Nail Biting

Honesty is such a nasty habit, dear. Like biting your nails - Catherynne M Valente

Nail Biting

image by: Cape Town Science Centre

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The psychology of why so many people bite their nails

Excessive nail biting is a surprisingly widespread human activity.

It goes back millennia: the ancient Greek philosopher Cleanthes, for instance, was said to be addicted to biting his nails. In the modern era, no one has any good data on how many of us share the affliction (technically called onychophagia), but small-scale studies indicate about 20 percent or so of adults bite regularly — which would suggest millions of Americans do it.

"Everybody picks and bites to a degree," says Fred Penzel, a psychologist who helps patients deal with nail biting, hair plucking, and other body-focused repetitive disorders. "When it gets to the point that people are doing damage to themselves,…

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Last Updated : Tuesday, June 15, 2021