Tattoos and Mental Disorders

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From Rae Schwartz

BellaOnline's Body Art Editor:

Recent reports out of Michigan are linking prevalence of tattoos and a predisposition to antisocial personality disorder. The research was conducted by Dr. William Cardasis. His studies at the Michigan Centre For Forensic Psychiatry reviewed the cases of patients who were considered unfit to stand trial or who were judged to be insane and found that a majority had both signs of ASPD and a strong tendency to be tattooed.

Along with a strong lack of emotions, histories of mental and physical abuse and deviant behaviors, Cardasis found that almost three-quarters of his study group was tattooed. The patients who had a greater number of tattoos, who had a greater percentage of their body surface tattooed and who wore tattoos in more visible places were all found to exhibit more aggression and to be engaging in behaviors such as cheating, lying or stealing.

Psychologist at Glasgow's Strathcylde University have been studying tattoos too. Their research has been in the general population. They say they've discovered that students with tattoos have weaker study skills than their non-inked counterparts. They also claim that many children are frightened of tattoos. (They scare the ladies!!!)

What these studies seem to be skippping over by not including wider studies or any tracking of non-tattooed people is that while those people might have tattoos, the tattoos don't cause the behaviors discussed. Without relevant figures from a larger population sample or studies of specifically non-tattooed people, these studies open the doors to more quesitions than they answer. Opponents of Cardasis' study point out that his looking at just a slice of what is already sorted into a prison population, reducing his work to pointing out that criminals do more crimes.

With the expansion of tattoos and body art into the mainstream of Western culture, tattooing is spreading to all segments of the population. Any truly significant studies of tattoo and behavior will have to cross all economic levels and social structures, not just focus on sub-groups. And the meanings and symbology of the tattoos would have to be studied too.

For more about tattoos and psychology, you might like to read Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tattoo With Gangs, Sailors and Street-Corner Punks, 1950-1965 or Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoos.

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