Why Is Nail Baiting a Bad Habit, Know the Psychology Behind It?
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Why Is Nail Baiting a Bad Habit, Know the Psychology Behind It?

In medical conditions, Nail biting is called onychophagia. Nail biting is common among humans, especially in children and adolescents. This compulsive behaviour is often considered to be self-grooming behaviour which involves biting and chewing nails, including toenails. It becomes destructive behaviour when one practice nail biting especially during a stressful event. Some small studies indicate that about 80% of people bite regularly. Furthermore, people with this behaviour may lead to chronic infection and some mental illness.

Lately, many researchers have been starting their investigation to understand its nail-biting nature. Onychophagia is a condition that can co-occur with some conditions like skin picking termed as, trichotillomania. A related psychiatric disorder is known as trichotillomania also shows symptoms that are similar to nail biting.


Nail biting is general among all ages but particularly in the developmental stage of children and adolescents

According to a statistical report,

  • 28% – 33% are children ages 7-10 years old,

  • 44% are adolescents,

  • 19% – 29% are young adults and

  • 5% are older adults


Research has mentioned some reasons for nail biting. They are as follows.

Emotions – Emotions can determine nail biting. Especially, during shyness and low self-esteem, nail biting is more likely to occur.

Nervousness – Nail biting will be high during nervousness due to anxiety and stress.  It is research evidence that nail biting can provide temporary relief from stress.

Boredom – Being boredom can influence the rate of occurrence of nail biting.

Imitation – Children may learn this behaviour by imitating or copying their parents.

Perfectionism – As perfectionism exhibits the characteristics of low tolerance and frustration, they involve nail biting.


Lately, psychologists have formed the theory of nail biting. It states actually nail-biting provides temporary relief or pleasure from stress and distraction.

They stated that people are biting their nails when they are overstimulated or understimulated. Like nicotine, Nail biting can have a biphasic effect as it stimulates and relaxes others


Freud, a famous psychologist considered nail biting a form of oral fixation. He blamed his mother for this condition. He stated that overfeeding or less feeding or overtime feeding or lack of mother-child relationship can be the reason for the onset of nail biting. And he constructed a personality type for nail-biting people named oral receptive personality. But there is no scientific evidence to prove the above reasons true. Others have reasoned that the occurrence of nail biting is due to inward hostility and self-mutilation.


Perfectionists are one who is wishing to be perfect in all aspects of life. So Perfectionist more tends to have body-focused repetitive behaviours and nail biting is one of that behaviour. The chronic and repetitive condition will be turned to be body-focused repetitive disorder. In DSM 5, Nail Biting has been considered as a symptom of Obsessive –Compulsive Disorder along with other symptoms like hair picking and skin picking where International statistical classification on disease and health-related problems ICD 10 has classified Nail Biting as another specified behavioural and emotional disorder and other health related problem.  According to a study, about 80 per cent of children with psychiatric problems are nail biters. But this report has been rejected by many professionals.

This condition is more common in children with attention deficit hyperactivity Disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and separation anxiety disorder.


There are some types of nail biters. They are as follows.

  • Nail biting without realizing

  • Nail biters to control their anxiety

  • Nail biting for seeking attention

  • Nail biting is Self-injurious to control aggression.

  • Nail biting is a symptom of the obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum(OCD).

  • According to the DSM-5 Nail, biting is considered another specified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder.

  • According to the ICD-10- Nail Biting is considered to be another specified behavioural and emotional disorder which occurs usually in childhood and adolescence.

  • Nail biting is Pathological and Non-pathological behaviour.




Behaviour therapy shows a major effect on decreasing the onset of nail-biting. It starts by identifying the factors which lead to the behaviour of nail biting and eventually it offers some alternatives to avoid or eliminate the act of nail biting. People’s cooperation and the decision is vital for the process and success of therapy.

Some people are using bitter taste in their nail polish to stop the nail-biting. Actually, it can give good results as it provides averseness to the act of nail biting.

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