Researchers Explain What Biting Your Nails Says About Your Personality

Do you find yourself biting your fingernails unconsciously? Does it irritate you that you haven’t been able to get rid of that nasty behavior? Maybe this will make you feel better; there are more adults than you realize who still bite their nails. According to a study conducted on adults, approximately one-third of them still bite their fingernails. Don’t feel so bad; you aren’t alone in this.

The general explanation for the biting of nails is nervousness. You are presumed to chew on your nails when you are either very nervous about something or are apprehensive about the outcome of something. This explanation makes a whole lot of sense. However, it might just be scratching the surface of the true reason for which you bite your nails.

Although you associate you’re nail-biting with nervousness and anxiety just like every other person, have you ever thought that there could be more to it than that. For instance, have you ever thought that biting your nails might have a psychological explanation of, one you have never thought of?

According to a finding published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, the act of biting your nails might be an indication of perfectionism.

Perfectionism, as defined by Psychology Today, is a never-ending grading on achievements or physical appearance. It quickly leads to sadness and unfulfillment. One outstanding feature of perfectionism is depression caused by the feeling of unfulfillment.

In today’s article, we would delve deeply into the study and consequences of nail-biting including the health aspects of it.

What biting your nails say about you.

Hair pulling, skin picking, and nail biting are three examples of Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours(BFRB) which are hurtful, have no function and are done over and over again. These body-focused repetitive behaviors usually cause noticeable discomfort and even deformation on occasion.

The group of researchers who conducted the experiment to prove that nail biting is connected to perfectionism wanted to liken the proneness for a nail-biter to engage themselves in this BFRB’s. They carried this out by making use of two versions. The Emotional Regulation and the frustrated action models.

The emotional regulation model is of the opinion that these Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours are activated by bad feelings and the reduction of a negative effect while the frustrated action believes that these body-focused repetitive behaviors are caused by boredom, lack of satisfaction, lack of patience and frustration.

The hypothesis reached by the researchers states that people who carry out body-focused repetitive behaviors most probably carry out some of these actions based on the frustrated action model. Some of the actions peculiar to perfectionists include an inability to plan well according to their limits or the changes in the environment. They put up ridiculously high standards for themselves which lead to restlessness and dissatisfaction when they can’t reach it.


After carrying out observations on a pool of people exhibiting BFRB’s and a control group which had 24 and 23 members respectively, from these observations, the researchers finally formed their conclusions with the following observations.

1. The members of the BFRB group showed a higher tendency to involve themselves in BFRB’s much more than the members of the control group when they were subjected to certain conditions.

2. Members of the BFRB group had sufficient propensity to involve themselves in boredom and frustration in stressful situations more than they did in relaxed situations.

3. The BFRB group also showed a higher level of wrong planning styles which is one of the problems found in emotional regulation.

Relating the study to perfectionism, the head author of the study said that they concluded that people who expressed these body-focused repetitive behaviors might be perfectionists. Which means that they cannot carry out projects normally; and so get easily frustrated, impatient and unsatisfied with their work especially when they do not hit their goals.

With this study, it is easier to realize that biting your nails might have less to do with feeling nervous and anxious and have much more to do with frustration. The triggers of nail biting are the same triggers of body Focused repetitive behaviors such as impatience, unsatisfactory performance, and boredom. This goes a long way to prove that nail biting is a function of perfectionism.

The health aspects of nail-biting

As we have already established, nail biting is a body-focused repetitive behavior which can be found in perfectionists. We earlier said that BFRB’s are hurtful to the person’s health and as a BFRB, nail biting is harmful as well.

There are both psychological and physical repercussions of nail-biting. Some of the physical consequences include;

1. Painful and red colored nail cuticles

2. The open skin around the nails becomes susceptible to bacterial and viral infection.

3. Constant bleeding of the fingernails and surrounding area.

4. Dirty looking and irritating fingernails. As most nail biters might have experienced, the sight of those bitten nails can be repulsive to other people.

5. Makes the teeth enamel softer and less strong.

6. It can change the position of the teeth due to constant wedging them on the fingernails.

Although nail biting is usually associated with nervousness, anxiousness, and stress, it could be pointing out to a much bigger issue though such as an OCD, which is an Obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a psychological disorder in which people obsessively repeat certain actions over and over again. This is a valid threat as even psychologists have pegged perfectionism as a trigger for OCD.

Nail biting is not only a dirty and irritating action, but it’s also an unhealthy behavior, one caused by anti-productive emotions and a possible psychological issue.

Most perfectionists are imbued with feelings of pride and self-importance when newly diagnosed with perfectionism. It is quite understandable that you might feel like a member of a select group of cool people. However, that is a very bad mental state deemed unhealthy for you and counterproductive to any progress you might make while seeking help. Perfectionism has been connected to so many other different psychological problems such as social anxiety, social phobia, self-harm through Body focused repetitive behavior, body dysmorphic disorder, deep depression, drug abuse, eating disorders and so much more.

People diagnosed with perfectionism run a very high risk of getting heart-related illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart attacks and heart failure as a result of their extreme anxiety. They are also prone to developing bad stress disorders.

Although the study shows that nail biting is connected to perfectionism, it should be further looked into because the research was done with a small pool of participants.

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