Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Personality Tattoo

Dr. William Cardasis at the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry offered some alarming research findings last week: Tattoos may predict Antisocial Personality Disorder. I have to admit, when I first read this at the LA Times, I thought it must be a joke. But, alas, 'twas not.

Apparently the good doctor and his colleagues studied 36 male inpatients at a maximum-security state psychiatric facility and looked for a correlation between sporting a tattoo and having Antisocial Personality Disorder. In other words, do men with tattoos tend to be psychopaths?

As one might expect, the investigators' question was answered with a resounding yes. Fully 73% of the men with tattoos also had an antisocial diagnosis compared to only a 29% of those without. There is no indication what percentage of these 36 men were sociopaths.

What fails the laugh test in this research are the obvious skews in the pitifully small sample. Well-researched literature pegs sociopaths at about 28% of the prison population, an exponentially higher percentage than among the rest of the population. The fact that they examined men in a prison psychiatry ward only loads the data more. I'm going to guess that a huge number of prisoners have tattoos. I don't know of any data, but anecdotally, people who work in the system estimate from 75% to 90% of inmate have tattoos.

So then, this study makes the leap that of 36 inmates, 10 (28%) have antisocial personality disorder. Within those 10, 7 have tattoos and 3 don't.

What to make of all this? According to Cardasis, we can predict "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."

With the prevalence of tattoos in our society in general, can we infer much meaning into them anyway? Using tattoos as a predictor of violence is about as meaningful as listening to hip-hop as a barometer of psychopathy.Sphere: Related Content

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