Researchers Explain What Biting Your Nails Says About Your Personality

Just like with any other routine, nail-biting is a habit that is difficult to break, whether you are doing it when you are nervous, when you are bored, or there is something else in question.  You are not alone in this, though.  Statistics show that about one-third of adults tend to bite their fingernails.

As mentioned above, the act of nail-biting is generally considered a sign of anxiety and nervousness.  But, have you ever thought about the psychology behind this habit?

According to a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, nail-biting may be a sign of perfectionism.  As explained by Psychology Today, perfectionism is “…an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. It’s a fast track to unhappiness, and…is often accompanied by depression.”

This article focuses on the results of this study and it deals with nail-biting from a health perspective.  Check it out:

Body-focused repetitive behaviors are described as “repetitive, injurious, and non-functional habits that cause significant distress or impairment, including hair-pulling, skin-picking, and nail-biting.”

The team of researchers attempted to compare the tendency to engage in body-focused repetitive behaviors using two models: emotional regulation (ER) and frustrated action (FA).

The emotional regulation model suggests that these behaviors are triggered by negative emotions and reduction of unpleasant effect.  The frustrated action model implies that body-focused repetitive behaviors are triggered by and alleviate frustration, boredom, and impatience.

The researchers hypothesized that people who engage in these behaviors are more prone to actions under the frustration action model, because “they demonstrate maladaptive planning styles characterized by high standards and unwillingness to relax,” two inherent traits in perfectionists.


After analyzing the ‘BFRB group’ and a control group, the researchers confirmed the accuracy of their initial hypothesis.   The results include three different observations:

  • The BFRB group reported a higher urge to engage in BFRBs compared to the control group across conditions.
  • The BFRB group reported a significantly higher urge to engage in the boredom/frustration and stress environment than in a relaxed environment.
  • The BFRB group “presented significantly higher scores on maladaptive planning style, and maladaptive planning style was significantly correlated with difficulties in ER.”

The Study and Perfectionism

As explained by the lead author of the study, Dr. Kieron O’Connor, “We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors may be perfectionists, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform tasks at a normal pace. They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals.”

To put it another way, the act of biting nails may have less of a link with anxiety and nerves than with frustration. This observation, along with the study`s proven correlation of nail-biting and other perfectionistic traits like boredom and impatience provide further evidence to the hypothesis that perfectionism may trigger nail-biting.

Nail-Biting and Health

According to WebMD, “Nail biting has both physical and emotional consequences.” Some of the physical problems associated with nail-biting include:

  • Soreness and redness of nails and cuticles
  • Bleeding and potential infection of skin surrounding nails
  • Increased vulnerability to bacteria, infection, and viruses
  • Weakening of teeth enamel
  • Maladjusted teeth