Лекция: Tattoos, Piercings May Advertise Good Health


Dec. 3, 2009

Special to World Science

Tattoos and body piercings—common worldwide since ancient times—may exist because they effectively adver­tise robust health and good genes to potential mates, a study proposes.

Biologists theorize that many risky, costly and apparently useless behaviors persist among animals because of what they communicate to potential mates, rivals and others. For example, an expensive Rolex watch may be no more useful or prettier than a Timex, but for some people it serves a function by creating an aura of wealth.

Tattoos and body piercings—com­mon worldwide since ancient times—may persist because they effectively advertise robust health and good genes to potential mates, a study pro­poses. (Image courtesy CDC)

A field of evolutionary biology called signaling theory examines such behaviors.

“Honest signals” are defined as signals that are hard to fake and thus make better advertisements. For instance, the Rolex may not show true financial solidity; you might have just overdrawn your credit card or be running a Ponzi scheme.

On the other hand, if you stick a metal pin through your cheek without suffering any ill effects that may actually say something about your immune system, espe­cially if disinfection hasn’t been invented yet. Thus, it could be an honest signal of health, if perhaps not of the sharpest mind.

Slawomir Koziel of the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Anthropology in Wroclaw, Poland, and colleagues decided to explore whether body-decorated peo­ple actually do have better health than average.

They measured levels of bodily symmetry in 200 people with and without tattooes and unconventional piercings. Many scientists consider such symmetry as an indi­cator of healthy development.

Symmetry was significantly higher in the tattooed-and-pierced group, especially in men, the researchers found.

“Higher body symmetry of the men having tattoos or piercing indicates that this type of body decoration in the Western society can be related to the honest signal of biological quality only for men,” Koziel and colleagues wrote, describing their findings in a paper slated for publication in the research journal Evolution and Human Be­havior.

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