For centuries, tattoos and body piercings have been a part of human culture. These tattoos are common in many cultures, and have grown in popularity with the advancements in technology. Although there are many psychological reasons for body modification, some people have more serious motives than others.
According to a cross-sectional study published by the journal BMC Psychology, people who were subject to childhood abuse or neglect are more likely to have tattoos or piercings.
"We found consistent associations between abuse and neglect, and the presence or potential for body modifications," the authors write. In their paper, the authors note that tattoos and piercings were more common in those who had experienced any type of childhood adversity. Their prevalence also increased with severity of all types of abuse and neglect.
The survey data of 1,060 German citizens was used by the study authors.
Participants were aged between 14 and 44 years old with an average age of around 30. After being surveyed about their socioeconomic status, many of the participants fell into the lowest income bracket.
Nearly 40% of participants had at most one tattoo or piercing. 25% reported some form of child abuse or neglect. They explain that 48.3% of participants who reported at least one type of abuse or neglect had at least one tattoo. This is a significant difference from the 35 percent who reported no child abuse or neglect.
It was also found that there was a strong correlation between the severity and frequency of abuse or neglect and the number of tattoos and piercings. These findings confirm previous studies that were more focused on specific risk groups, but which also found similar results.
It is important to mention some limitations of this new study. It was a cross-sectional study that only used a German population sample to determine causality. Self-reporting was used in the study design, making it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions. However, the authors did explain that there were some lessons to be learned.
These findings offer new opportunities for support (involving tattoo artists/piercers) as well screening (e.g. in primary care). The therapeutic use of tattoos and piercings can also be a catalyst for conversations about the meaning of past experiences and current important themes.