Graffiti writers: An exploratory personality study

Lenore Feltman Proctor, Pace University


This study attempted to determine whether the personality organization and social behavior of a group of conduct disordered graffiti writing adolescents could be distinguished from that of a comparison group of non-graffiti writers on object representations, integration and regulation of affect, degree of oppositionalism, level of ego development, level of self-esteem, originality, and aspects of social behavior. Thirteen graffiti writers and 11 non-graffiti writers were matched on age (13-20), race, and IQ (low average-average), and, in individual sessions, were administered the Rorschach (Rorschach, 1940), the Washington University Sentence Completion Test (Loevinger & Wessler, 1978), the Human Figure Drawings, the Jesness Behavior Checklist (Jesness, 1971), and an interview questionnaire. Independent sample t-tests were used to determine the significance of differences between the two groups on psychological variables. Graffiti writers showed more originality and a higher degree of oppositionalism; were at a lower level of ego development; showed fewer indicators of low self-esteem; tended to be more grandiose; were more likely to lie, steal, and disregard social or legal standards; and were more likely to react to frustration or criticism with anger and aggression. There were no significant between-groups differences on integration and regulation of affect or quality of object representations. The graffiti writers had much in common with other delinquent using "thrills" to deny and transcend feelings of worthlessness. Their defiance, anti-social, and daredevil behavior were seen as grandiose defenses, allowing them to feel less defeated, passive, and helpless. Graffiti writers' focused defiance and oppositionalism were associated with obtaining a masculine identity and with gaining peer approval, but they were not without originality, flexibility, creativity, and resourcefulness in this effort. Indeed, their inner resources and vitality may make graffiti writers the "best" of the delinquents because the potential exists for channeling these qualities into more conventional forms of achievement in the future. Limitations of this study arose from the graffiti writers' wide variation in level of artistic ability and level of commitment to writing graffiti. Small sample size limits the generalizability of this study, and these results should be regarded as preliminary.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Proctor, Lenore Feltman, "Graffiti writers: An exploratory personality study" (1991). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9111087.



Remote User: Click Here to Login (must have Pace University remote login ID and password. Once logged in, click on the View More link above)