Have a tattoo? Odds are you're more impulsive and short-sighted, says study

A new study out of Wilfrid Laurier University draws a connection between people with tattoos and impulsivity.
Tattoos are often very personal choices, but could your ink be saying something about your outlook on the future? (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A new study out of Wilfrid Laurier University draws a connection between people with tattoos and impulsivity. 

Researchers from the school's economics and psychology department teamed up to see if people who have tattoos — in particular those that are difficult to cover up — also make short-sighted decisions in other aspects of their life. 

According to data out of the United States, 1 in 5 adults have at least one tattoo. Data from the Pew Research Centre shows that at that time of their study, in 2008, 40 per cent of Gen Xers, those born between 1965 and 1985, had a tattoo.

"We're not trying to come down on whether tattoos are right or wrong or good or bad," said psychology professor Anne Wilson in a news release.

Rather, she said, they were interested in seeing if individuals who made permanent body modifications, like a tattoo, shared common views on the future. 

Impulsivity tested

The theory was tested through an online survey of 1,000 people who had registered with Amazon Mechanical Turk —, an on-demand job marketplace that "requires human intelligence" for tasks not suited to computers,  such as transcribing audio recordings.

Participants were asked a series of questions related to receiving money now, or later. If they took the money immediately, they would get $1; delay the payment by three weeks and get up to $2.50. 

The people were asked several times if they would like to reconsider the delayed payment, with the amount gradually increasing to $2.50. 

"Ruffle and Wilson found a distinct pattern — people without tattoos switched to the delayed payment option much earlier than people with visible tattoos. People with easily hidden tattoos were in the middle," said the release. 

Participants were also asked a series of questions to test impulsivity in other parts of their lives: retirement savings, how they share personal information on social media and smoking. 

The patterns held across all the tests, said Wilson. 

"Those with visible tattoos were found to be more present-oriented than the non-tattooed, while those with readily hidden tats represented an in-between case," said the release.

More socially acceptable for women

Wilson and Ruffle found similar patterns, overall, for men and women: generally speaking men and women with visible tattoos were more impulsive than those without.

Where they differ is over easily-hidden tattoos. Men with easily-hidden tattoos were more impulsive than those without but the same wasn't found for their female counterparts. 

"Women with readily hidden tattoos were no more short-sighted or impulsive than women with no tattoos at all," said the release. 

The researchers pointed to this as an interesting distinction; women are more likely to have tattoos than men.

Though their research didn't go into why this difference exists Wilson speculates it may stem from the fact that it is more socially accepted for women to physically adorn their bodies and faces.

"Also, research in other domains indicates that women on average are more far-sighted and less apt to take risks," said Wilson. 


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