Body art, deviance, and American college students

Jerome R. Koch, Alden E. Roberts, Myrna L. Armstrong, Donna C. Owen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


This research examines the relationship between body art (tattoos and piercings) and deviance. With the increasing mainstream presence of visible tattoos and piercings among entertainers, athletes, and even in corporate boardrooms, we wonder the extent to which long-time enthusiasts and collectors regard the phenomenon as encroachment. We use sub-cultural identity theory to propose that individuals with increasing evidence of body art procurement will also report higher levels of deviant behavior in order to maintain and/or increase social distance from the mainstream. We tested this proposition by surveying 1753 American college students, asking them to report their level of body art acquisition and their history of deviance. Results indicate that respondents with four or more tattoos, seven or more body piercings, or piercings located in their nipples or genitals, were substantively and significantly more likely to report regular marijuana use, occasional use of other illegal drugs, and a history of being arrested for a crime. Less pronounced, but still significant in many cases, was an increased propensity for those with higher incidence of body art to cheat on college work, binge drink, and report having had multiple sex partners in the course of their lifetime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-161
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Science Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Deviance
  • Piercings
  • Tattoos


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