The Value of a Tattoo in Higher Education

Levitt’s skepticism notwithstanding, it seems there may be a good reason for some people to get tattoos. David B. Wiseman, a psychologist, showed 128 undergraduate students photographs of tattooed and non-tattooed female models, described as “college instructors.” He found that college students prefer tattoos: “Analyses indicated that the presence of tattoos was associated with some positive changes in ratings: students’ motivation, being imaginative about assignments, and how likely students were to recommend her as an instructor.” (HT: Marginal Revolution) [%comments]

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

The Value of a Tattoo in Higher Education:

Tatto the Answers to the American History Final on your Forearms and Ace the Test.

I find it fascinating that Young People are far more likely to Tatto their skin PERMANENTLY than to have a Bumper Sticker on their Vehicle TRANSIENTLY.


Why only female models? Was the satisfaction the same across students of both sexes? Could sexual attraction have played a role?


Will the positive first impressions make it past the first bad lecture?


That's because students assumed that a tattooed instructor would be more likely to be young, and interesting. This study would only be worthwhile if the kids rated the instructors not just based on pictures but based on lectures. Does the tattoo counter some of the dislike of a boring instructor? Does it pep up a mediocre instructor? Does it give a boost to an excellent instructor?

Yes, students think that people with tattoos are less conformist. Shocker.

Jeremy Miles

They preferred an instructor with tattoos. That doesn't mean that they preferred tattoos; perhaps they thought that a tattooed instructor would teach an easier course?


I would also prefer if my instructor were nude and passed out fudge sundaes at the end of her lectures. I mean what's the point or discovery of these observations? In education does the most liked or coolest instructor impart the most knowledge? Why not turn on the Simpsons? Would you prefer your doctor sported tattoos? Egads.

pat anderson

This could be run as an experiment using the same people. It's easy to digitally alter photos to make it look like people have tattoos.

If the experiment were run with both sexes and the same photos (both with and sans tats) then, I think we could draw a conclusion. As it is, there may be other attributes that create a bias... and it's only females in the expt.? Last I saw, we're still a minority in tenured positions.

Tats R Us

By what margin and what geographic location? 65 in San Francisco, or 98 in Texas or?


College kids are immature and irrational? Shocking!

Eric M. Jones

Is it me, or do many psychology professors lack the ability to run a fair test? "...photographs of tattooed and non-tattooed female models", Good grief...where were these tattoos? And why only female models? Were these model-models or just folks? Were they all younger caucasians (I'd bet)?

I had a friend who had the zodiac tattooed on his face. He complained about never being able to get a job. I have a private tattoo that looks like it says "Pa"...but it really says "Padrewskis Bar and Grill Punxatawney Pennsylvania"

Okay it's an old joke.


College students also prefer profs who can score them weed.

J.P. Steele

You're way behind the curve on this one. Ink is now ubiquitous and no longer stigmatized as it once was....within reason of course. Piercings are still a bit of a problem.....


Well, speaking as a female grad student, any edge I get in end-of-year evaluations and other forms of teaching performance assessment, I will take!

Besides, its not the tattoos that actually make me the coolest TA. Its the nosering.

Fumihiko ITO

Once upon a time in Japan tattoo was used as a criminal record. So many Japanese are scared by seeing it and many public facilities such as hotels, "Sentos" (Japanese public bathhouses) or any pubic places where you can see directly another person's skin, don't admit those who were it. No profit for it to live here. It is super clear and natural that more than 99.9999% of Japanese don't have it. I recommend not to wear it, if you come to Japan or want to have a Japanese friend, even they don't mention it to your face.

Jeffrey T. Guterman

Maybe I should get a tattoo.

A Tattooed Librarian

That embedded link to PubMed will answer a lot of your questions, even though it only shows you the abstract:

"128 undergraduates' perceptions of tattoos on a model described as a college instructor were assessed. They viewed one of four photographs of a tattooed or nontattooed female model. Students rated her on nine teaching-related characteristics. Analyses indicated that the presence of tattoos was associated with some positive changes in ratings: students' motivation, being imaginative about assignments, and how likely students were to recommend her as an instructor."

Still not satisfied? I can almost guarantee that your local library's online resources provide access to a full-text version.

Information-seeking self-sufficiency that allows fully informed criticism. Imagine!


Students felt that the tattooed instructor is more likely to identify with them and with what they consider to be their generation's values. What's so unexpected about it?

I wonder if the stats for tattooed and tattoo-free students had been different.


From Scientific American Mind (June 2010) SURVIVAL OF THE TATTOOED AND PIERCED?: Body art may be evidence of high-quality genes in men. "When surveyed, most people say that they get tattoos or unconventional piercings to express individuality. But could something more psychologically primal be afoot? Researchers at the University of Wroclaw in Poland measured about 200 men and women - half of them inked or pierced in places other than their earlobes - for body symmetry, or how similar their right and left sides are. (More similarity indicates genetic health and is associated with sexual attractiveness.) Among research subjects, men with bodily decorations exhibited greater symmetry than those without, whereas no differences emerged in women. Because people who are less symmetric did not opt more often for tattoos and piercings, researchers rejected one widely held hypothesis that suggested people use physical graffiti to hide or distract from imperfections in their appearance. The results jibe with a different theory - getting stuck with needles can endanger one's health via infections, so the study supports the evolutionary "handicap" theory that only those with high biological quality can afford such risky behavior. The impulse to get inked may be a risk-taking behavior inherited from ancestors who were strong enough to endure injuries and survive - as opposed to those whose ancestors survived by avoiding risk and injury. Therefore, at least in men, body art could serve as an "honest" signal of fitness in the Darwinian sense. So maybe that's why pierced, tattooed rock stars do so well with the ladies" BY ADAM HADHAZY

Also note:Ötzi_the_Iceman#Tattoos (see section: Ice maiden)

(Extensive) Tattoos predate a modern market economy.
- drf



Makes sense: an instructor with a tatoo is (or seems to be?) more likely to reward creativity and encourage non-conventional thinking.


I am currently suing a Christian college that refused to hire me as a professor of Bible History simply because I had the number 666 tattooed on my forehead.