Nail-biting may arise from perfectionism

As many as one in 20 people suffer from body-focused repetitive disorders, engaging in behaviors such as biting their nails or plucking out hair until they damage their appearance or cause themselves pain. These disorders are related to tic disorders and, more distantly, obsessive-compulsive disorder. As such, the repetitive behavior is extremely difficult to quit—yet many people continue to think they simply have a nervous habit and are too weak-willed to overcome it.

A new study adds evidence to a theory that perfectionism rather than anxiety is at the root of these behaviors. The researchers first surveyed 48 participants, half of whom had these disorders and half of whom did not, on their organizational behavior and ability to regulate their emotions. Those with the disorders scored as organizational perfectionists, indicating a tendency to overplan, overwork themselves and get frustrated quickly without high levels of activity.