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Many people have some kind of nervous habit as a child or adolescent, and for some, this behavior can continue into adulthood. It might be a repetitive unconscious movement such as scratching, hair pulling, or knuckle-cracking, and it's a lot more common than you might think. Approximately 1 in 20 people experience body-focused repetitive movement disorders during their lifetime.
But if there's one habit that stands out among all the others, it's nail-biting. And it's not surprising considering that it's the second most common repetitive behavior habit â€” an estimated 30% of the population bites their nails!
Of all the possible habits, it's definitely one of the uglier ones. Watching someone stick the tip of their finger in their mouth and start nibbling is not a pleasant sight, and nails bitten to the quick aren't exactly aesthetically pleasing either. And for the person doing the nail-biting, the results can often be painful and bloody.
So the question is: Why do people do it?
Most people consider it a nervous habit, a basic symptom of anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. But the truth is that there is something more behind this seemingly innocent habit.
In a study
conducted by psychiatrist Kieron O'Connor at the University of Montreal in Canada, researchers investigated which factors are related to repetitive disorders. According to their findings published in the Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, researchers have identified a personality trait common to all nail-biters: perfectionism.
Researchers carried out the following experiment: they divided subjects into two groups, those who had the disorder and those who didn't. They were then subjected to four factors in four different scenarios: stress (projecting a scene from an airplane crash), relaxation (projecting waves), boredom (leaving them alone in a room) and frustration (they were given a difficult puzzle and told that it was very easy to solve).
After observing the subjects' behavior, they noticed that those with repetitive disorder didn't bite their nails when they were in the relaxation scenario, but did during the other scenarios. From this evidence, researchers concluded that the nail-biting habit is generated in response to frustration and boredom, i.e. not being able to do anything productive. This showed that nail-biting was not simply a response to anxiety or stress, but a coping mechanism that was used when the subjects couldn't be productive and exercise their perfectionist tendencies.
The study indicated that those with repetitive habits tend to be organizational perfectionists: frustration-prone, impatient, and quickly discouraged when they fail to achieve their normally difficult goals. In addition, they often make detailed plans and overload themselves with tasks, getting bored when there is no activity. Through repetitive movements, they release their repressed energy.
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