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, published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, the people were given a telephone screening interview and completed questionnaires at home that evaluated their emotional make-up. They 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.

“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,” principal investigator Kieron O’Connor, PhD, said in a University of Montreal news release. “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 K, et al. The impact of emotions on body-Focused repetitive behaviors: Evidence from a non-treatment-seeking sample. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2015; 46:189-197.