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Sensory & Employment Experiences of Individuals with Tattoos

Valerie R. Berner MOTS, Jacolyn A. Hudson MOTS, Leah L. Norcross MOTS, Rachel T. Pins MOTS,
Jordan M. Pulliam MOTS, Audrey L. White MOTS, & Christine K. Urish, PhD, OTR/L, BCMH, FAOTA

Master of Occupational Therapy Program, St. Ambrose University


PURPOSE
The purpose of this research was to examine the sensory
processing and employment experiences of individuals with
tattoos. Researchers were interested in investigating these
variables in order to contribute and expand on the emerging
practice area in occupational therapy of treating adults with
sensory processing disorders.

LITERATURE REVIEW
Dunn created the Model of Sensory Processing in order to

explain how people respond to sensory information


(Brown et al., 2001)
Differing sensory needs may contribute to why some
individuals seek multiple tattoos (Roberti et al., 2003)
Burgess & Clark (2010) found that tattooed individuals were
more likely to be denied a job compared to those without
tattoos
Out of 30 Human Resource managers, 87% described
negative feelings toward tattoos and piercings on
interviewees (Swanger, 2005)
Based upon appearance alone, employers and the general
population negatively judged job skills of individuals with
numerous visible tattoos (Dean, 2011)
Results of sensory evaluations guide OTs in treatment
planning to support a clients sensory needs to promote
participation in daily activities (Burgess & Clark, 2010)

METHODS
Participants & Recruitment
Adults (18 years or older) with at least one tattoo were
recruited through tattoo shops and flyers within the IA/IL
area. Information was also posted on social media sites that
led to a variety of participants across the United States. This
study included 53 participants consisting of 29 females and
24 males.
Instruments
Once individuals agreed to participate they completed the
following:
A survey developed by researchers to address demographic
information, employment, and sensory and tattoo experiences
A body diagram to document tattooed areas
Adolescent/Adult Sensory Profile (AASP)

RESULTS

DISCUSSION
PASSIVE
RESPONSE TO
STIMULI

ACTIVE
RESPONSE TO
STIMULI

2
LOW
REGISTRATION
33.13*

INDIVIDUAL WITH HIGH


SENSORY TOLERANCE

SENSATION
SEEKING
50.57*

4
SENSORY
SENSITIVITY
36.02*

INDIVIDUAL WITH LOW


SENSORY TOLERANCE

SENSATION
AVOIDING
38.25*
* Mean Score Results

Dunns Model of Sensory Processing

Range of Scores
Considered Similar
to Most People

LOW
REGISTRATION

SENSATION
SEEKING

SENSORY
SENSITIVITY

SENSATION
AVOIDING

24 - 35

43 - 56

26 - 41

27 - 41

According to AASP scores, sample may not need sensory


treatment which conflicts with past studies and researcher
predictions
The themes that were discovered from the employment
questionnaire suggest that participants are using tattooing
to meet their sensory needs, as it was described as
calming and relaxing.
This study may suggest a better outlook for people with
tattoos in the workplace and that employers views on
tattoos in the workplace may have shifted.
OT has a role in treating sensory needs of adults if those
needs are interfering with daily life
Occupational therapists should be cognizant of adult
sensory preferences in order to provide holistic care to
increase therapy outcomes and overall client satisfaction
Limitations
Participants likely not a true representation of all individuals
with tattoos
AASP may not be sensitive enough to hone in on the sensory
profiles of this population
Individuals with a minimum amount of coverage included
Body diagram may not be an accurate representation of
tattoo coverage

AASP Mean Scores of Sensory Quadrants

Occupations
Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, Media
Business
Laborer
Food Prep, Serving
Education, Training, Library
Protective Services
Healthcare Practitioners and Support
Unemployment
Personal Care, Service

Visible
7
7
5
4
3
3
2
2
1

Not Visible
0
6
1
1
3
0
3
2
3

Occupations of Participants and Visibility of Tattoos

Outlets
Sensory Results
Twenty participants reported no
The AASP revealed the following number of
alternative outlets to getting tattoos
participants in the similar to most category:
Low Registration: n = 26
Sensation Seeking: n = 32
Alternative Outlets
Sensory Sensitivity: n = 31
Changing appearance (body building/
Sensation Avoiding: n = 32
piercings)
Artistic expression (writing, drawing,
Sensations felt during tattooing:
painting)
Pain: n = 42
Relaxation: n = 17
Tattoo Coverage
Anxiety, stress, or tension: n = 22
1 9 Compartments: n = 42
Burning, hot, or sweaty: n = 11
10 18 Compartments: n = 8
19 27 Compartments: n = 3

Current vs. Past Employer Feedback for


Participants with Visible Tattoos
Feedback at past job
4 positive
9 negative
16 none
Feedback at current job
11 positive
4 negative
13 none

FURTHER RESEARCH
Needed within this emerging practice area to expand
knowledge base on adult sensory needs
Develop specific inclusion criteria and a more focused
research question
Utilize a more suitable sensory assessment

REFERENCES
Brown, C., Tollefson, N., Dunn, W., Cromwell, R., & Filion, D. (2001).
The adult sensory profile: Measuring patterns of sensory processing.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 55, 75-82. Philadelphia, PA:
F.A. Davis Company
Burgess, M., & Clark, L. (2010). Do the savage origins of tattoos cast
a prejudicial shadow on contemporary tattooed individuals?
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40(3), 746-764. doi:10.1111/
j.1559-1816.2010.00596.x
Dean, D.H. (2011). Young adult perception of visible tattoos on white
collar service provider. Young Consumers, 12(3), 254-264.
doi:10.1108/17473611111163304
Engel-Yeger, B., & Dunn, W. (2011b). The relationship between sensory
processing difficulties and anxiety level of healthy adults. British Journal
of Occupational Therapy, 74(5), 210-216. doi:10.4276/03080221
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Roberti, J. W., Storch, E. A., & Bravata, E. A. (2003). Sensation seeking,
exposure to psychosocial stressors and body modifications in a college
population. Personality and Individual Differences, 37(2004),
1167-1177. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2003.11.020
Swanger, N. (2005). Visible body modification (VBM): Evidence from
human resource managers and recruiters and the effects on
employment. Hospitality Management, 25, 154-158. doi:10.1016/
j.ijhm.2004.12.004