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Study links tattoos to personality disorder

July 16, 2008 | 10:50 am

Tattoojpg_3 Getting a tattoo is so common it almost seems like a rite of passage for young people. But a new study sheds a little light on personality characteristics that prompt some people to get tattoos.

The study published this week in the journal Personality and Mental Health looked at a very small segment of the population: hospitalized psychiatric patients who had committed crimes. Researchers at the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry examined 36 male inpatients at a maximum-security state psychiatric facility. They looked for the presence of tattoos and whether the men had a mental disorder called Antisocial Personality Disorder. ASPD is characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse, a low tolerance for anxiety and shallowness. The behavior must have developed before age 15 to qualify for the diagnosis. The researchers found that 73% of the men with tattoos had ASPD while only 29% of those without tattoos had the diagnosis. The men with ASPD and tattoos tended to have many tattoos in more visible locations.

What does this say about law-abiding citizens with tattoos? Perhaps nothing. The study's findings may or may not be relevant to the general population, says the study's author, Dr. William Cardasis. But he  noted that the research raises questions such as "whether adolescents with tattoos are more likely to have conduct disorder than those without, and what the effect the meaning and subject content of the tattoo has."

Sounds like a new academic pursuit: The field of tattoo studies.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: AP Photo/Inked Inc. Press