Term of Award

Spring 2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Bradley R. Sturz

Committee Member 1

Amy Hackney

Committee Member 2

Jeff Klibert


Recently, rates of tattooing in the U.S. have surged despite evidence of negative perceptions of individuals with tattoos. Additionally, perceptions appear to vary by target gender, with tattooed women being perceived more negatively than their male counterparts. The purpose of the current research was to examine (a) if perceptions of those with tattoos indeed vary by gender, (b) if tattoos conceivably serve an evolutionary function and (c) if so, do tattoos serve different functions for women and men. An evolutionary approach takes into consideration the purpose an observed behavior may serve for the individual in terms of how it solves specific problems of survival or reproduction (Buss, 2009). Considering current research showing gender stratification related to tattoo behavior, it is predicted that tattoos serve to address distinct evolutionary problems for men versus women. Specifically, tattoos address problems of mating for men and problems of survival for women. We argue that for men, tattoos act as a signal of good health, helping them better compete for access to mates. For women, tattoos may be a signal of group affiliation, which historically provided a number of benefits for survival.

These hypotheses were explored through two studies. Study 1 investigated relationships between gender and tattoo status of participant on number of sexual partners, tattoo status of social network, and gender role orientation. Study 2 was a replication and extension of Study 1 with participants randomly assigned to rate photographs of individuals with no tattoos, non-visible tattoos, or visible tattoos according to attractiveness and likelihood of including in their social network. Only non-significant differences were revealed in Study 1. Results of Study 2 indicated significant gender differences in ratings of attractiveness and social inclusion. Specifically, men reported higher overall ratings of attractiveness compared to women and women reported higher overall ratings of social inclusion compared to men. All other gender X personal tattoo status X photo set group interaction effects were non-significant. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Research Data and Supplementary Material