Habits with Potential as Disorders: Prevalence, Severitv, and Other Characteristics Among College Students

David J. Hansen, Amy C. Tishelmian, Robert P. Hawkins, Karla J. Doepke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Little is known about the prevalence of the various habit disorders such as pulling out one's hair. biting fingernails. or grinding teeth and even less is known about the prevalence of lesser habits which. if exacerbated. mav be costly enough to an individual to be labeled a disorder. Such superficially “purposeless” behaviors provided the focus of the present investigation. An initial group of 142 college students completed a pilot questionnaire to identify habits to be included in a survey. The final questionnaire was then administered to 286 college students. It asked about “purposeless habits.” defined as those “repeated actions that appear to serve no useful purpose but that we continue to engage in anyway.” Behaviors included habits involving the mouth. face, neck, fingers. hands, legs, hair, body, clothing, and objects. In addition to assessing the nature and severitN of problems caused bv each habit, the stimulus conditions influencing its probabilitv, related behaviors, and attempts to stop the habit were assessed. The kinds of behaviors that could become habit disorders were found to be quite common. Clinical and theoretical implications of the results are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-80
Number of pages15
JournalBehavior Modification
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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