7 Annoying Habits—Here’s Why We Can’t Help It
Why does your coworker constantly clear his throat? What’s behind your best friend’s Facebook oversharing? Turns out, science has answers for these cringe-worthy habits.
Constantly clearing throat
Ahem, ahem! Someone who constantly clears his or her throat could have a nose and sinuses problem, called chronic rhinitis, which results in excessive mucus production. It occurs when an irritant (typically allergies) inflames the membrane in the upper respiratory tract. People with year-round allergies, like house dust mites, may have a constant build-up of mucus in their throat, which leads to that non-stop clearing. It can usually be treated with a few weeks of a strong anti-allergy medication.
Always saying, “you know” or “like”
There’s always, like, one not-so-brilliant movie character who talks this way, you know? Don’t write off their intelligence: Research suggests that those who often say “like” and “you know” may be especially thoughtful. In a study published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, researchers examined more than 260 transcriptions of normal conversations. They discovered people who used these “filler words” tend to be more conscientious than people who don’t. Researchers say discourse markers imply a desire to thoughtfully share opinions with others, and may give someone more time to phrase something just right.
Oversharing on Facebook
A minute into checking social media, you find out your high school lab partner is potty training her 6-week-old Labradoodle puppy—unsuccessfully. You may roll your eyes when you get too much detail, but these oversharers reap a neurological reward when they spill their TMI news. Harvard researchers used an MRI machine to track 212 participants’ brain activity as they answered questions about their own opinions or others’ opinions. Researchers found that talking about oneself activates brain regions associated with reward (the nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental area). Only about 60 percent of real-life conversations typically revolve around an individual’s personal thoughts and stories, compared to 80 percent of social media communication.
Distracted by a pal who just can’t sit still? Perfectionism may be an underlying cause of nail biting, skin picking, or eyelash pulling, according to a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Researchers asked 48 participants questions about how often they experienced certain emotions—including boredom, anger, and anxiety—and put them in situations meant to trigger feelings such as boredom or relaxation. People with fidgety habits reported greater urges to pick at themselves when bored compared to when in relaxing scenarios. Researchers say perfectionists are more likely than others to become bored easily, and that behaviors like picking at nails deliver a form of reward in unsatisfying situations.
Complaining about ailments
It may be tiresome to comfort a hypochondriac—they have a sore stomach on Monday, a swollen lymph node on Tuesday, an achy back on Wednesday—but your pal could truly believe these abnormalities are serious. This condition may be a sign of what medical experts call illness anxiety disorder (IAD), which involves excessive worry about contracting a serious illness even when no (or only mild) symptoms are present. Even doctors usually cannot calm an affected person’s fears. Though it’s uncertain what causes IAD, people with major life stress, a history of childhood abuse, or another mental disorder such as depression are at higher risk. The disorder typically appears between the ages of 25 to 35; therapy and certain antidepressant or antianxiety medications may help treat IAD.
An ear-shattering sneeze
Know someone with a trumpeting sneeze? Blame their anatomy. Irritants, such as bright light or an allergen, stimulate the nasal cavity’s trigeminal nerve and trigger a coordinated reflex from the diaphragm to the brain. Many different muscles are involved in building the pressure needed to expel the irritant via a sneeze. Individual differences in anatomy such as abdominal strength, trachea size, and lung volume may cause some sneezers to be especially loud; others may naturally use more muscles in sneezing. Suspect this may be you? When you feel a sneeze coming, put your index finger at the base of your nose and slightly push up. This will reduce the severity of a sneeze, or perhaps even completely suppress it.
Road ragers may be prone to making themselves highly visible in other ways, too. In a Colorado State University study, researchers found that drivers of cars with window decals, personalized license plates, and bumper stickers are far more likely that those without personalized cars to use their vehicles to express rage, such as by tailgating or honking. Researchers say both road rage and car markers are signs of territorialism, and that the more markers a car has, the more aggressively someone drives when provoked. The effect remained whether the messages were, for example, “Visualize World Peace,” or “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student.” Territorial people see a car as an extension of themselves, and have a difficult time viewing public property differently from private property (“our road” is “my road” in their minds.)