Tag Archives: psychology

Is nail biting a sign of perfectionism?

Next time someone tells you to stop biting your nails, tell them to stop boring you! A new study has found that people prone to body-focussed repetitive behaviours may be perfectionists.

nail biting

Biting your nails might mean you’re a perfectionist
credits to: flickr

Body-focussed repetitive behaviours are a group of behaviours where an individual causes damage to themselves. Examples of these behaviours include biting nails, hair pulling, and biting the inside of their cheek. Individuals can spend hours doing these activities, taking away from their day. Engaging in these behaviours can lead to psychological symptoms like depression, shame, and isolation.

In this study, the researchers looked at 24 people that exhibited body-focussed repetitive behaviours and a control group of 24 people that did not exhibit these behaviours. The participants were first screened through a telephone interview then completed questionnaires to evaluate emotions including boredom, anger, and guilt, to name a few. Then, the participants were experimentally exposed to four different situations, designed to provoke different emotions: stress, relaxation, frustration, and boredom.

The researchers found that in the boredom and frustration situations, the participants that had a history of body-focussed repetitive behaviours reported a greater urge to engage in these behaviours than control participants. Moreover, none of the participants felt the urge to perform these behaviours in the relaxation situation. Kieron O’Connor, the principal investigator has stated “We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviours maybe 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.”


Perfectionism can lead to depression.
credits to: Flickr

This new research falls in line with what we already know about perfectionism and its detrimental effects on people. A study has shown that perfectionism can lead to anxiety, depression, and may even be a risk factor for suicide. In fact, two separate studies have looked at the link between perfectionism and suicide. The first study found that when conducting interviews with the loved ones of people that had recently killed themselves, more than half of the deceased were described as perfectionists without prompting. The second study found that more than 70% of 33 men that committed suicide placed exceedingly high expectations on themselves, a trait associated with perfectionism.

It doesn’t take much to imagine why perfectionists are driven to self harm so often. The impossibly high standards that they hold for themselves means that they aren’t happy even when they achieve success. It has been suggested that anxiety over making a mistake may be what is holding them back from success. Research has confirmed that the most successful people in any given field are less likely to be perfectionistic. Imagine having a surgeon that had to be absolutely sure about each cut before making it, their patients would spend much longer on the table, increasing their chance of death.

Check out this TED talk all about perfectionism:

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– Siana Lai

The Power of Power Naps

A student napping in a library. Source: Flickr Creative Commons. Image by: umjanedoan

A student napping in a library. Source: Flickr Creative Commons. Image by: umjanedoan

Many of us already know how lack of sleep can be detrimental, whether it be from personal experience or simply because we have been taught that sleep deprivation is bad for our health. Unfortunately, due to school, work, or other reasons, some people simply cannot afford a good eight hours of sleep every night; but that does not necessarily mean that they cannot be healthy! The key to survive short nights of sleep lies in the power of ‘power naps’. A short nap, ranging anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour, can have extraordinary benefits in terms of health and memory, even if someone is sleep deprived.

As shown in a recent study conducted by a group of neuropsychologists at Saarland University in Germany, a power nap of 45 to 60 minutes can significantly improve learning and memory. Indeed, the researchers asked participants to remember single words and pairs of words (e.g., milk-taxi); half of these participants were then allowed to take a short nap after the learning phase, while the other half watched a DVD. Surprisingly, compared to the DVD group, the ‘nap’ group performed significantly better when recalling the word pairs. This can be explained by the fact that memories are consolidated, or strengthened, when we sleep (either over night or during daytime napping), and that stronger or efficient consolidation leads to better chance of recall later on.    

Memory performance was assessed by recall of words or word pairs. Source: Flickr Creative Commons Image by: Chris Blakeley

Memory performance was assessed by recall of words or word pairs.
Source: Flickr Creative Commons Image by: Chris Blakeley

Adding to the benefits of enhancing learning and memory, Dr. Faraut from the Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne in Paris, France, found that even just a 30-minute power nap is enough to counter the negative effects of a poor night of sleep. Indeed, in their recently published study, suggests that napping can help the immune system as well as the neuroendocrine system to recuperate from lack of sleep. The proper functioning of these systems are crucial for humans in order to protect us from diseases, regulate our digestive and respiratory systems, as well as to relieve stress.

Bearing the benefits of power naps in mind, students pulling ‘all-nighers’, along with other sleep-deprived individuals, should definitely consider spending some time napping here and there. This would allow their brains to consolidate newly formed memories as well as allowing their bodies to counter the damage done by lack of sleep.

This short video offers a quick summary of the benefits behind power naps, take a look!

This video was uploaded to Youtube by AsapSCIENCE


Sara Larivière

Virtual Reality is Becoming a Reality: A clinical application of VR

March of 2014 was a memorable month when Facebook bought Oculus Rift, a virtual reality (VR) headset that lets users experience the virtual world literally in first person view. The Oculus Rift was bought for a whopping 2 billion dollars. Why? Because there are countless non-entertainment applications besides gaming and dating simulations that have been, or would be, groundbreaking in their respective fields. For instance, VR has been clinically used for decades to treat patients with phobias.

Palmer Luckey, creator of Oculus, tries on an Oculus development kit (Image: Palmer Luckey wearing Oculus Rift DK1 at SVVR 2014. Wikimedia Commons).

Conventionally, one of the popular methods of treating phobias is through an exposure therapy, otherwise known as a systematic desensitization. As the names suggest, the idea of this treatment is to expose the patient to his/her fear periodically with increasing intensity until the patient adapts and is no longer phobic.

So how exactly is VR useful in exposure therapies? Let’s imagine ourselves in the shoes of a therapist or a doctor trying to design a treatment procedure for a phobic patient.

Obviously, some phobias would be easy to recreate. For example, arachnophobia is a fear of spiders. Patients with arachnophobia would be asked to look at and touch real spiders, which are easy enough to obtain.

A hypothetical high level exposure for patients with arachnophobia (Image: Arachnophobia100. Wikimedia Commons).

On the other hand, some phobias would be difficult, economically unfavourable, or downright impossible to recreate. For example, deipnophobia is a fear of dinner parties and dinner conversations. It would be highly inconvenient for the doctors to find or throw a dinner party every week for this patient.

Therefore, designing a virtual world would open new possibilities for patients such as these. Using a VR console, patients would be able to experience any level of exposure intensities, every aspect under control by the conductor of the VR.

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(Video: Courtesy of Macquarie University)

You may be wondering ‘exactly how effective is a VR therapy?’ If you guessed that it is not as effective as a standard exposure therapy, guess again! Here is a famous research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology which tested on patients with a fear of flight. The research team found that the patients who were treated with VR exposure had the same positive results as the patients who were treated with standard exposure as compared to those who did not receive a treatment.

Overall, I believe that the increasing availability of VR consoles such as Oculus Rift will change the game for the medical industry, at least in the psychology department. In the past, VR machines were too expensive, so only a few clinics could afford them. Now Oculus Rift is expected to be released this year for the highly affordable price range of 200-400 US dollars. Indeed, this year will be a stepping stone for the great science-fiction-esque future we have all been dreaming about.

– Sean Nam