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Gender and Body Art Effects on Sensation Seeking Report

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Updated: Jun 30th, 2020


Gender and body art (tattoos) have been shown to influence human behaviour, especially in teenagers. The present study examined whether tattoos and gender influenced the participants’ sensation-seeking attitudes as measured by the SSS-V subscales. It tested the hypothesis that males with tattoos have a higher propensity towards sensation-seeking than other groups. Using independent (between-subjects) design, a sample of forty-six participants (26 females and 20 males) drawn from the University of Gloucestershire student population completed the SSS-V questionnaire. The results indicated a significant interaction (concerning sensation-seeking) between gender and having tattoos. In particular, the main effect of ‘tattoos’ on sensation seeking attitudes was greater than that of participants with no body art. Additionally, males reported higher sensation-seeking behaviour than female participants. The results give important insights into the role of body art and gender in shaping sensation-seeking attitudes.


Overview of the Topic (DV)

Sensation seeking is a personality trait diagnosed in people willing to take various risks to experience novel sensations or intense arousal (Zuckerman 1994). It is measured by a questionnaire, called the SSS-V, that evaluates four aspects of sensation seeking, namely, “thrill and adventure seeking, experience-seeking, disinhibition, and boredom susceptibility” (Zuckerman 1994, p. 27). Sensation seeking is linked to several biological, social, and psychological causal variables that affect individual behaviour and perspectives (Zuckerman, 1979). Sensation seekers often display various norm-breaking behaviours, such as substance abuse, criminality, risky sex, and binge drinking (Hansen & Breivik 2001), because of their relentless pursuit of new experiences. Such activities are stimulating but vary concerning the intensity of the risk involved. Nevertheless, risk-taking does not directly influence behaviour as sensation seekers only take risks for arousal reasons. However, it has a big influence on their behaviour and attitudes as well as lifestyle choices (Hansen & Breivik 2001).

Factor 1

Studies indicate a potential link between sensation seeking and gender with males displaying riskier behaviours than females (Rosenblitt, Soler, Johnson, & Quadagno 2000). Lower cortisol level results in a greater tendency for sensation seeking in males (Rosenbitt et al. 2000). Also, gender socialisation influences attitudes and preferences, which then affect sensation seeking. For example, Udry (2000) investigated gender socialisation in women under 30 years. The results indicated that socialisation makes females feel ‘repressed’ and males be ‘expressive’ in behaviour. The current study underscores the fact that gender differences affect sensation-seeking behaviour and attitudes.

Factor 2

Sensation seeking has been linked to norm-breaking behaviours attributed to an increased willingness to take risks (Zuckerman 1994). Certain behaviours, such as body art, piercings, and tattooing, have been associated with sensation-seeking and risky behaviours (Roberts & Ryan 2002). For example, Deschesnes, Fines, and Demers (2006) surveyed teenagers’ to find out the relationship between body modifications and risk-taking behaviours. The results indicated teenagers externalise risk-taking behaviours through body art.

Summary of Current Research

There is a paucity of research on how sensation seeking correlates with body art and gender. It is unclear whether teenagers with body art are greater sensation seekers than those without. Body art is a non-conforming behavioural characteristic of the sensation-seeking trait. The current study examines body modification as a form of sensation seeking. It also examines gender as a correlate of sensation seeking concerning socialised attitudes. It investigates the effect of gender and body art on sensation seeking. It is anticipated that males with body art will display greater sensation-seeking behaviours than other groups.


The hypotheses tested in this experiment are that sensation-seeking behaviour is greater among participants with body art compared to those without it and males display greater sensation-seeking than females. The interaction suggests that body art and gender (masculinity) increase the tendency to seek sensational experiences.



The sample comprised of forty-six undergraduate students (male = 20, female = 26) drawn from the University of Gloucestershire who agreed to participate in this study. The subjects formed an opportunity sample drawn from the university population. The sampling approach was appropriate as the study examined effects common in a teenage population. Additionally, the sample subjects were readily available and met the inclusion criteria. The participants participated voluntarily without any inducement.


The study needed inter-group comparisons between levels representing four different groups. It involved an independent factorial design (between-subjects) consisting of two factors, namely, tattoos and gender, each with two levels. ‘Tattoos’ comprised of ‘with tattoos’ and ‘without tattoos’ levels while ‘gender’ consisted of ‘male’ and ‘female’ groups. The levels consisted of 24, 22, 26, and 20 participants, respectively. The dependent variable (DV) was sensation-seeking behaviour.


In studies that investigate sensation seeking, participants complete the Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS-V) (Zuckerman 1994) with four subscales that measure the participants’ attitudes and behaviour. The participant selects a statement that best describes his or her character. The statements describe both high and low sensation-seeking behaviours.

In the current study, the sensation-seeking subscales measured adventure-seeking, new experience-seeking, outgoingness, and activity/lifestyle (Cronbach’s alpha =.82). The adventure-seeking scale measured the participants’ uncaring attitudes towards bodily harm or risks while the new experience scale assessed impulsiveness. The specific items included the tendency to do risky/wild activities, the lack of fear for physical risks, and the desire for attention. The participants’ responses were ranked on a five-point Likert scale (5 = very much so, 0 = not at all). Those with high SSS-V scores had greater sensation-seeking attitudes.


The researcher contacted and requested participants meeting the inclusion criteria to participate in the study. They were invited for a single group session where the researcher communicated the purpose of the study and the expected outcomes. They were asked to provide informed consent before participating. Each participant was asked to indicate his or her gender and whether he or she had a tattoo on the body. The participants then completed the measure/instrument (SSS-V) individually and returned it to the researcher. They were then allowed to ask questions and raise concerns before the end of the session.


Histograms were used to assess the normal distribution in the dataset generated by the SSS-V for each factor. The histograms indicated normal distribution in the data (gender 1 M = 19.5, SD = 6.27; gender 2 M = 24, SD = 6.73; tattoo 1 M = 25.88, SD = 5.02; and tattoo 2 M = 16.64, SD = 4.94). Normality was also checked by dividing the skewness and kurtosis statistic by respective standard errors. For all conditions, the skewness statistic (-.094) was divided by a standard error (.350) to give -.27. This value fell within the ± 2.58 range, which indicated that the distribution lacked skewness.

Similarly, the kurtosis statistic (-1.253) was divided by its standard error (.688) giving -1.82. This also fell within ± two range, indicating that the distribution peaked normally. This shows that the data were normally distributed.

Table 1: Skewness and Kurtosis Statistics

N Mean Std. Deviation Variance Skewness Kurtosis
Statistic Statistic Statistic Statistic Statistic Std. Error Statistic Std. Error
SS_scale 46 21.46 6.785 46.031 -.094 .350 -1.253 .688
Valid N (listwise) 46

Levene’s test was used to evaluate the homogeneity of variance, i.e., variability between the factors. The value in the Sig. column was.603 (tattoos*gender), which is greater than 0.05, indicating that a non-significant variability between the conditions. To test whether gender and body art influenced sensation seeking, ‘univariate’ analysis of variance was done based on independent pair-wise comparisons of the marginal means. There was a significant main effect of ‘Tattoos’ on sensation seeking, F = 52.27, p <.05 (p2 = 52.27, power =1.00). This indicated that sensation seeking was higher among those with tattoos (M = 25.87, SD = 5.02) than those without (M = 16.64, SD = 4.94).

Table 2: Tests of Between-Subjects Effects

Source Type III Sum of Squares df Mean Square F Sig. Partial Eta Squared Noncent. Parameter Observed Powerb
Corrected Model 1251.934a 3 417.311 21.388 .000 .604 64.164 1.000
Intercept 21003.915 1 21003.915 1076.495 .000 .962 1076.495 1.000
Tattoos 1019.880 1 1019.880 52.271 .000 .554 52.271 1.000
Gender 264.050 1 264.050 13.533 .001 .244 13.533 .949
Tattoos * gender 5.357 1 5.357 .275 .603 .006 .275 .081
Error 819.479 42 19.511
Total 23249.000 46
Corrected Total 2071.413 45

With regard to factorial ANOVA 2, there was also a significant main effect of ‘gender’, F = 13.53, p <.05 (p2 = 13.53, power =.95). In this condition, male participants (M = 24.00, SD = 6.73) experienced more adjustments than females (M = 19.5, SD = 6.27). The interaction (tattoos*gender) produced a significant main effect with F =.28, p <.05 (p2 =.28, power =.081), indicating that the interaction has significant effect on sensation seeking. In particular, the female, tattoos group (M =23.57, SD = 5.00) experienced significantly less adjustment than the ‘male with tattoo’ (M = 29.1, SD = 3.00) participants did (p <.05, p2 =.28). Additionally, the main effect of tattoos (p2 = 52.27) was higher than that of gender (p2 = 13.53).


The present research sought to explain the effects of gender and body art (tattoos) on sensation seeking attitudes and behaviours. Analysis of the participants’ SSS-V responses revealed that male participants with tattoos exhibited more sensation-seeking attitudes than females. This result was consistent with the study’s hypothesis that sensation seeking was higher in males with body art (medications) than in females with tattoos. Rosenblitt et al. (2000) find a correlation between sensation seeking and gender. The study establishes that males tend to engage in riskier behaviours than females. Among males, those with lower cortisol (hormone) level exhibit impulsiveness and a greater propensity towards arousal experiences (Rosenbitt et al. 2000, p. 397). This explains why the main effects of male with tattoos group were significantly higher compared to those of men without tattoos.

Besides physiological differences, gender socialisation also shapes sensation-seeking attitudes in people (Udry 2000). This means that, though cortisol levels may be lower in participants (male and female), a disparity in sensation-seeking behaviours will exist due to gendered attitudes and values. Socialised values in males (expressiveness) and females (submissiveness) influence sensation seeking (Udry 2000). In the present study, the main effects were higher in males with tattoos than females (M = 24 vs 19.5), indicating that gender has a significant impact on sensation seeking.

Tattooing or body art also influences sensation seeking. Roberts and Ryan (2002) found a correlation between norm-breaking attitudes and body modifications in teenagers. The study found that people with body art, piercings, and tattoos tend to exhibit deviant and risky behaviour, including substance abuse, criminality, and alcoholism, among others (Roberts & Ryan 2002, p. 1059 ). In the current study, sensation seeking (main effects) was higher among participants with tattoos than those without (M = 26.33 vs 16.83). This shows that body art is an expression of sensation seeking attitudes.

Deschesnes, Fines, and Demers (2006) find a link between body modification and risk-taking behaviours. They conclude that body art is one-way individuals externalise sensation-seeking attitudes. Body art appeals to sensation seekers because it is non-conventional and provides stimulating experiences. Thus, the sensation-seeking trait influences individual lifestyle choices and preferences. The interaction effect is also significant, indicating that gender and body art are predictors of sensation seeking in teenagers.

The current research had some limitations. First, the opportunity sample lacked representativeness. Only 46 participants (26 female and 20 male) were sampled into the study, and thus, the subjects were not representative of the University of Gloucestershire’s student population. In this regard, the findings cannot be generalised to other populations in the country. Second, other socio-demographic factors (social stage, age group, and income level, among others) were not included because the purpose of the study was to explain the effects of two factors (tattoos and gender) on sensation-seeking attitudes. This may have affected the variability of the scores.

Future research should examine psychosocial factors that influence risky behaviours. The current study has shown that gender influences sensation seeking. Future research will answer the overarching question, namely, how do socialisation and biological factors interact to influence gender and sensation seeking? The social environment has a big influence on lifestyle choices, including body art (tattooing). A study of how the social environment affects gender and body art will greatly enrich our understanding of sensation seeking attitudes. In particular, research on the influence of gender socialisation on human behaviour would illuminate on the sensation-seeking differences between men and women observed in this study. Also, the effect of biological factors on risky behaviour should be investigated further to identify the confounding variables. Risk-taking attitudes are difficult to measure because of group dynamics and socialisation. Thus, their effect on sensation seeking requires further investigation.


The study examined the effects of body art and gender on sensation seeking. The results indicated that the interaction factor had the greatest effect on sensation-seeking compared to gender (factor 1) and tattoos (factor 2). A strong link exists between gender and body art and sensation seeking. Socialised values may explain the gender differences found in the study concerning sensation-seeking. On the other hand, body art indicates externalised non-conforming behaviour and is a predictor of sensation seeking. In this regard, tattooed males tend to be greater sensation seekers than females with tattoos as well as men and women without body art.


Deschesnes, M Fine, P & Demers, S 2006, ‘Are tattooing and body piercing indicators of risk-taking behaviours among high school students?’ Journal of Adolescence, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 379–393.

Hansen, E & Breivik, G 2001, ‘Sensation seeking as a predictor of positive and negative risk behaviour among adolescents’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 627-640.

Roberts, T & Ryan, S 2002, ‘Tattooing and high-risk behavior in adolescents’, Pediatrics, vol. 110, no. 6, pp. 1058–1064.

Rosenblitt, J Soler, H Johnson, S & Quadagno, D 2001, ‘Sensation Seeking and Hormones in Men and Women: Exploring the Link’, Hormones and Behavior, vol. 40, no. 1, pp.396 – 402.

Udry, J 2000, ‘Biological limits of gender construction’, American Sociological Review, vol. 65, no. 3, pp. 443– 457.

Zuckerman, M 1979, Sensation seeking: Beyond the optimal level of arousal, Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale.

Zuckerman, M 1994, Behavioral Expressions and Biosocial Bases of Sensation Seeking, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

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