Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Why do inmates tattoo their faces?

The answer from our friends at MarginalRevolution.com, where they analyze signaling as a solution to the problem of adverse selection.

Take the quiz at the end of the video to figure out the answer to the question in the blog post.


  1. People in prison got there because they made stupid decisions. Tatting up your face provides this information to fellow inmates, "Look, bruh, I made a spectacularly stupid decision to get my face tattooed. If this is a Stupid Contest, I'm at the top of the prison food chain. Don't mess with me." SC

  2. The concept of signaling is new to me and very interesting! I'm sure this is an outlet companies use all the time, because it sounds like a familiar idea! Signaling theories in education department would ideally be great if it could correlate the same way across all fields of careers. Considering that a degree is basically a signal makes a lot of sense and certainly a phenomenon that could be integrate in performance management tools.

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    2. I'd be interested to learn how other fields and companies have used signaling to achieve higher profit margins. It almost sounds like a subliminal message except it's out in the open.

  3. Inmates tattoo their faces as a form of signaling, described in the video as an expensive way of transferring information. An inmate with a tattooed face signals to other inmates that they have no intention of leaving prison, that a “normal” life is not for them. To other inmates, this connotes a sort of seriousness that means “I am a hardened criminal.”, and it is likely that others will leave them alone because their faces convey the implication that they have no problem being in prison and intend to stay in prison. A former prisoner with a tattooed face essentially wears a billboard that says “I am a former convict and I do not want to lead a straight life.” The tattoo on their face makes them unlikely to land a job that pays more than minimum wage, and represents the conscious decision to lead a life where they are either outside of public view, or stay with a life of crime and inevitably end up back in prison.

  4. After watching the video, the most important thing I took away information that I took away was “the signal has to be credible to work”. For a prisoner, sending the right message to the uninformed prisoner who knows nothing about them, could be the difference between life and death. Facial tattoos, or markings could help to identify a person’s gang affiliation, or other important information.
    As a student and job seeker, I may not tattoo my face to get attention, buy use my resume to gather interest from a perspective employer, or through body language in an interview to convey confidence and knowledge to those who know very little about me.
    Another form of signaling that seems to happen quite often is when the Federal Reserve lowers, raises, or keeps the interest rates the same. This signals investors on the status of the economy and helps them make decisions about how they will invest their resources.