People get tattoos for a variety of reasons, including personal meaning and identity expression, cultural and social factors, aesthetic appeal, and more. Understanding the motivations behind tattooing can provide valuable insights into the psychology of this popular practice.

Tattoos have been a part of human culture for centuries, and the reasons why people choose to get them have evolved over time. In the past, tattoos were often associated with tribal identity or status, while in modern times, they have become more of a form of personal expression and individuality. 

Tattoos have become an increasingly popular form of self-expression in recent years. From small, discrete designs to large, intricate works of art, tattoos can hold significant meaning and symbolism for the individuals who choose to get them. In this article, we’ll explore the various reasons why people get tattoos and what they can represent.

Why Do People Get Tattoos

Tattoos have been around for centuries, and the reasons why people choose to get them are as diverse as the individuals who sport them. Here are some common reasons why people get tattoos:

1. Self-expression and identity

One of the primary reasons people get tattoos is to express themselves and their individuality. Tattoos can be a way to showcase one’s personality, beliefs, and interests. Many people choose tattoos that are unique to them, such as a design that represents their favorite hobby or a symbol that has personal significance.

Tattoos can also be a way to express one’s identity or to make a statement about who they are. For example, someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ may choose to get a tattoo that represents their sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, someone who is passionate about a particular cause may get a tattoo to raise awareness or show their support for that cause.

2. Cultural and tribal significance

Tattoos have been used in various cultures throughout history to signify membership in a particular group or tribe. For example, in Polynesian culture, tattoos are used to mark status and rank within a community. In Native American culture, tattoos may be used to represent one’s connection to the natural world or to honor one’s ancestors.

Many people today also choose to get tattoos that are inspired by their cultural heritage or ancestry. For example, someone with Irish heritage may choose to get a tattoo of a Celtic knot or a shamrock, while someone with Japanese ancestry may choose to get a tattoo of a cherry blossom or a koi fish.

3. Artistic expression

For some, getting a tattoo is simply a way to appreciate and showcase beautiful artwork. Many tattoo artists are incredibly talented and can create stunning pieces of art on the skin. Some people collect tattoos as a way to express their appreciation for this form of art and to support their favorite tattoo artists.

Tattoos can also be a way for people to express their creativity and individuality. Unlike other forms of art, tattoos are a permanent and unique form of self-expression. For this reason, many people choose to get tattoos that are original designs or that have been customized to their specific tastes.

4. Emotional healing and closure

Tattoos can also be a way to process and heal from emotional trauma or to find closure after a difficult experience. For example, someone who has survived cancer may get a tattoo to commemorate their strength and resilience. Others may get tattoos to honor a lost loved one or to symbolize overcoming a personal struggle.

Tattoos can also be a way to mark a significant event or milestone in one’s life, such as the birth of a child, a wedding, or a major personal accomplishment. By getting a tattoo to commemorate these events, people can create a lasting reminder of their experiences and the emotions they felt at the time.

5. Peer pressure and rebellion

While not the most positive reasons to get a tattoo, peer pressure and rebellion can also be factors. Some people may feel pressured by friends or romantic partners to get a tattoo, while others may get a tattoo as a way to rebel against societal norms or expectations.

Note that getting a tattoo should always be a personal decision and not one made out of pressure or rebellion. Tattoos are a permanent form of self-expression, and it’s essential to carefully consider the design, placement, and potential consequences before getting inked.

6. Tattoos and body positivity

In recent years, tattoos have become increasingly associated with body positivity and acceptance. Many people choose to get tattoos as a way to celebrate their bodies and to embrace their perceived flaws or imperfections. Tattoos can be a way to reclaim ownership over one’s body and express confidence and self-love.

7. Tattoos and mental health

Finally, tattoos can also play a role in mental health and wellness. For some people, getting a tattoo can be a cathartic experience and a way to release pent-up emotions. The process of getting a tattoo can also be a mindful experience, requiring focus and concentration that can be meditative and calming.

Tattoos can also be a way to cope with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and self-harm. For example, some people may choose to get a tattoo as a way to cover up scars or to symbolize their journey towards recovery.

Psychology of Tattoos

A recent study led by psychologist Luzelle Naudé from the University of the Free State in South Africa aimed to investigate the reasons behind why some individuals choose to get tattoos. Specifically, the study focused on college seniors who were enrolled in a psychology research methods course and their perceptions of tattoos.

Participants were asked to complete questionnaires that inquired about their own experiences with tattoos, including whether or not they had tattoos, how many of their friends had tattoos, and their reasons for having or not having tattoos. The participants were also invited back for a follow-up interview that delved deeper into their perceptions of tattoos.

The study found that most of the participants (78%) did not have tattoos, and most of their parents (92%) did not have tattoos. However, a majority of the participants’ friends (74%) had tattoos, and almost half (47%) were considering getting a tattoo or another tattoo.

The reasons for getting or not getting a tattoo were fairly balanced, with 47% of participants responding positively and 50% responding negatively. For those who had tattoos, the primary motivation (25%) was personal meaning, such as to commemorate a significant experience or struggle. Other participants (12%) felt that tattoos were an extension or expression of their identity. Additionally, some participants found tattoos to be appealing forms of art.

For those who opted not to get a tattoo, the main reasons revolved around social and cultural factors, primarily religion (11%). Other reasons included disapproval from family and friends, negative views at work, concerns about permanency, and fear of needles and pain. Some participants also viewed tattoos as unappealing.

Overall, the participants were mostly non-judgmental about tattoos and those who had them. A majority of participants had positive opinions about tattoos and respected the preferences of those who chose to get tattoos.

This study sheds light on the reasons behind why some people choose to get tattoos. Personal meaning and self-expression were significant motivating factors for those who had tattoos, while social and cultural factors were reasons for those who chose not to get tattoos. Additionally, the study found that the majority of participants respected the preferences of individuals with tattoos.



There are many reasons why people choose to get tattoos, and each tattoo can have a unique significance and meaning. Whether it’s a way to express oneself, celebrate culture and heritage, showcase beautiful art, heal emotional wounds, or find closure, tattoos can serve as a powerful form of self-expression and identity.


Carefully consider the decision to get a tattoo and choose a design that holds personal significance and meaning. Getting a tattoo should always be a personal decision, made for oneself and not out of pressure or rebellion. With careful consideration and thoughtful planning, a tattoo can be a beautiful and meaningful addition to one’s body and personal story.

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