Tattoos as a marker for drinking – never one to let a quirky piece of research pass us by, the Science Lite team were intrigued by the latest paper published on the correlation between drinking and body piercings and tattoos.
Researchers in France – yes France, surely too sophisticated and upmarket to have a pierced and inked population? – suggest that the more piercings and/or tattoos a person has, the more likely they are to engage in risky behaviour, like drinking and taking drugs. That explains why the Science Lite team enjoy the occasional tipple; we’ve got an impressive set of tattoos – all science related of course – and piercings between us.
The first-of-a-kind study surveyed the French youth population leaving bars and clubs over four different Saturday nights, asking if the 1,710 males and 1,260 females had any tattoos or piercings, before getting them to take a breathalyser test.
“A host of previous studies have routinely shown that individuals with body piercings or tattoos are more likely to engage in risky behaviour than non-pierced or non-tattooed people,” said Nicolas Guéguen, professor of social behaviour at the Université de Bretagne-Sud and corresponding author of the study published in Alcoholism; Clinical & Experimental Research.
The research found that pierced and tattooed individuals had more alcohol per litre of exhaled breath than non-pierced and non-tattooed individuals.
“We found that pierced and/or tattooed individuals had consumed more alcohol in bars on a Saturday night than patrons in the same bars who were non-pierced and non-tattooed,” said Guéguen. “This is the first time that we found a relation among tattoos, piercings, and alcohol consumption in France.”
He suggests that educators, parents and physicians consider tattoos and piercings as potential ‘markers’ of drinking and use them to begin a conversation about alcohol consumption and other risky behaviours. He listed unprotected sex, fighting, theft and alcohol consumption as examples of risky behaviour – tarring the inked and pierced among us with the same brush.
However, could it not just be that the groups examined – pierced and inked or not – enjoy a drink or two on a Saturday night?
“The two groups here that tend to favour tattooing and piercing – 13 to 18, and 18 to 25 years of age – are already considered high-risk people in terms of their drinking and other behaviours simply because of their ages and their age-related desires to experiment,” said Myrna Armstrong, Professor Emerita at the Texas Tech University and author of some of the studies Guéguen has cited.
She adds that while the approach to studying the topic ‘was fascinating’, she was concerned that the tendency to see a tattoo or piercing might lead to others automatically stereotyping that person as a high-risk individual. People have piercings and tattoos for many reasons – sometimes for religious reasons, sometimes just as a fashion statement – but that doesn’t mean that they will embark on risky behaviour.
There’s also a variance between behaviour, and the number of piercings and/or tattoos a person has. Armstrong said that there is a difference between those with one, and those with five or more tattoos.
“In 2009, we conducted a study of those with one to two, three to four and five or more tattoos,” she said. “We found that those with only one tattoo were very similar to those without any tattoos in terms of high-risk behaviours, including alcohol.”
Phew! Although we have a remarkable assortment of piercings and tattoos between us, only two Science Liters have a tattoo and piercing – we must admit that the team can’t really hold their drink, and are far too timid to even think about getting involved in a fight.