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Tattooing Commitment, Quality, and Football in Southeastern North America

Monday, April 3, 2017

5:15-6:15 pm



Tattooing appears to be a cultural and psychological pattern of behavior rooted in Darwinian processes. It is the result of an evolved tendency to manipulate human bodies in meaningful ways with distinctive benefits. Tattooing can signal group affiliation or commitment through using the body as a human canvas. Tattooing also provides cues about biological quality because it is an injury to the body, and the healing process on the surface of the skin is visible to everyone and impossible to fake. These factors make tattoos costly honest signals, consistent with evolutionary models in multiple species, including humans. I review the functions of tattooing from an evolutionary perspective, outline historic and prehistoric evidence from the North American Southeast, analyze biological implications, and discuss contemporary functions of tattooing among college football fans as a signal of commitment and quality.

This talk is based on a chapter I co-authored in the edited volume Evolution Education in the American South (Palgrave-Macmillan 2017).


About the speaker

Christopher D. Lynn is an associate professor of anthropology and director of evolutionary studies at the University of Alabama. He studies the diversity and evolution of non-conscious cognitive behaviors that underlie cooperation, ritual, and recreation. He has worked in Costa Rica, the U.S., and American Samoa. He is editor of Evolution Education in the American South: Culture, Politics, and Resources in and Around Alabama (Palgrave Macmillan 2017) and has published in Anthropology of Consciousness, Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, Evolutionary Psychology, Religion, Brain and Behavior, Anthropology Now, Journal of Cognition and Culture, Ethos, Annals of Anthropological Practice, and American Journal of Human Biology.


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Last Updated: 12/4/20