Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology


In the main, prior research into tattooing has been the domain of cultural and anthropological studies and hence theorising about tattooing took a societal perspective. Investigations into tattoos from a psychological viewpoint tended to concentrate on deviance, selecting participants from mental hospitals and jails, resulting in selffulfilling prophecies. The current thesis investigated the reasons for being tattooed from an individual point of view, rather than a societal one. Secondly, the thesis explored the behaviour of tattooing from a perspective of psychological functioning. To this end Personal Construct Theory was employed, as it allowed a conceptualisation of tattooing as experimentation, rather than focusing on tattoo as an indication of deviance. Participants were 56 volunteers who were interviewed in depth about their tattoos and who completed a Repertory Grid. The Repertory Grid was designed to tap into the participants’ views of their selves, both before and after being tattooed, as well as their views on others and contained seven self and five “other” elements. Interviews established two types of reasons an individual decides to become tattooed – motivation and meaning. Motivation relates to why the individual decided to become marked in the first place, while meaning refers to the meaning the tattooed person gave for the chosen design. Motivation and meaning were able to be linked to facets of identity, such as belonging, rites of passage, remembrance, and personal philosophy. A number of the reasons for getting a tattoo were able to be accommodated within the Personal Construct Theory perspective of behaviour as an experiment, supplemented by a narrative focus. Combining grid analyses with insight from the interviews was a unique way to investigate questions about how differently motivated tattooees see themselves and others. Results point to the genesis of a theory of tattoo acquisition that could be the basis for further research.

transcripts.pdf (4327 kB)