Silke Wohlrab, Bernhard Fink, Lennart W Pyritz, Moritz Rahlfs, and Peter M Kappeler (2007)

Visual attention to plain and ornamented human bodies: An eye-tracking study

Perceptual and Motor Skills, 104(3):1337-1349.

Signaling mate quality through visual adornments is a common phenomenon in animals and humans. However, humans are probably the only species who applies artificial ornaments. Such deliberate alterations of the skin, e.g., tattoos and scarring patterns, have been discussed by researchers as potential handicap signals, but there is still very little information about a potential biological signaling value of body modification. In this study eye-tracking was employed to investigate the signaling value of tattoos and other body modification. Measurement of gaze duration of 50 individuals while watching plain, scarred, accessorized, and tattooed bodies of artificial human images indicated that participants looked significantly longer at tattooed than at scarred, accessorized, and plain bodies. Generally, male participants paid more attention to tattooed stimuli of both sexes. More detailed analyses showed that particularly female tattooed stimuli were looked at longer. These findings are discussed within an evolutionary framework by suggesting that tattoos might have some signaling value which influences the perception of both male and female conspecifics and may hence also affect mating decisions.

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