• Revision:Approaches - Body Decoration

‘It has been claimed by some people that there is a growing trend for ‘body decoration’ in young people in Britain today. Many young men and women now display a wide range of tattoos and have almost every conceivable part of their bodies pierced and adorned with jewellery.’

How might this be explained?

A) Describe how the subject presented in the stimulus material might be explained by two different approaches. (6 + 6 marks).

The biological approach could explain ‘body decoration’ through the idea of neurophysiology. Endorphins are brain chemicals which could be linked to the trend of body decoration, as high endorphin levels usually result from being in pain (e.g. the pain of getting a tattoo or piercing) – which then leads to decreased pain and a ‘rush’ from the endorphin release. The chemicals make you feel happy, and this explains why people may keep getting body decorations done. Also, a person’s genes could affect body decoration – e.g. if someone has naturally high/excess levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with addictive behaviour, this explains how they could easily become addicted to the high that comes from body art. Additionally, as body decoration makes young men and women stand out from the crowd, they may believe that this actually makes them a more attractive potential partner, and thus ensures their gene survival more. The sociobiological view suggests that this is our ultimate aim in life (as shown by Wilson), and body decoration could help people achieve this goal, e.g. if you stand out, the opposite sex is more likely to notice you and thus this increases your chance of getting a mate to reproduce with.

Another explanation for ‘body decoration’ comes from the behavioural approach – for example, operant conditioning. Negative reinforcement suggests that young people may get tattoos and piercings to eradicate the chance of them being called a geek – because body art is often associated with being rebellious. By getting body art, they are removing the unpleasant consequence of being seen as conformist, and so the behaviour will be reinforced. Additionally, because so many young people are engaging in it, they are likely to get positive reinforcement, and this will increase the likelihood of this behaviour. This particularly applies to individuals who have siblings with tattoos or piercings, who get a lot of reinforcement, as they will learn this behaviour through vicarious reinforcement. Classical conditioning suggests that perhaps young people have come to associate body decoration with being cool, and so this leads to them also adopting the behaviour (learning by association as shown in Watson & Rayner’s study). Social learning theory suggests that because many celebrities have tattoos (for example, Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie) and due to the fact that young people are very much influenced by this culture, they will then adopt this idea of body decoration.

B) Assess one of these explanations of the subject presented in the stimulus material in terms of its strengths and limitations. (6 marks).

The biological model has its strengths in that scientific research has clearly shown that physiology plays an important role in all our behaviour and this evidence can be tested over and over through experimental research. This improves its reliability as an explanation. Also, it has huge implications in terms of treatments (i.e. through drugs). However, the theory in general is very deterministic, and reductionist – putting it all down to genes when clearly there are other explanations for behaviour, and when it also doesn’t explain all behaviours perfectly. For example, it doesn’t explain why those with low levels of dopamine will still get body art – and for a lot of people, the pain of the tattoo or piercing outweighs the endorphin rush and many find it an unpleasant experience – but this is not accounted for within the explanation. Often it is difficult to know whether there is a cause and effect relationship between the neurotransmitters and the body art (i.e. whether it is high levels of dopamine which lead to getting body art, or vice versa). Additionally, the sociobiological view of gene survival is also extremely reductionist, as there must be more motives behind behaviour than just attracting members of the opposite sex – particularly when some people may find tattoos or piercings unattractive.

C) How might the subject presented in the stimulus material be investigated by one of these approaches? (6 marks).

The biological approach could investigate body decoration through testing the hypothesis ‘levels of dopamine correlate with the likelihood of getting a tattoo’. The IV would be the level of dopamine, and the DV would be the chance of getting a tattoo. A volunteer sample would be used to choose participants, and they would be found at tattoo parlours, and should all be willing to have their dopamine levels altered before getting the tattoo. The research design would have to be independent measures due to the nature of the sample. The participants would be split into 3 groups; the first group would have their dopamine levels increased through being given the drug L-Dopa, the second group would have it decreased through phenothiazines, and the last group would be a control group whose dopamine levels should not be altered. The experimenter should measure the dopamine levels before they go in for the tattoo, and should then take account of whether they want to go ahead with it or not. If the hypothesis is correct, the experimenter should hope to find that those with lowered levels of dopamine might pull out of getting the tattoo because their levels of motivation to perform this activity have been decreased. Additionally, the experimenter should take into account reactions – whether they are hesitant or eager, to provide more depth to the results.

D) Evaluate the use of this method of investigating the subject material presented in the stimulus material. (6 marks).

Generally this study may be ethically quite dubious, because altering people’s hormone levels could have other effects outside of the experiment. However, the ethical issue of informed consent is stuck to, and there is no deception involved. There are many confounding variables which could have come into play and affected the results - particularly individual differences. Mainly, the reasons for getting the tattoo or not getting it are not taken into consideration. Other factors such as social pressures, or importance of the tattoo could have affected their decision, whether their dopamine levels were altered or not. Getting enough people for the experiment would also be difficult (and time consuming) as it is very specific, and finding people who are getting a tattoo and want to take part in an experiment where their hormone levels are altered is probably difficult. The independent measures research design also doesn’t take into consideration any individual differences in personality which could have affected results. The participants may also be more motivated to get the tattoo because a researcher is present and they don’t want to be seen pulling out or changing their minds. Susceptibility to the drug is also not taken into account, and this may be something which greatly impacted results – the levels of dopamine should perhaps have been measured rather than just giving them the drug.

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