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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
KAHL, C. M. (2002). Perceptions of Body Modifications. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 6, 2022 .

Perceptions of Body Modifications

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
The purpose of this study was to explore perceptions of characteristics of people with body modifications. One hundred one undergraduate and City College students of Loyola University New Orleans (36 male, 65 female) completed Lippa`s Personality and Health survey (Lippa, 2002) measuring perceived Big Five personality characteristics of an attached pictured subject. The person pictured exhibited one or a combination of the following body modifications: none, tattoos, body piercings, or unnatural hair color. Perceptions were measured based on ratings given by the participants on a 7-point Likert scale. It was hypothesized that pictured subjects exhibiting body modifications would receive more negative characteristic ratings than pictured subjects exhibiting no body modifications. Results from a one-way ANOVA indicated a significant main effect between groups in the characteristic of openness (F(4, 97) = 15.80, p < .001), showing that those with no modifications were seen as less open to experience than those with modifications. No other significant differences were found between modified and unmodified pictured subjects. The results are discussed in terms of representing a first step in research of how body modifications may effect perceptions of personal characteristics.

Body modification, the art of tattooing and body piercing, has evolved in American culture from a tradition that was once only known to be practiced by bikers and working-class men to an art form practiced by many men and women of every socio-economic background (DeMello, 1995). Despite the growing popularity of body art among professional and educated people, body modifications continue to carry a stigma that one is "rebellious" (Ink Me Stud, 2001) or "socially or personally pathological" (Forbes, 2001). Professionals feel the need to cover even the smallest body decoration when at the work place or at an important event. This is rightfully so, considering that 85% of 1,009 Americans surveyed in a 2001 online poll agreed with the statement, "people who have visible tattoos or body piercings should realize that this form of self-expression is likely to create obstacles in their career or personal relationships" (Ink Me Stud, 2001). Past studies have also found that visible body modifications negatively affect people`s general characterizations of others. Degelman and Price (2002) studied high school and college students` perspectives of a woman shown with and without a tattoo on her upper arm. The participants rated the woman on 13 characteristics such as honest, determined, and intelligent. The image of the tattooed woman received more negative ratings on 9 of the 13 characteristics compared to the image of the non-tattooed woman that received equal or more positive ratings on all 13 characteristics. Another article briefly describes how a heavily decorated man was delayed life-saving treatment after a motorcycle accident because several of the emergency staff feared he was a "gay sadomasochist likely to have AIDS" due to his tattoos and piercings (Ferguson, 1999). In a study by Forbes (2001) childhood experiences, Big Five personality factors, and participants` perceptions of personal characteristics were compared between people with or without tattoos and/or body piercings. Participants without any body modifications had no significant differences in childhood experiences or personality characteristics from participants with body modifications. However, participants with no body modifications rated themselves more positively on the Big Five personality factors than they rated participants with body modifications.Appearance stereotypes are not always valid. This was demonstrated in a review by Eagly, Makhijani, Ashmore, and Longo (1991) in which participants ascribed personality characteristics to pictures of people rated as being attractive or unattractive. Ratings did not show a strong correlation between positive characteristics such as social and intellectual competence and perceived attractiveness. There are many reasons for individuals to acquire body modifications. One possible reason for body modifications is to gain attention through displays of extravagance such as those that are found in people with histrionic disorder (Durand & Barlow, 2000). A study by Burger & Finkel (2002) investigated reasons why people adorn their bodies with tattoos and body piercings. They also researched unmodified participants’ perceptions of body art. When the researchers polled an unmodified participant group as to their perceptions of body modifications, they found that many people associate tattoos and body piercings with risky behaviors and view them as symbols of drug abuse and violence (Burger & Finkel, 2002). They found that a main motivation for people to modify their bodies is to increase self-esteem. The people polled found body art as beautiful and felt more beautiful when they acquired it. A study conducted at Denison University by Lyons and Snyder (1996) described the reasons why college men and women had tattoos and body piercings. The main reason of the men with body modifications for getting tattooed or pierced was to identify themselves with a certain group. Women, however, rated their tattoos and piercings to make themselves more individualized and sexual. Other popular reasons for displaying body modifications are to carry on cultural traditions (DeMello, 1995) and to increase self-esteem (Burger & Finkel, 2002).Tattoos adorn 10% of Americans surveyed and 2% of the same population report having one or more body piercings other than an earring (Ink Me, Stud, 2001). It is important that past research describes attitudes toward people with these modifications because of the effect these body decorations may have on their personal and/or professional relationships. However, prior research fails to take into account other forms of body modification such as unnatural hair color. Unnatural hair color is any hair color that would not naturally grow on a human, for example, shades of blue or pink. This is a growing trend in Hollywood and the rest of the United States, just as tattoos and body piercings grew in popularity when celebrities like Brittany Spears donned them. Therefore it is important to consider unnatural hair color when studying perceptions of body modifications. The purpose of this study was to examine students` perceptions of the aforementioned body modifications: tattoos, body piercings, and unnatural hair color. Based on past research it was expected that participants would attribute more negative characteristics to pictures of people with visible body modifications and more positive characteristics to pictures of people with no visible body modifications. The independent variable in this study was the presence or absence of visible body modifications. It consisted of five levels: absence of visible body modifications, presence of visible tattoos, presence of visible body piercings, presence of unnatural hair color, and presence of a combination of tattoos, body piercings, and/or unnatural hair color. A second independent variable that was investigated was the presence of body modifications in participants with the following two levels: presence of body modifications or absence of body modifications. The dependent variable was the participants` perception of the person with the body modifications.

ParticipantsParticipants included 36 male and 65 female undergraduate and City College students of Loyola University. All were between the ages of 18-43 years old. All participants were volunteers. Some were offered course credit for participation in the experiment. Participants were recruited from Psychology classes with permission of the instructors, as well as from the Psychology Human Participant pool through a sigh-up sheet posted on the Psychology board. Participants were also recruited from random encounter. The method of sampling was convenience sampling.

MaterialsMaterials used included informed consent forms prepared by the researchers that gave a brief description of the research and procedures, possible benefits and risks of participation, resources for counseling services if needed, and information about confidentiality. Information about voluntary participation in the study, availability of results of the research, and contact information of the researchers was also provided. Additional materials used included an excerpt from Lippa`s Personality and Health survey (Lippa, 2002) (see attached). The survey consisted of 48 statements that the participant used to rate a picture of a person with or without body modification(s) using a 7-point scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." Statements in the survey were altered from first person to third person, for example: "I see this person as talkative." This survey measured the Big Five personality characteristics: Neuroticism, Openness, Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Conscientiousness. Surveys were printed on white 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper and completed using ink pens or pencil. Pictures that the participants rated included at least one male picture and at least one female picture to depict each of the five levels of modification: absence of visible body modifications, presence of visible tattoos, presence of visible body piercings, presence of unnatural hair color, and presence of a combination of tattoos, body piercings, and/or unnatural hair color. Earlobe piercings were not a considered body modification. Unnatural hair color was considered to be hair color that does not naturally grow on a human head, such as blue, pink, etc. The pictures were taken from a tattoo/body piercing artist catalog and the Internet. Some pictures were altered using Microsoft PhotoShop to hide body modifications not being studied. All pictures were in color and pictured subjects were shown from the waist up. None of the pictures contained nudity.

Design and ProcedureThe research design was a 5 x 2 between groups study. The first independent variable was the type of body modifications depicted with the following five levels: a) absence of visible body modifications, b) presence of visible tattoos, c) presence of visible body piercings, d) presence of unnatural hair color, and e) presence of a combination of visible tattoos, body piercings, and/or unnatural hair color. The second independent variable was the presence of body modifications in participants with the following two levels: presence of body modifications and absence of body modifications. Body modifications were defined as tattoos, body piercings other than the earlobes, or unnatural hair color that could not naturally grow on a human head, such as blue or pink. The dependent variable was the participants` perception of the person with the body modifications. This was measured by the ratings given by the participants to the pictures of people with or without varying degrees of body modifications based on Lippa`s Personality and Health survey (Lippa, 2002). To control for extraneous variables the questions concerning whether or not the participants had body modifications were placed at the end of the survey. The method of sampling used was convenience sampling. Random assignment of groups was used. After the researchers obtained informed consent, they distributed the research packet that included a survey and one picture for the participant to rate. The picture was placed between the first and second pages of the survey so that the participant would not view it until they read the directions for the Lippa survey. Participants were instructed to fill out the demographic information and Lippa survey and had as much time as needed to complete it. The researchers informed the participants verbally and in writing on the consent form that they were free to terminate their voluntary participation in the study at any time or omit answering any questions that they were uncomfortable answering. The participants did not write any information on the surveys that would breach confidentiality, such as their name or personal contact information. The researchers remained in the room to answer any questions as participants completed the surveys. When the last survey was turned in the researchers debriefed the participants that the purpose of the study was to observe perceptions of people who have body modifications and notified them of counseling services available as stated on the consent form.

A one-way ANOVA test was performed to test the hypothesis that the presence of body modifications would have a negative effect on the ratings of pictured subjects. There was a significant difference between groups in the Big Five characteristic of openness (F(4, 97) = 15.80, p < .001). Post-hoc analyses using the Least Significant Differences test showed that those with no modifications were viewed as less open to experience than those with modifications, and no differences existed between the modifications. This partially supports the main hypothesis stated above in that there was a difference, however this does not support the direction of the main hypothesis because the effect of the body modifications on the characteristic of openness was positive rather than negative. A marginally significant main effect of sex of pictured subject on openness (F = 3.83, p = .054) indicated that females (M = 5.16) were generally viewed as more open to experience than males (M = 4.53). A significant difference between groups in extraversion (F = 2.72, p < .05) was found with the LSD post-hoc test showing that those with tattoos (M = 5.18) were rated as significantly more extraverted than those with unnatural hair color (M = 3.81). However, a 2-way ANOVA showed a significant interaction between body modifications and sex of the pictured subject. The female pictured subject with unnatural hair color was rated significantly lower than the male pictured subject with unnatural hair color. Univariate Analyses of Variance indicated that male individuals pictured with tattoos were viewed as significantly more masculine in personality (F(1,33) = 21.63, p < .001) and appearance (F(1,33) = 20.24, p < .001) than those with no modifications. Univariate Analyses of Variance for females indicated that those pictured with tattoos were viewed as significantly more masculine in personality (F(1, 66) = 32.51, p < .001) and appearance (F(1, 66) = 21.91, p < .001) than those with no modifications. Other modifications did not show significant differences in masculinity and femininity ratings for either gender.

In partial support of the main research hypothesis, results indicated that individuals pictured with body modifications were rated differently than individuals pictured with no body modifications. However, the direction of the main hypothesis was not supported in that pictured subjects with body modifications were rated significantly higher in the characteristic of openness, which is generally considered a more positive than negative trait. This is contrary to the direction of the main hypothesis that predicted that pictured subjects with body modifications would be rated more negatively than those with no body modifications in each of the Big Five characteristics. There was not a significant difference in ratings between pictured subjects with body modifications and pictured subjects with no body modifications for the Big Five characteristics of Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Agreeableness. Also, both male and female individuals with tattoos were rated significantly more masculine in appearance and personality than non-modified individuals. Participants with no modifications did not show a significant difference in the way they rated pictures compared to participants with modifications. Forbes (2001) noted in his study that non-modified individuals rated individuals with tattoos and piercings more negatively in the Big Five personality characteristics than they rated themselves. This was somewhat evidenced in the current study in that individuals with modifications were rated differently, but not in characteristics that are considered positive or negative. Unlike the Forbes study, there were no significant differences in the characteristics of Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Also unlike the Forbes research, in this study the participants did not rate themselves on the Big Five personality measures to compare to their ratings of the pictured individuals. Another important aspect of this study concerned sex of the pictured subject. In the Degelman and Price (2002) study participants rated one woman shown with or without a tattoo. She was rated more negatively when depicted with a tattoo, which is similar to the findings of this research. However, the previous research did not look into perceptions of males with body modifications whereas this study did. The current study indicated that there were significant interactions between sex and body modifications of the pictured subjects. The greatest interaction was in the hair modification category of extraversion. The female was rated as strongly introverted whereas the male was rated to show average extraversion when compared with the other modification categories. The strong differences in ratings of pictures, especially in the hair modification category, may be due to other differences in the pictures shown, such as closeness to the camera, facial affect, location of modification, and extremity of modification. This is the main weakness of the study, which presents a confounding variable. A similar shortcoming is that multiple people of each gender were used for each modification category. The researchers originally believed the use of multiple pictures to be beneficial in canceling out biases toward age and personal appearance aside from modifications. However, in further research, in which time and technology is available, it would be best to utilize only one picture in the same pose for each gender which can be altered to display modifications or not. A pretest should be run for each picture to recognize any biases toward pictured individuals so that necessary changes may be made to avoid this confound. Due to the variations in pictured subjects, caution should be used when drawing conclusions from this study. Theoretical implications for this study are limited in that the researchers found no theory on why people with body modifications are perceived as they are. A possible implication based on the study by Eagly, Makhijani, Ashmore, & Longo (1991) could be that perceptions of people who have body modifications are based on each individual’s idea of attractiveness, therefore people should not generalize specific characteristics to individuals simply because they have body modifications. Practical implications for this study may be based on the different ratings of openness for people with body modifications versus with no body modifications. Openness to experience is often seen as a positive characteristic, and pictured subjects with modifications were rated significantly high in this category. Therefore, people should base their decisions on whether or not to conceal a body modification for professional encounters on how conservative or liberal the job is. Many employers would value an employee who shows qualities of openness. Despite the limitations regarding variability of pictured subjects, this study could function as a potential first step in researching the possible effects of body modifications on perceptions of personal characteristics. Especially new to this research is taking unnatural hair color into account as a modification. Also, in the characteristic of being open to experience, which may be seen as a beneficial characteristic in many personal and professional relationships. The significant effects of this study could be taken a step further in future research by exploring in depth the effect of varying extremes of body modifications on personal perceptions. It is recommended that if hair color is tested further the color chosen be a brightly unnatural color such as blue or green rather than a subtle red hue to insure that it is a noticeable modification. With further research in this field, especially if varying populations of participants (executives, blue-collar workers, retail, etc.) rate pictures, it may be possible to predict with better accuracy whether body modifications may negatively affect perceptions of a person’s aptitude for a job or behavior in personal endeavors. Body modification has evolved from a blue-collar tradition to an acceptable art form. While many people continue to attach a stigma to this growing trend, the presence of body modifications is no indication of what characteristics a person embodies. If body modifications are at all an indication of personal attributes, the results of this study suggest that people who are open to such modification are generally open to other experiences as well. This quality is often valued at personal and professional levels. Therefore, people with body modifications should be proud to display their symbols of openness.

Burger, T. D., & Finkel, D. (2002). Relationships between body modifications and very high-risk behaviors in a college population. College Student Journal, 36, 203-213.Degelman, D. & Price, N. D. (2002). Tattoos and ratings of personal characteristics. Psychological Reports, 90, 507-514.DeMello, M. (1995) "Not Just For Bikers Anymore": Popular Representations of American Tattooing. Journal of Popular Culture. 29, 37-52.Durand, V.M., & Barlow, D.H. (2000). Personality Disorders. In Taflinger (Ed.), Abnormal Psychology (pp. 264-265). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. Eagly, A., Makhijani, M., Ashmore, R., & Longo, L. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but…: a meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109-128.Ferguson, H. (1999). Body piercing. British Medical Journal, 319, 1627.Forbes, G. B. (2001). College students with tattoos and piercings: motives, family experiences, personality factors, and perception by others. Psychological Reports, 89, 774-786.Ink Me, Stud. (2001, Dec 1). American Demographics, 9.

Submitted 12/14/2002 12:33:23 PM
Last Edited 12/14/2002 12:47:18 PM
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