Researchers say gnawing nails reveals perfectionist personality

Are you one of those who gnaw their nails all day? people for whom it is difficult or impossible to resist this small skin that exceeds your thumb or nail that makes you an eye, if so you might be interested in this study published this month by a team from the University of Montreal.

It is estimated that approximately one third of adults continue to eat their nails regularly. Most people regard the act of biting one’s nails as a sign of nervousness and anxiety.

At first glance, this view is logical … but there are other explanations for that. According to a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, biting one’s nails could be a sign of perfectionism.


Body-centered behavioral repetitive disorders (TRCC) are described as “repetitive, harmful, and non-functional habits that cause distress or significant impairment, including pulling hair, tearing skin, and biting nails.”

The research team sought to compare the tendency to have TRCCs using two models: emotional regulation (ER) and frustrated action (AF).

The RE model implies that TRCCs are triggered by negative emotions and a reduction of unpleasant effects. The AF model states that TRCCs are triggered by impatience, boredom, frustration and dissatisfaction.

The researchers hypothesized that individuals who have TRCC are more prone to actions under the AF model because “they demonstrate inappropriate planning styles characterized by high standards and a reluctance to relax,” two inherent traits to perfectionists.


After observing a “TRCC group” and a control group of 24 and 23 participants respectively, the researchers concluded that their hypothesis was correct. The results of the study include three observations:

(1) The TRCC group reported a much higher urge to engage in TRCC than the control group under all conditions.

(2) TRCC participants reported a much greater desire to engage in the boredom / frustration and stress environment than in the relaxation environment.

(3) The TRCC group “scored significantly higher on inappropriate planning style and the inappropriate planning style was significantly related to difficulties in ROE”.


The lead author of the study, Dr. Kieron O’Connor, said, “We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors can be perfectionists, which means they can not relax and perform tasks at a minimum. normal rhythm. They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience and dissatisfaction when they do not achieve their goals.

In other words, nails may be less related to nerves and anxiety than to frustration. Thus, impatience, boredom and dissatisfaction, provide further evidence that perfectionism can provoke the act of biting one’s nails.


As the study makes clear, nail gnawing is considered a repetitive behavioral disorder centered on the body, a classification reaffirmed by the vast majority of the medical community. Any behavior related to TRCC is harmful to health and eating our nails is no exception.

According to WebMD, “Nibbling has physical and emotional consequences.” Among the physical problems associated with nail biting:

– Pain and redness of nails and cuticles

– Bleeding and potential infection of the skin around the nails

– Increased vulnerability to bacteria, infections and viruses (via the passage of contact between the hands)

– Weak tooth enamel

– poorly adjusted teeth

– Give a bad impression (because of nibbled nails or gnawing in front of others)

Psychologically, WebMD associates nail nipping with anxiety and stress; Although it may potentially indicate a more serious psychological problem such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In addition, perfectionism is considered a risk factor for OCD.

Biting one’s nails is a common but very unhealthy habit, a habit fueled by counterproductive emotions and (potential) psychological problems.

Studies have linked the personality trait of perfectionism to multiple psychological problems: personality disorders, eating disorders, social anxiety, social phobia, body dysmorphic disorder, self-injury, substance abuse and clinical depression.

Perfectionists may also develop chronic stress disorders and are at increased risk of developing heart disease.

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