Researchers Explain What Biting Your Nails Says About Your Personality

If you are someone who habitually bites their nails then worry not as you are far from being alone. In fact, it is said that approximately 1/3 of all adults regularly bite their fingernails.

Although some argue that biting your nails is a sign of anxiety or unrest, but that does not necessarily have to be entirely true.

A recent study released in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, biting nails could be indicative of perfectionism.

Psychology Today describes perfectionism as: “…an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. It’s a fast track to unhappiness, and…is often accompanied by depression…” This article will briefly look at the study and see what it means for nail-biters.

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

The scientist who conducted the researched tried to compare the habit of engaging in BFRB following two models: emotional regulation (ER) and frustrated action (FA).

The ER model suggests that BFRBs are caused by negative emotions and following relief from an unpleasant experience, while the FA model suggests that BFRBs are caused by and relieve boredom, frustration, disgruntlement, and restlessness.

The research postulates that people who are immersed in BFRBs are more prone to actions under the FA model, as “they demonstrate maladaptive planning styles characterized by high standards and unwillingness to relax.” These are two typical characteristics of perfectionists.


Following examinations of a ‘BFRB group’ and a control group, scientists deduced three things from their research:

(1) The BFRB group showed much higher need to engage in BFRBs than the control group across conditions.

(2) BFRB participants displayed a stronger need to engage in the boredom/frustration and stress environment than in the relaxation environment.

(3) BFRB participants “presented significantly higher scores on maladaptive planning style, and maladaptive planning style was significantly correlated with difficulties in ER.”


The medical community sees nail-biting as a body-focused repetitive behavior and it is therefore regarded as detrimental to a person’s health.

Some of the most common physical issues caused by nail-biting include:

  • Sore and red nails and cuticles
  • Bleeding and likely infection of the skin around the nails
  • Makes one more susceptible to infections, viruses, and bacteria.
  • Weakens the enamel of teeth
  • Maladjusted teeth
  • Leave a poor impression

While nail-biting is linked to stress and anxiety, it can be indicative of an even more stern disorder such as OCD. Incidentally, perfectionism is thought as a risk factor for OCD.

The whole process of biting your nails is the result of suppressed emotions and a likely psychological disorder.

Even if someone may take pride knowing that biting nails is symptomatic of perfectionists, research has associated nail-biting with a number of psychological problems such as eating disorders, personality disorders, social phobia, self-harm, depression, drug use, etc.

Nail-biters can, over time, develop chronic stress disorders and are at a greater risk of developing heart conditions.

This study must not be taken for granted as it is almost based on the research of a small number of people and there’s still a lot of research to be done on the link between biting nails and perfectionism.