Some Emotions May Spur Urge to Pick or Pull at Skin, Hair, Nails

Some Emotions May Spur Urge to Pick or Pull at Skin, Hair, Nails

Some Emotions May Spur Urge to Pick or Pull at Skin, Hair, Nails

Study finds boredom, frustration, impatience fuel repetitive, body-focused behaviors in certain people

SOURCE: University of Montreal, news release, March 10, 2015

WEDNESDAY, March 11, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Boredom, frustration and impatience can trigger chronic skin-picking, nail-biting, hair-pulling and other repetitive behaviors in some people, a new study suggests.

The University of Montreal researchers conducted experiments with 24 people who had these types of behaviors and a "control group" of 24 people without any of the behaviors.

The results showed that people with body-focused repetitive behaviors had a greater urge to do those things when they were bored, frustrated or impatient, compared to when they felt relaxed.

This was not the case in the control group, the researchers said.

In the study, the people were given a telephone screening interview and completed questionnaires at home that evaluated their emotional make-up.

The study participants were then exposed to four situations in the lab, each designed to elicit a different feeling: stress, relaxation, frustration or boredom.

To trigger frustration, the participants were asked to complete a task that was supposedly easy and quick but wasn't. To prompt feelings of boredom, each person was left alone in a room for six minutes, the researchers said.

While body-focused repetitive behaviors can cause distress, "they also seem to satisfy an urge and deliver some form of reward," principal investigator Kieron O'Connor said in a University of Montreal news release.

"We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors may be perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform tasks 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," O'Connor explained.

Sarah Roberts, the study's first author, said, "These results partially support our hypothesis in that participants were more likely to engage in body-focused repetitive behaviors when they felt bored, frustrated and dissatisfied than when they felt relaxed. Moreover, they do engage in these behaviors when they are under stress," she said in the news release.

"The findings suggest that individuals suffering from body-focused repetitive behaviors could benefit from treatments designed to reduce frustration and boredom and to modify perfectionist beliefs," Roberts added.

The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about compulsive hair pulling.
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