For quite a long time, nail biting has always been considered a sign of nervousness. This is a repetitive behavior that shows a person is anxious. However, recent study says it is actually not an outward symptom of anxiety, but rather, it is linked to perfectionism. This is what the researchers at Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Montréal and the University of Montreal, Canada have discovered.

Do You Have Repetitive Behaviors?

It is not just nail biting, but also other repetitive behaviors, including hair pulling and skin picking. These all point to a person being a perfectionist and he or she turns to the habit in order to release them from boredom, dissatisfaction, and irritation.

The study, which was conducted by Professor Kieron O’Connor, had almost 50 participants. Half of them have repetitive behaviors right after they were exposed to specific stimuli. The stimuli were designed to provoke them to feel stressed, relaxed, bored, or frustrated.

The Result of the Study

Nail biters: are you among them? / PicHelp
Nail biters: are you among them? / PicHelp

The team of researchers discovered that boredom and frustration stimuli were the ones that invoked repetitive habits. Videos of plane crash (for stress) and videos that show beach waves (for relaxation) did not elicit any repetitive behavior from the participants. However, when they were introduced with a task that was supposed to be quick and easy, yet they were actually long and difficult, the participants began to bite their nails. This also happened when they were left in a room with no one to talk to for six whole minutes to draw feelings of boredom.

The discovery was published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry in which the repetitive behaviors, including nail biting are not just a sign of nervousness. As a matter of fact, they were considered a reaction that perfectionists give whenever they face a boring and frustrating situation.

Being “Perfectionistic”

Professor O’Connor explained that those who start biting their nails when they are faced with tasks feel they cannot perform at their normal pace. This is why they are more prone to exasperation, dissatisfaction, and infuriation than other people when they think it is not possible for them to reach their goals. They also get more bored than others.

One of the authors of the study, Sarah Roberts, concluded that the findings in the research suggested that those who have repetitive habits could find treatments for frustration and boredom reduction immensely helpful. This way, their perfectionist beliefs can be modified, so as to relieve them from disappointments and mild anxiety.