How many people really pick their nose? And could it be dangerous?

A lot of people pick their nose – let’s be honest. Albeit, most people don’t have a compulsive disorder and generally refrain from doing so in public. But some researchers in Bangalore, India back in 2000 decided to take a closer look at how common “rhinotillexomania” really is (yes, it has an actually medical term), […]

A lot of people pick their nose – let’s be honest. Albeit, most people don’t have a compulsive disorder and generally refrain from doing so in public.

But some researchers in Bangalore, India back in 2000 decided to take a closer look at how common “rhinotillexomania” really is (yes, it has an actually medical term), and what some of the consequences could be from doing so.

Chittaranjan Andrade and BS Srihari of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences decided to look at a younger population by distributing surveys in school classrooms, considering they are more common offenders. And they did so in schools with different socioeconomic statuses.

Turns out nose-picking is truly something almost everyone does (at least teenagers) and more than you might expect. The BBC explained the findings:

In all, Andrade and Srihari compiled data from 200 teenagers. Nearly all of them admitted to picking their noses, on average four times per day. That’s not all that enlightening; we knew this. But what are interesting are the patterns. Only 7.6% of students reported sticking their fingers into their noses more than 20 times each day, but nearly 20% thought they had a “serious nose-picking problem”. Most of them said they did it to relieve an itch or to clear out nasal debris, but 24 of them, i.e. 12%, admitted that they picked their nose because it felt good.

And it wasn’t just fingers. A total of 13 students said they used tweezers to pick their noses, and nine said they used pencils. Nine of them – nine! – admitted to eating the treasures obtained from their nose picking activities. Yum.

So what’s the harm besides a dirty look from an onlooker? Some people apparently pick so aggressively they can harm their septum, but that’s rare and generally a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. But some Dutch researchers found in a 2006 study that nose pickers were more likely to carry Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in their noses than non-pickers.

Who really knows why nose picking is appealing to so many, and generally speaking it doesn’t seem to be really dangerous, but the Andrade and Srihari received some good-humored praise in 2001 when they were given an Ig Nobel prize (designated for research that might make you laugh but also makes you think).

Andrade said at the ceremony, “some people poke their nose into other people’s business. I made it my business to poke my business into other people’s noses.”

On that note, just because I’ll take any opportunity to include a Seinfeld clip, here’s “The Pick”:


[Photo from Flickr user ayeshamus]