The Influence of Tattoos on Peer Perception at Georgetown
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
WALKER, E. M. (2003). The Influence of Tattoos on Peer Perception at Georgetown. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at Retrieved April 30, 2017 .

The Influence of Tattoos on Peer Perception at Georgetown

Sponsored by: DARLENE HOWARD (
This experiment was conducted to ascertain whether or not the presence of a tattoo on an “author” had an influence on the way people perceived their poem and rated their writing ability. It was hypothesized that the presence of the tattoo would have a negative effect on the ratings and would garner more negative interpretations of the poem. 54 Georgetown students were given a poem to assess and interpret. They were assigned to three different conditions: a control with no picture accompanying the poem, a group that has a picture of the “author” with a tattoo, and a group that has a picture of the author without a tattoo. The results revealed that both conditions with the photograph received lower ratings than the control group. The presence of the tattoo did not seem to have a significant effect. Furthermore, there was no significant difference among the three groups in the interpretation and description of the poem.

Tattoos carry with them certain connotations, many of which are not positive. Although they might be hailed as forms of “artistic expression” and “body art,” they have a history of being associated with rebellion, drugs, violence, motorcyclists, bohemians, and outcasts. These associations often influence the way in which people with tattoos are perceived by their peers. In the past, studies have shown that people are more likely to give lower ratings to people who have tattoos. Acor (2001) reported a study in which surveys were handed out asking participants to view potential job applicants adorned with eyebrow rings and tattoos as well as unadorned potential job applicants in a simulated job fair videotaped presentation. The surveys consisted of demographic questions, type ratings for image, impression, and interview potential, as well as an overall ranking score for each applicant based upon the videotaped segment. Participants also completed a set of 20 Semantic Differential Paired Adjectives for the general concept of body art. Results indicated that tattooed applicants were rated and ranked significantly lower than were the un-tattooed applicant Additionally, other research conducted through face to face interviews has revealed that factors such as the gender and religion (of the judge) have an impact on how people with tattoos are assessed (Lin, 2002). The purpose of the current experiment was to determine whether or not the presence of a tattoo on a supposed author would have an impact on the way their poem was rated and interpreted. Special attention was also focused on the types of associations and descriptions that people attributed to others who had tattoos. My hypothesis was that the condition with the tattoo would receive lower ratings and more negative interpretations than the other groups.

This experiment used a between subject design. The primary independent variable was the presence vs. absence of the tattoo on the “author” in the photograph, although gender of participants was also taken into account. The dependent variables were the rating of the poem and the amount of positive (vs. negative) feedback/interpretations given. I defined positive interpretations as the selection of a positive tone. Negative interpretation is the selection of a negative tone. Originally I was going to use word associations to measure the positive and negative interpretations. However, words like “life,” “love,” and “persistence” were considered to be ambiguous choices that could be interpreted either way. Upon returning the poem, one subject said he had thought it was an extremely negative poem that dealt with hope, which he claimed had a negative connotation to it. Thus, I decided not to use the word associations.

There were a total of 54 participants: 28 males and 26 females. The majority of the subjects were residents of Copley, although some forms were given out to my friends and co-workers. All of the participants were students at Georgetown University. 60 poems (20 for each condition) were handed out, but some of the forms were never returned, lowering the participation pool to 54. There were 9 males and 8 females in both the control and non-tattoo condition. There were 10 females and 10 males in the tattoo condition.

A short poem was presented to all the participants along with some questions for them to answer. Two groups received photos of the supposed author. These photos were placed next to the poem. The only difference was that one group had a photo with a tattoo on the author and the other group had the same photo without the tattoo. A third group served as a control receiving only the poem and no photo of the author. The intention of the experiment was to have the subjects assess and interpret a deliberately ambiguous poem while taking the photos and especially the tattoo into account. The control served to ensure that the poem was vague enough that it could be interpreted as either positive or negative.

All of the poem questionnaires were handed out to the participants during the second week of October. The poem (which was written by my room-mate, Emily Largent) is as follows: Light on fleeting feet goes flyingWith Blackened embers slowly dying, Life and Laughter moving onwardCircling round, stepping slowlyOn life’s twisting journey.Daybreaks, heartaches, both unfurl.After reading the poem, the subjects were asked to follow the directions below:1. What is your gender?2. Please rate the author’s writing style on a scale of one to ten (ten being the highest).3. Circle what you think this abstract poem is most likely about:Despair Fear Hope Anger Persistence Life Love Rebellion Rejection4. Did you think the overall tone of the poem was positive or negative?5. Do you think the author is one who speaks of possibilities or uncertainties?6. What are three words that you would use to describe the author?(Based on study conducted by Degelman & Price, 2002)The subjects were allowed to take as much time as they wanted to answer the questions. They did not fill out the forms in my presence, rather they were instructed to slide them under my door when they were finished. Upon reception of the responses, the answers to the first four questions on the form were analyzed. The fifth question which asked whether the poem dealt with uncertainties or possibilities was later determined to have been a bad question since possibilities and uncertainties can be interpreted as both negative and positive.

The overall findings are displayed in tables 1, 2, 3, and 4 as well as Figure 1, 2, 3.1, 3.2 and 3.4.Table 1 shows the different frequencies for the ratings of the poem. Table 2 reveals that the mean ratings by females and males were about the same in each condition, however the mean rating for the combined control group was higher than it was for the other two groups. Table 3 shows a chi square analysis of results from the combined data for tone interpretation of the poem. The observed chi square value was 2.69 (the df = 2), which was lower than the critical value of 5.9991 at the .05 level, thus the null hypothesis was not rejected and there was no statistically significant difference between the different tone interpretations of the different poem conditions. Although it may have seemed as though males were more likely to rate the poem as being negative in the tattoo and non-tattoo conditions, but not in the control, where they were more likely to rate the poem as neutral, these differences could have been due to chance. Table 4 is a two-way ANOVA summary table which reveals that there is no main effect of gender or presence of the tattoo on the author in how the poems were rated. The presence of the tattoo turned out to be insignificant according to my calculation of F(2,48) as 2.06, which was below the critical value of F(2, 48) =3.96,and hence p>.05. Gender was also insignificant in effecting the poem ratings. My calculated F(1,48) was 0, p>.05, as opposed to the critical value: F(1, 48)=4.04. Hence there was no significant interaction.

The main purpose of this experiment was to find out if tattoos had an effect on how students are perceived at Georgetown. I was particularly interested in seeing if the presence of a photo of a tattooed “author” would have an effect on how students rated the author’s ability and the tone of the poem. The results illustrate that there was no significant difference between how photos with the tattoos were rated in comparison to those without the tattoo. However, the ratings were slightly higher (although not significantly)for the control group than the groups that received the photographs of the “author.” Perhaps these results can be attributed to the fact that people in the control condition thought that the poem had been written by someone famous or experienced. Hence, when those in the experimental conditions answered the questions, they saw that the “author” was not someone famous, rather a young girl. It is possible that the participants took the author’s age into account and wrote her off as being an amateur. Indeed, some subjects described the “author” as being “young.” There is also the possibility that the participants in the experimental conditions gave generally lower scores due to the fact that the “author” was a woman. In the experimental conditions, three subjects described her as “feminine” whereas only one subject in the control condition chose that description. Participants were also much more likely to describe the author in terms of physical appearance when the photos were present, although this might have been due to the fact that they could have misunderstood the directions. I think that the results from the control group sufficiently indicate that the poem in itself did not have an overly positive or negative tone, thus it was open to interpretation. There are a few possible reasons that the presence of the tattoo in the photo had no bearing on the ratings and received more positive interpretations than the photo without the tattoo. First of all, sometimes tattoos can be associated with “artsy” people. Since people were asked to analyze a poem, they might have felt that the tattoo proved that the author was artistic and creative. If a scientific article was selected to be analyzed, there would have been less of a positive association with the tattoos. It is also possible that the tattoo was not visible enough or that the sample taken was too small. All of the participants in the study were drawn from the student population at Georgetown, thus it would be hard to generalize the results to any other population. Although the results did not confirm my hypothesis, they did show that the “author” earned better ratings when her picture was not included on the forms, which indicates that gender and/or age (of the author) may have played a role in the judgement process.

- Acor, A. (2001). Employers’ perceptions of persons with body art and an experimental test Regarding eyebrow piercing. Dissertation-Abstracts-International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 61, 3885.- Degelman, D., & Price, N. D. (2002). Tattoos and ratings of personal characteristics.Psychological Reports, 90, 507-514.- Lin, Y. (2002). Age, sex, education, religion, and perception of tattoos. Psychological Reports,90, 654-658.


 Control Group												Subject	gender	rating	content	tone (p/n)	possibilities/uncertaities	descriptions1	F	6	life	n	p	pretentious, amateur, overly serious2	F	8	love	n	p	wistful, sad, cherishing3	F	6	life	n	u	confused, undecided sad4	F	8	hope	p	p	optimistic, hopeful, resilient5	F	8	persistence	p 	p	pensive, American, resistant6	F	7	life	p	u	n/a7	F	8	hope	p	p	creative, realistic, female8	F	7	life	p	p	dichotomy, honest, reasonable9	M	8	despair	neutral	p	pragmatic, realistic, despair10	M	7	persistence	neutral	u	contemplative, hopeful, lost11	M	9	life	neutral	u	introspective, emotional, observative12	M	7	life	neutral	u	rhyming, accepting13	M	7	life	n	u	pretentious, confusing, ambiguous14	M	10	love	n	u	sexual, emotional, adventurous15	M	6	life	n	u	sensitive, passionate, hurt16	M	6	life	p	p	taciturn, worn, realistic17	M	8	life	p	u	creative, contemplative, artist												Mean Rating:			Standard Deviation:			combined:	7.411764		combined:	1.12		 females:	7.25		females:	.886		males:	7.555555		males:	1.33		

Raw Data

Group with tattoo Subject gender rating content tone (p/n) possibilities/uncertainties descriptions18 m 8 hope n u confused, wishful, frustrated19 m 7 despair n u passionate, sensual, charming20 m 9 persistence n u confused,sad/hurt, perserverance21 m 5 love p u sensitive, playful, touched22 m 6 persistence p u emotive, abstract, dire23 m 8 hope p p confused, hopeful, tattooed24 m 6 persistence p p feminine, lacks focus, free-spirited, 25 m 5 hope p p passionate, good-looking, young26 m 7 life neutral u beautiful, literary, philosophical27 m 4 persistance neutral p wordy, melodramatic, thoughtful28 f 6 life neutral p independent, forward-looking, intelligent29 f 7 love neutral p feminine, sentimental, tender30 f 5 hope neutral u conflicted, afraid, hopeful31 f 6 life p p introspective, searching, hopeful32 f 7 persistence p p intuitive, creative, hopeful33 f 7 life p p strong, optimistic34 f 7 hope p p feminine, attractive, artsy35 f 7 persistence p p strong, optimistic, resiliant36 f 7 hope p p overwhelmed, romatinc, optimistic37 f 9 rejection n u insightful, put together, typical Mean Rating: Standard Deviation: combined: 6.65 combined: 1.31 females: 6.8 females: 1.03 males: 6.5 males: 1.58

Raw Data Group Without Tattoo subject gender rating content tone (p/n) possibilities/uncertainties descriptions38 f 7 hope p p optimistic, enduring, young39 f 9 life p p optimistic, sympathetic, accepting40 f 6 hope p p positive, calm, gentle41 f 5 persistence p p thoughtful, pensive, observant42 f 3 rejection p u optimistic, dramatic needy43 f 9 despair neutral u contemplative, emotional, dramatic44 f 5 love n u disturbed, depressive, sad45 f 8 life n u fatalistic, realistic, jaded46 m 7 life n p n/a47 m 5 despair n u fatalistic, beautiful, contemplative48 m 8 despair n u forlorn, disheartened, abandoned49 m 7 despair n u thoughtful, sad, imaginitive50 m 7 rejection n u romantic, morose, introspective51 m 7 hope p p insightful, reflective, hurt52 m 6 persistence p p optimistic, pouty, contemplative53 m 7 persistence p p realistic, perceptive, duality54 m 5 persistence neutral p curvy, dark, placid Mean Rating: Standard Deviation: combined: 6.529411 combined: 1.59 females: 6.5 females: 2.14 males: 6.555555 males: 1.01

Directions: Please read the following poem and then answer the questions below. Light on fleeting feet goes flyingWith Blackened embers slowly dying, Life and Laughter moving onwardCircling round, stepping slowlyOn life’s twisting journey.Daybreaks, heartaches, both unfurl

portrait of the author

What is your gender? Please rate the author’s writing style on a scale of one to ten (ten being the highest).

Circle what you think this abstract poem is most likely about:Despair Fear Hope Anger Persistence Life Love Rebellion Rejection

Did you think the overall tone of this poem was positive or negative?

Do you think the author is one who speaks more of possibilities or uncertainties?

What are three words that you would pick to describe the author?

 Table 1 Frequency Distribution for Poem Ratingsrating (X)	control (f)	w/tattoo (f)	w/o tattoo (f)1	0	0	02	0	0	03	0	0	14	0	1	05	0	3	46	4	4	27	5	8	68	6	2	29	1	2	210	1	0	0

Table 2 Mean and Standard Deviations of Ratings ( C=combined, F=female, M=male) CONTROL W/ TATTOO W/O TATTOOGender C F M C F M C F MMean 7.41 7.25 7.56 6.65 6.80 6.50 6.53 6.50 6.56SD 1.12 .886 1.33 1.31 1.03 1.58 1.59 2.14 1.01

Table 3 Chi Square for Combined Data on Tone InterpretationsTone Interpretation Control w/Tattoo w/o TattooNegative O 7 4 7 E 5.35 6.30 5.35 ((O-E)^2)/2 .80 .84 .51Positive O 7 11 8 E 8.15 9.63 8.15 ((O-E)^2)/2 .16 .19 .003Neutral O 4 5 2 E 3.46 4.07 3.46 ((O-E)^2)/2 .08 .21 .62

df: 2, x^2 (Observed Chi-square value): 2.69 , p>.05Table 4 Two Factorial Analysis of VarianceTable of Means: Cells, Rows, Columns, and Total B1 B2 B3 Rows A1 7.25 6.8 6.5 6.8462 A2 7.5556 6.5 6.5556 6.8571 Columns 7.4118 6.65 6.5294 6.8519

ANOVA SUMMARY Source SS df MS F P bg 8.7704 5 rows (gender) 0.0016 1 0.002 0 1.000000 columns (presence of tattoo) 7.9119 2 3.956 2.06 0.138575 r x c 0.8569 2 0.428 0.22 0.803323 wg 92.0444 48 1.918 Total 100.8148 53 bg = between groups; wg = within groups (error)

Submitted 2/25/2003 4:46:14 AM
Last Edited 2/25/2003 5:42:48 AM
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