Tag Archives: tattoo

Does Developmental Religious Ritual or Tattooing Inoculate You Against Later Stress?

In live Tweeting from today’s Neuroanthropology discussion, we were joined online by anthropological primatologists Katie Hinde, Julianne Rutherford, & Amanda Dettmer. Apropos of a comment by a classmate, Lauren Nolan pointed out studies suggesting that prenatal glucocorticoid exposure supposedly programmed those individuals to be more anxious. I thought about the role ritualized stress in the form of speaking in tongues seems to play in exercising (not exorcising) the homeostatic system so that the activation threshold is higher & wondered if prenatal exposure might actually habituate the infant.

To which smarty-pants Katie piped in:

She suggested Amanda Dettmer join the conversation, who provided some awesome sources (off the top of her head, Tweet-ready!).

Katie also wrangled Julianne Rutherford to join the conversation from a plane flying back from China. Miraculously, somehow, Julianne was able to do that.

This gave me some reading to do while I walked the dog. Seriously, technology is wonderful. I looked up the Parker & Lyons work Amanda mentioned, found a 2010 review by Parker available as open access PDF, downloaded it to the vBookz app on my phone, & a robot voice read the article to me while I walked my husky.

The gist of these data is that early exposure to reasonable stress (e.g., temporary separation from mom) is associated with lower stress reactivity later on. A person literally embodies, “I can handle shit.”

And it got me thinking about some of the stress biomarker research we’ve done. We found an inoculation effect in adults getting tattooed. We measured salivary immunoglobulin A before & after tattooing sessions & found those with more tattoo experience had less of a pre-post SIgA decrease. My master’s student Johnna Dominguez is currently writing these data up for her thesis, a presentation at HBA 2015, & a publication manuscript. I wonder, does this inoculation extend to other areas of experience? Is there change in the prefrontal cortical areas observed in the squirrel monkey studies because one knows one can endure the pain of tattooing?

No big deal.
No big deal.

In class the other day, I had students stick their hands in ice water to demonstrate our adaptation to cold & measured stress response using skin conductance. Most found it excruciating & rated the pain rather high. A few of us found it painful but had experienced worse & so did not react in as extreme a way nor rate the pain as high. Was the sensation the same? I don’t know. Maybe plastic changes in our brains based on our previous experiences had moderated our response AND the physical sensation.

Big deal.
Big deal.

I see more tattoo research in my future. Anyone have access to an MRI machine & want to help me stick tattooed people in it?

In my previous research that I mentioned at the beginning, I found that people with more glossolalia (tongue-speaking) experience had lower cortisol on non-worship days than those with less experience, suggesting the culturally moderated stressor of worship inoculates worshippers against daily stress outside worship contexts to some extent. The developmental aspects of the primate studies has me wondering if there is a difference between those who grew up in the church—i.e., experienced the culturally moderated stress developmentally—& those who joined it as adults with regard to how effective the inoculation is. I wonder if that information is in my data…?