Analyzing the formation of habits using behavioral and social/cognitive


Analyzingthe formation of habits using behavioral and social/cognitiveapproaches


Behavioraland Social/Cognitive Approaches of behavior formation

Humangrowth and development is shaped by certain behavioral and socialinfluences. As individuals grow they develop patterns on behaviorsthat may be similar or dissimilar to those of others. However,behaviors and habits are not permanent as they change as one transitfrom one stage to another during development. Individuals developcertain behaviors and habits at childhood and these behaviors arediscarded as one ages. It is psychologically reckoned that ifindividuals do not change habits or behaviors as they grow, then theymight be suffering from psychological problems (Ghanizadehand Shekoohi, 2011).

Psychologistshave spent decades assessing how behaviors are formed and whyindividuals develop habits based on certain behaviors (Bandura, Ross&amp Ross, 1961). The focus of this short research paper is toexplain why and how my bad behavior developed. I will apply thebehavioral personality approach to explain my habit and describe italongside the social/cognitive theory. In addition, I will illustratean operant conditioning plan to change my habit. Later I will explainthe best theory between behavioral and social/cognitive approachesthat explains my character.


Nailbiting is a childhood habit I developed prior joining kindergarten. Ihave engaged in this behavior for a long time and it has become acommon behavior while am restless, watching television, conversingwith others or when sited alone thinking. However, although I nibblemy nails regularly, I do it for various reasons. Since the behaviorbecame a daily habit, I realized that I do it when stressed,extremely engrossed on something that requires minimal physicalactivities, when nervous or just restless. My nail nibbling habit waslearned from my eldest brother who used to play with me since I was atoddler.

Mybrother was my role model in childhood games, plays and escapades andhad much influence on my habits. In fact, I take after my brother’sacademic excellence which I learned after envying the many presentshe was awarded at home and School. I noticed that my brother wouldnibble at his nails every time he was watching television on thecouch, when restless or sad. As a child, I like imitating him andthis made our parents more restrictive. However, the more my parentswarned or punished me for nail nibbling, the more I nibbled my fingernails when sad or angry. I thus picked the habit and to date I havenever been able to resist it. I am always checking my nails andnibbling them when talking to people even at workplace duringimportant meetings! I realize that the habit starts unconsciously andit has become an embarrassing habit especially when in formal orinformal meetings.

Ihave struggled to stop this habit without success and I always catchmyself nibbling doing it after few seconds. I have tried selfsurveillance but after sometimes the habit recurs unconsciously. Itried once and made it to two weeks without nibbling but one day Iunconsciously started nibbling my grown finger nails leading to therecurrence of the habit.

Ihave also tried chewing gums to keep my mouth busy and I have noticedthat this helps me stop the habit for some time. In order to enhancemore behavioral adjustment, I chew more gum but the sensation tonibble my finger nails persists. I hope with more determination andconcentration, I will overcome the bad habit completely.

Behavioraltheory of personality

Behaviorismis a psychological approach that explains human behaviors as learnedthrough a conditioning process. According to the behaviorismindividuals acquires new behaviors through a conditioning process asthey interact with immediate environment (Ghanizadehand Shekoohi, 2011).The belief among the behaviorism theorists is that individuals learnnew behaviors as they respond to stimuli from their environment. Inclinical term, nail nibbling is a chronic onychophagia which arisesas a compulsive behavior of nibbling one’s finger nails whenstressed, angry, nervous or restless. Nail nibbling is also seen asan emotional or mental disorder especially common in adolescents(Ghanizadeh,2008).

Ghanizadeh(2008) assertsthat most adolescents nibble their finger nails and only threequartets are able to give up the habit by age 35 years. Psychiatristslink nail nibbling to an obsessive compulsive behavioral disorder.Nail nibbling is purely an unconscious behavior that recursunknowingly in certain circumstances. Behaviorists argue that nailnibbling is a childhood development habit that is formed duringanxious, nervous or upsetting circumstances. According tobehaviorist, children learn nail nibbling behavior especially fromfamily members (Bandura, Ross &amp Ross, 1961). Socially andpsychologically children imitate and learn behaviors from oldermembers of the family. In this case, the behaviorism theory concurswith my explanation on how the behavior was acquired. Nail nibblingis not an unusual habit as many people including old people nibbletheir finger nails unconsciously.


Cognitivetheory explains how human behaviors are learned through individual’sbelief and thinking system. Cognitive theory attempts to link theinfluence of genetic factors on how human behaviors are acquired.Social theory posits that individuals learn behaviors throughinteraction with others and environment they live in. The mainassumptions are the social influence and how internal and externalfactors reinforce individual’s behaviors (Bandura, 1961).

Social/cognitivetheory explains how people obtain and maintain behaviors in thesociety and environment. People acquire and maintain certain habitsthrough reciprocity in which feedbacks from the interactions ofsociety and environment shapes one’s behaviors (Ghanizadeh,2008).However, as one matures, cognition sets in (reasoning, attention andmemory development)(Ghanizadeh and Shekoohi, 2011).It is through the understanding of how individual’s constructsreality that enables human behaviors to be predicted, understood andchanged (Bandura, Ross &amp Ross, 1961). The social/cognitive theoryexplains how my immediate environment and social interaction with mybrother led to the acquisition of nail biting.


Operantconditioning is a classic behavioral modification and learningapproach developed by B.F Skinner. Skinner conducted an experiment inwhich a mouse was conditioned to learn certain behaviors such aspressing the ‘lever’ when hungry or when the rat was exposed toextreme heat. In his analysis, Skinner discovered that there arepositive and negative reinforces which regulates behaviors(Ghanizadeh,2008).Positive reinforcers lead to increased behavior repetition whilenegative reinforces instigate behaviors that in turn reduce the‘undesired’ stimuli(Ghanizadeh and Shekoohi, 2011).

Inthe context of nail biting, negative reinforces will be used.According to the operant conditioning therapy, a means thatinstigates negative or unpleasant effect after nibbling the nailswill be used. In this case, in the first phase I will apply extremepepper on my fingernails occasionally throughout the day. As I learnthe unpleasant experience, I will later use nail vanish to coat myfingernails. The combination of nail vanishes and pepper will give anasty taste that I will learn to avoid every time the urge to nibblemy finger nails arises. In addition, discipline and determination isrequired to break this habit since I get weird and mean glancesduring workplace meetings and it is embarrassing as an adult!

Behavioralversus Social/Cognitive Approaches

Behavioraland social/cognitive approaches makes great attempt in explaining howhuman behaviors are formed. Social/cognitive approaches posit thatindividual’s behaviors are as a result of the genetic and socialinfluences. Behavioral approach on the other hand, asserts thatindividuals’ behaviors are acquired through interacting withmembers of one society of family. I feel that the behavioral approachbest explains how I developed the nail nibbling habit. Many peoplesay that I and my brother behave in the same way even when we are inseparate circumstances. While I cannot refute these claims, I believethat my brother was a good influence since I take my academic prowessfrom him.


Nailnibbling is a common habit among many people and just like any drugaddiction, it is hard to break the habit. As a habit, nail nibblingis both psychological and sociologically problematic. It is almostimpossible to stop given that the habit recurs unconsciously.Therefore, to break this habit, serious dedication and commitment isrequired. It is also imperative to seek help from willingprofessional assistance in order to triumph over the problem.


Bandura,A., Ross, D. &amp Ross, S.A. (1961). “Transmissionof aggression through imitation of aggressive models.&nbsp“Journalof Abnormal and Social Psychology,63, 575-82. Accessed from

GhanizadehAhmad and Shekoohi Hajar. (2011).” Prevalence of nail biting andits association with mental health in a community sample ofchildren.” 4:116. Accessed from

GhanizadehA (2008). Association of nail biting and psychiatric disorders inchildren and their parents in a psychiatrically referred sample ofchildren. Child. Adolescent. Psychiatry. Mental. Health, 2(1):13.