Research from the University of Montreal found that people who are impatient and get bored easily are more likely to engage in repetitive body-focused behaviours such as eyelash-pulling and nail biting.
The study has pointed to perfectionism being the underlying cause. Dr Kieron O’Connor, professor of psychiatry at the university and lead author of the study said the following,
“We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors may be perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform task at a ‘normal’ pace.
“They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals. They also experience greater levels of boredom.”
The study used 48 participants, half of whom engaged in repetitive behaviours and half of whom did not. The participants were asked about how strongly they feel emotions like anxiety, anger, guilt and irritability. They were then exposed to situations designed to provoke such emotions.
Those taking part with a history of repetitive body-focused behviours reported feeling the urge to engage in such behaviour when they were feeling stressed.
Researchers say that behaviours like nail biting can serve a temporary purpose when we’re not able to direct our energy in a more productive manner. O’Conner says it is normally frustration that leads to the action and that it can be a maladaptive way of regulating emotion.
The difficulty comes when these habits interfere with daily life. These can become habit disorders and can be incredibly difficult to stop.
The usual treatment options for behaviours like this are a behavioural treatment that replaces the habit with a different, competing action and another approach which looks at the underlying factors causing tension, such as perfectionism.