New research published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization has examined the relationship between time preferences and tattoos. The findings suggest that short-sightedness predisposes people to get tattoos.
“I grew up in Canada at a time when tattoos were not accepted and primarily the domain of sailors and ex-convicts,” said study author Bradley Ruffle, a professor of behavioral and experimental economics at McMaster University and the director of the McMaster Decision Sciences Laboratory.
“After living outside of Canada for 21 years, I was struck by the prevalence of tattoos upon my return and wanted to understand more about their popularity. Were tattoos not widely accepted? Are the tattooed different in measurable ways from the non-tattooed?”
The researcher used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform to recruit 1,104 participants, who were given the option of receiving ten individual $1 dollar payments in 18 hours or ten increasingly larger payments in 3 weeks. Those who wanted the money quickly could receive a total of $10 in 18 hours, while those willing to wait could earn up to $15.35.
The participants also indicated how often they engaged in various short-sighted financial, health and social decisions, such as overeating and posting personal information online. Furthermore, they also answered four cognitive reflection task questions, which tend to generate intuitive but incorrect responses. The correct answers require more analysis of the question.
The researchers found that people with tattoos and people who reported they planned to get a tattoo tended to score higher on these measures of short-sightedness and impulsivity.
“We show that tattooed individuals, especially those with plainly visible tattoos (e.g., on the face or neck) are more impulsive and short-sighted, that is, they place relatively more emphasis on the present than the future, than non-tattooed individuals,” Ruffle told PsyPost.
“These results hold regardless of the motive for getting a tattoo, the number of tattoos, the amount of time contemplated before getting one’s first tattoo and the time elapsed since one’s most recent tattoo. The lone exception is women with only hidden tattoos: they are no more impulsive or short-sighted than non-tattooed women.”
The researchers also surveyed the participants regarding their perceptions of tattoos. They found evidence that people with tattoos tended to overestimate how common tattoos are while underestimating the potentially detrimental effects of a tattoo on getting hired for a job.
But the researchers noted that a short-term thinking style may be an asset in particular fields of work. “Impulsivity is not necessarily a negative characteristic. Among professional athletes, artists and actors, spontaneity and quick decision-making are valued traits,” Ruffle said.
The study — like all research — includes some other caveats as well.
“We did not ask about the content of the tattoo. One can imagine that some, for example, more risqué tattoos might predict more impulsivity and short-sightedness than other more thoughtful tattoos,” Ruffle explained. “It would also be interesting to explore whether the rise in tattoos reflects increased short-sightedness among the younger generation or a reduced social sigma and greater acceptance of tattoos.”
The study, “Tat will tell: Tattoos and time preferences“, was authored by Bradley J. Ruffle and Anne E. Wilson.