with particular respect to their physical appearance and personality. To start, they predicted that male and female participants would respond differently to tattooed men. This is because women assess men in terms of whether they would make a good mate, whereas men assess other men as potential same-sex competitors for mates (this goes back to the two mechanisms of sexual selection, which are mate choice and contest competition). More specifically, the researchers hypothesized that women would rate men with tattoos as more healthy, attractive, masculine, dominant and aggressive but less suitable as partners or fathers. At the same time, they expected that men would rate other tattooed men as more masculine, dominant and aggressive than men without a tattoo.
In order to investigate these hypotheses, here's what Galbarczyk and Ziomkiewicz did. They photographed nine shirtless men from the waist up. All the conditions remained constant: the lighting and background were the same, each model struck the same pose, and wore a neutral (non-smiling) expression on their faces. None of these models had a tattoo, and they ranged in age from 19 to 35. Now here was the twist. A professional photographer digitally altered the images of these men by adding an arm tattoo, which was black, abstract, and neutral in terms of design. The researchers then then recruited participants via social media to take part in a “male attractiveness study.” In the final tally, the sample consisted of 2,369 straight women and 215 straight men (from Poland). Participants randomly viewed both tattooed and non-tattooed versions of the models, and were asked to rate them for attractiveness, health, masculinity, dominance, aggression, good partner potential and good father potential.
What did the investigators find? As expected, the men and women in this study responded differently to the photographs of tattooed men. Women rated tattooed versions of the models as healthier, but it didn't influence their ratings of attractiveness. By contrast, men rated tattooed versions of the models as more attractive, but it didn't influence their ratings of good health. Yet both men and women rated photographs of men with a tattoo as more masculine, dominant and aggressive. Women assessed tattooed men as worse potential partners and parents than men without tattoos — but having a tattoo did not influence men's ratings along these lines.
Galbarczyk and Ziomkiewicz argue that their results demonstrate that women view tattoos on men as an advertisement of better health, which is in keeping with previous studies. These findings are also consistent with research linking tattoos and body piercings to good health. Take a study which found that men with tattoos and/or unconventional body piercings are more symmetrical than individuals without such invasive body decorations. It is thought that low levels of asymmetry signal good health and superior genetic quality. And remarkably, it has also been shown that repeated tattooing may be related to potential health benefits, by strengthening immunological responses.
The results of Galbarczyk and Ziomkiewicz's study also revealed that women found tattooed men to be more masculine, dominant and aggressive, traits that are associated with both elevated levels of testosterone and overall good health. Yet aside from good health, studies show that women find these personality characteristics desirable, especially under certain conditions like living with the constant threat of crime and violence. And in our ancient past, these traits would have been especially valuable because men who possessed them at higher levels could provide greater protection for their mates and children.
So while tattoos have evolved to be a form of art and personal expression in our modern world, they may at the same time alter our perceptions of the men who sport them far more than we may have realized.


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