Why we bite our nails?

Do you often bite your nails? Many nail biters want to quit this habit, so do I. Because this is disgusting for other people to watch, ruining the appearance of hands, and even eating myself. I’ve tried to quit it several times, but I have never succeeded.3430905735_15e60305c0_o-0

Actually, people have bite nails for millennia. Cleanthes, the ancient Greek philosopher, was said to be addicted to biting his nails. Now, according to Joseph Stromberg’s article, the small-scale studies indicate about 20 percent or so of adults bite regularly, which would suggest a large amount of people do it.

So what is the reason that people bite nails? Are nail biters weaker willed? Or are we more neurotic? Some psychological researches could be answers to my questions.

First, (medical name for excessive nail biting is “onychophagia”) some psychologists argue that nail biters can be “pathological groomers” for whom normal grooming behaviors, such as pulling hair or picking skin. In other words, they have been out of control. American Psychiatric Association’s DSM puts pathological grooming in the same category as another disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD. Carol Mathews, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, studies in pathological grooming which is known as dermatillomania. According to what she said, pathological groomers are behaviors that stem from normal grooming — the kind of thing that most animals do and is evolutionarily adaptive. However, she also believes that they just become automatic behaviors that have no relationship to external stimuli at all, which means that biting nails and OCD are in common.

Second, Recently psychologists have a more convincing theory of nail biting, that biting nails can give biters pleasure and relaxation so they can escape from pressure temporarily. According to the argument of Fred Penzel, a psychologist who specializes in helping patients deal with nail biting and other body-focused repetitive disorders,  biting nail helps biters to calm down. So to say, nails biting is like nicotine, having two effects which one is stimulating under certain situations and the other is relaxing in other else situations.shutterstock_155114144-0

Third, there is increasing evidence showing that people who uncontrolledly bite their nails and do other similar behaviors, which I mentioned above, are often perfectionists and their actions may help them soothe boredom, irritation and dissatisfaction. From SC200, I learn that correlation doesn’t equal to causation. So although I cannot say that biting nails causes perfectionism or perfectionism leads to biting nails, they probably have some relationships. A new study supports this theory. To be specific, the researchers randomly surveyed 48 subjects, half of whom had these disorders and half of whom did not, on their organizational behavior and ability to regulate their emotions. Those having the defined as organizational perfectionists, who have a tendency to over plan, overwork themselves and are easy to get frustrated without high levels of activity. Therefore, nail biting may arise from perfectionism.

There are still some other arguments about nail biting, such as under-feeding or over-feeding, breast-feeding too long, or problematic relationship with your mother due to oral fixation, linked to myriad causes. Also, Sigmund Freud said that excessive nursing as a baby lead people to become orally receptive that means that people just simply love putting things in their mouths.

I think there is nothing wrong with biting nails. Many people derive pleasure from biting their nail; biting nails relieves stress; nail biters work well under pressure. Additionally, it is funny but true that nail biting boosts your immune system. (Though biting fingernails isn’t the cleanest of habits, it has been linked to certain health benefits. Biting nails makes newer germs get into body, so it can keep our immune system actively fending off bacteria and make it strengthener.) So biters do not need to quit this habit.









5 thoughts on “Why we bite our nails?

  1. Kaitlyn A Kaminski

    Hi Luyi,

    I haven’t found a more interesting post than this one! I used to have the worst habit of biting my nails, that was until I found a “No Bite” polish that tastes AWFUL! I would just bite my nails out of stress or if they were too long and I was too lazy to find a clipper/file. I also found out that if I do not have a color on my nails, I will bite my nails down to my skin… I need to have a color on! I’ve always thought that biting my nails was disgusting because if you think about it, you’re getting whatever you’ve touched, ate, etc. in your mouth and swallowing it (regardless if you don’t swallow the nail, the particles/germs are still in your mouth). I think it’s gross to watch people bite their nails, so I’ll look away when I see that. Here’s an interesting article talking about how nail biting is either a disease/habit- http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/863395

  2. evk5294

    I thought this post was really interesting because I’ve had problems with nail biting and skin picking in the past. When I was reading your articles I saw some stuff about this kind of disorder being genetic. This stuck out to me because my little sister has the same problem as I do. Although genetics would be a simple explanation, I was also thinking about how my sister and I also spend an incredible amount of time together. It’s not that we share the same life but it’s pretty close. Couldn’t sharing the same stressors lead two people to find the same outlet for that stress? Especially when it’s a sibling (my little sister will do anything I do).

    I was also interested to see how many different treatment options are out there for people who suffer from this disorder! This article touched on a few of them that I read about:

  3. Justine Arlexandra Cardone

    I think this blog is very interesting because I used to bite my nails excessively when I was younger but I grew out of it as I got older! I never really thought there was any rhyme or reason to it and always thought it was a stupid habit. It was surprising to me that nail biting is linked with OCD and also that it can improve your immune system!! I know that there is something that you can put on your nails that tastes really bad so every time you bite your nails you taste it and stop!

  4. Robert McCarthy

    Intriguing look at how finger nail biting may be less so of a nervous habit and more so an OCD-related condition, the concept of “pathological grooming” was a new one for me. Thanks for the read! A question that I have is if there are any other habits that tend to show up in those who bite their nails or who engage in other sorts of pathological grooming behaviors. Is somebody who pathologically grooms more likely to chew their pens and pencils in class or fidget in other means? My curiosity lies with whether nail biting was a nervous habit like many of us have thought, or if it is definitely more towards the area of obsessive compulsive disorder

  5. Olivia Mei Zhang

    You’re absolutely right, correlation does not equal causation! I had trouble grasping this concept at first, but it is sensible to reason that nail biting does not directly cause perfectionism and reverse causation is not applicable in this situation. However, I agree with your statement that there is a possible relationship between the two. However, I can also infer that confounding variables such as medical history, environmental conditions, and stress could also be indicators that lead to nail biting.

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