Relationships between Body Modifications and Very High-Risk Behaviors in a College Population

Article excerpt

Previous studies have revealed a positive correlation between risky behaviors (such as the use of drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol) and participation in body modification. There is a shortage of available research, however, investigating the relationship between body modification and behaviors of higher-risk such as driving while intoxicated and unsafe sexual practices. The current study attempted to bridge this gap in the literature by examining body modification participation and involvement in very high-risk behaviors common to a college student population. Two hypotheses were examined. First, it was hypothesized that a positive relationship between participation in body modification and very high-risk activities would be found. Secondly, it was hypothesized that self-esteem would mediate the relationship between body modification and very high-risk behaviors. The Cognitive Appraisal of Risky Events--Revised (Fromme, D'Amico, & Katz, 1999; Katz, Fromme, & D'Amico, 2000) and The Coopersmith Inventory (Coopersmith, 1981) were administered to 117 undergraduate students at a small midwestern university. Only the first hypothesis was supported. Results suggested different levels of high-risk behavior.


Participation in risky behaviors is well documented in college populations: driving while intoxicated and unsafe sexual practices are two of the most common behaviors (Fromme, Katz, & Rivet, 1997). Fromme et al. (1997) found that 50% of students surveyed report having driven while intoxicated, and that 30% of fatal motor vehicle accidents involved drivers under the influence of alcohol who were between the ages of 16 and 24 years. The majority of college students are sexually active (nearly 82%), but most do not use condoms (Wiley, James, Jordan-Belver, Furney, Calsbeek, Benjamin, & Kathcart, 1996; Fromme et al., 1997). Participation in body modifications (i.e., tattoos and body piercings) is another risky behavior that has become increasingly common among college populations (Grief & Hewitt, 1999).

It has been suggested that between seven and 20 million adults in the United States are currently tattooed (Grief & Hewitt, 1999). However, body modifications (i.e., tattoos and body piercings) are not a product of recent history (Dorfer, Moser, Bahr, Spindler, Egarter-Vigl, Giullen, Dohr, and Kenner, 1999; Ferguson, 1999; and Armstrong, Ekmark, and Brooks, 1995). Each has been practiced around the world for thousands of years (Grief & Hewitt, 1999; Phelan & Hunt, 1998; Armstrong, Stuppy, J., Gabriel, C., & Anderson, R., 1996). More recent examples include celebrities and sports stars. Media attention and apparent social acceptance of body modification have eliminated many of the feelings of delinquency that were once associated with participation (Ferguson, 1999; Putnins, 1997; Peterson, 1997; and Armstrong et al., 1995). Given the media's glamorous portrayal of fashionable elites who flaunt their tattoos and body piercings, it is not surprising that many of today's youth consider getting some type of body modification (Holmstrom, 1998; Axtman, 2000; Reybold, 1996).

To put the current trend of body modification participation in perspective, Gard (1999) reports that tattooing is now America's sixth-fastest growing industry. College students today represent a large proportion of this increase in body modification. Grief and Hewitt (1999) report estimates indicating that 25% of those between the ages of 15 to 25 are tattooed. The researchers further indicate that the majority of college students with body modifications acquired them after they enrolled in college (ages 18 to 22). In search of their own social identity, today's American youths seem to consider body modification as a way to achieve a sense of independence (Holmstrom, 1998) and to express their personal views to the world (Axtman, 2000). …