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How Tattoos, Piercings, and Other Choices Affect First Impressions at Work


Fairly or not, people make assumptions about others based upon mannerisms, clothing, and personal appearance. Research on first impressions gives us insight into how to control and direct the first impressions we make on others.

(Photo Credit: BrandiBruce/Flickr)

The trouble with first impressions is that they are, by definition, made with very little information — perhaps just how well a new acquaintance makes eye contact or what brand of shoe he is wearing. Sometimes our first impressions are correct, other times incorrect. Understanding common first impressions can help us present ourselves to our best advantage at work.

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Facial Piercings

In research from 2012, people were asked to give their impressions of models with increasing numbers of facial piercings. The more facial piercings a person had, the less intelligent they were considered to be by the participants. Remember, this is a first impression with no other information about the person with piercings.

Higher numbers of facial piercings were associated with extraversion and sensation-seeking. They were also associated with lack of intelligence. Some test subjects also had piercings and the researchers took this into account. It seems that people with fewer piercings will still judge those with more piercings as unintelligent, in general.

In 2008, a different study concluded that women with facial piercings were assumed to be creative.

All of this information may be used to your advantage. You may remove facial jewelry temporarily to control first impressions, or leave it as is, depending upon what impression you wish to give. If you want to be seen as extremely creative or extraverted and willing to take risks, leaving jewelry in place may give you an advantage.


One study on first impressions and tattoos claims that women with tattoos are assumed to be more promiscuous. (Perhaps tattoos have something in common with wearing red?) In any case, people are usually free to choose whether to show or cover a tattoo on any given day.

Shaved Heads

Three studies conducted by the Wharton School conclude that men with shaved heads are considered more dominant than their counterparts with a full head of hair. Shorn men were also assumed to be taller and physically stronger than those with hair. One of the studies digitally removed the hair from photos of men, and had test subjects rate both pictures. While the only difference was hair or no hair, the bald models were assumed to be — you guessed it — taller, stronger, and more dominant.

We are not suggesting that all men shave their heads, but it is interesting to note the psychology of first impressions and use them, when appropriate, to your advantage.

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think about the psychology of first impressions? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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I wouldn’t want to work for someone with such a strong opinion against trivial things like tattoos and piercings.


While I do appreciate professional appearance, I find it disheartening that someone would prioritize looks over intellect when selecting a potential job candidate…and no, I am neither pierced nor tattooed.


Piercing, tattoos, are a no-no in my book, regardless of that person’s intelligence. They have no place in a business environment. (However, here in Montreal I’ve seen some young men-bank clerks-with ear/eyebrow piercings, tattoos, dressed very casually, and not ONLY on casual Fridays). Times have changed, what with this (garbage) so-called “political correctness”. Illegal questions by an employer include : what is your religion/what is your age/are you married/do you have any children/sexual orientation-wow, that’s mouthful, eh? Online applications include… Read more »

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