College Students' Attitudes Toward Tattoos: A Study of Deviance

Open Access
Zychowicz, Lauren Ashley
Area of Honors:
Crime, Law, and Justice
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Eric Silver, Thesis Supervisor
  • Jeffery Todd Ulmer, Honors Advisor
  • deviance
  • tattoos
  • stigma
  • society
  • attitudes
Tattoos have been traditionally perceived as deviant. Recently however, we have seen an upsurge in the prevalence of tattoos both on human bodies as well as in the media. Does this upsurge indicate that tattoos are becoming more accepted into the mainstream and therefore perceived as less deviant, or are tattoos still interpreted in terms of their traditional rebellious image? If tattoos are still perceived to be deviant, do theories that predict involvement in deviant behavior also predict whether a certain individual will have a tattoo or not? In addition, why do individuals decide to get a tattoo in the first place, amidst a society that has traditionally deemed the behavior deviant? To examine these questions, this study uses survey results from 167 college students at The Pennsylvania State University to assess their attitudes toward tattoos. Results indicate that overall, students report that tattoos are generally no longer perceived as deviant. However, findings also show that students are still being stigmatized for their tattoos and participate in stigma management techniques, such as hiding their tattoo from both the older and professional populations in order to reduce the stigma associated with it. Thus, it is possible that an age-related gap exists in our society in which college students and the younger generation do not perceive tattoos to be deviant themselves, but think that a deviant attitude toward tattoos still exists in the older generation. In addition, this perceived gap could vary by setting in which a deviant attitude toward tattoos is still thought to exist in the professional population. Results also show that these gaps may indeed exist in actuality. As a result, college students may continue to engage in deviance-reduction strategies in situations involving older or professional members of society even though college students themselves do not perceive tattoos to be deviant.