People Who Report Childhood Abuse And Neglect More Likely To Have Tattoos and Piercings, Study Suggests

The findings corroborate previous research that shows a link between body modification and experienced adversity. 

Johannes Van Zijl

Johannes Van Zijl

Johannes has a MSci in Neuroscience from King’s College London and serves as the Managing Director at IFLScience.

Managing Director

Professional tattooer burning the tatoo with gloves on by special tool closeup.
The findings could open up new avenues for support and screening. Image Credit: Stop war in Ukraine/

Body piercings and tattoos have been around for centuries. They're common in various cultures and with advances in technology, have become a popular trend in modern society. Individuals have different psychological motives for getting body modifications, such as social status or for cultural reasons, however, a new study may have found a more sinister reason associated with the decision. 

People who have experienced childhood adversity in the form of abuse and neglect are also more likely to get tattoos and piercings, that’s according to a cross-sectional study published in the journal BMC Psychology.


 "We found consistent associations of abuse and neglect and the presence of body modifications. Not only were tattoos and piercings more common among those who reported any kind of childhood adversity, their prevalence rates also increased with greater severity of all kinds of abuse and neglect," the authors write in their paper. 

The study authors assessed survey data from 1,060 participants in the German population. 

The participants were asked a range of questions to glean their socio-demographic information, including whether they had tattoos or piercings and whether they experienced any form of childhood abuse or neglect as well as the extent of the abuse or neglect. 

The age of participants ranged from 14-44 years old, with the average being around 30 years of age. Many of the participants also fell into the lowest income bracket after their socioeconomic status was surveyed. 


The authors found that roughly 40 percent of participants had at least one tattoo or piercing, while almost 25 percent reported at least one kind of child abuse or neglect. Importantly, "48.3 percent of those reporting at least one kind of abuse or neglect also reported to have at least one tattoo or piercing, compared to 35 percent among those who reported no childhood abuse or neglect," they explain.

A strong link between the severity of the abuse or neglect and increased piercings and tattoos was also observed. The latest findings do corroborate previous studies, which focused on more specific risk groups but had similar findings. 

However, it is worth mentioning some of the limitations of the new study. As it was a cross-sectional study based only on a German population sample, no definite causal link can be drawn. The study design made use of self-reporting, which also makes it harder to draw any definite conclusions. Nevertheless, there are some takeaways as the authors explained.

"These findings open up new avenues for support offers (involving tattoo artists and piercers) and screening (e.g., in primary care). Tattoos and piercings could also provide an impetus for therapeutic conversations about the significance of past experiences and about currently important themes." 


  • tag
  • psychology,

  • neuroscience,

  • tattoos,

  • childhood abuse