In writing our chapter "Tattooing, Commitment, Quality, and Football in Southeastern North America" for Evolution Education in the American South, Cassie Medeiros and I hypothesized that tattoos would be more common among elite athletes to highlight their fitness or among non-athletes who were fit as an alternative way to advertise fitness (besides being an elite athlete). Our HBERG team then tested this using the Body Art Study Questionnaire (Mayers et al., 2002) via first a nationwide internet survey among undergraduates, then a survey of all 31,000+ University of Alabama undergrads. The first survey elicited around 600 responses but very few tattooed athletes among them. The repeat study elicited around 6500 responses and a full 50% of the UA intercollegiate athletes.
The article summarizing these findings, "Shirts or skins?: Tattoos as costly honest signals of fitness and affiliation among US intercollegiate athletes and other undergraduates," has been accepted by Evolutionary Psychological Science and is current in press. Several people worked on this project over the years, but the authors who ultimately pulled this together include Taylor Puckett (cleaned and set up data codebooks), Nick Roy (cleaned data, helped with analysis, and edited paper), and Mandy Guitar (developed the hypothesis we tested in Carmen et al. , and edited paper). We're grateful to work done along the way by Connor Fasel, Kat Beidler, and Kira Yancey, as well as the title idea by Rob Else.
We are allowed to provide an Author's Accepted Manuscript here for preview. Our findings were consistent with the Human Canvas Hypothesis (Carmen et al., 2012), an evolutionary hypothesis that suggests tattoos advertise fitness or affiliation:
To learn more, read our AAM here.
Christopher D. Lynn
I am a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama with expertise in biocultural medical anthropology.