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A Literature Review About Social Opinion Regarding Nose Picking in Public

By: Digital Design and Development - Set A British Columbia Institute of Technology


This literature report evaluates nose picking out in public and whether it should be accepted in today's social norm. These resources were analyzed based on research results from interviewing strangers, and online surveys gathered from students and staff at BCIT. The scope of the review includes videos, a survey, interviews, social media pages, a website, and a Powerpoint presentation.


Public nose picking is considered to be a socially unacceptable behaviour in Western society and most cultures around the world. This common belief has been strongly embedded in society’s norms over an unknown period of time, yet little information as to why, is usually given. This literature review considers the possibility of public nose picking being socially acceptable under comprehensible circumstances or situations. By collecting first-hand data of people’s opinions, this project explores the extent of general deviance on taboo behaviour done in public.

Background Information

Nose picking is known as the act of using either fingers or any small, slender tools (ie: Q-tip) to remove dried or wet mucus from their nose. This is medically known as Rhinotillexomania and is a common behaviour in young children. Although nose picking is considered one of the most under-researched topics, a study published by the University of Wisconsin Medical School in 1990 reported that 91% of Wisconsin residents regularly pick their nose. Approximately, 2% of that statistic report that nose picking is a sexual stimulant for them. Two people stated that their excessive nose-picking led to nasal septum perforation (picking their nose to the point where they made a small hole in the bridge of their nose - the other side of the hole leads to the brain). The participants in this study admit to spending about 15-30 minutes per day picking their nose. James Jefferson, who led the study, concluded that the majority of these people suffered from Rhinotillexomania. (Griffiths, 2014)

Our Findings

According to our findings, the majority of participants expressed high level of intolerance on nose picking, especially in the public eye. Consequently, in their responses they added that nose picking should be a socially unacceptable act.

The following were the most common causes for deviance:

  • Vulgar nature
  • Unhygienic effects
  • Should be done in private, if done at all

These arguments were supported by the following comments:
  • “It’s gross/unsanitary”
  • “It’s frowned upon”.
  • “It would bother me if I saw someone pick their nose”.
  • “If they were my friends/family, it would make me look bad”.

However, the answers that were submitted from our online survey were surprisingly different than the answers we got when interviewing people in person. Participants in the survey were more honest about being active nose-pickers. A factor that possibly contributed to the different results could have been the fact the the survey was made anonymous - therefore, we do not know who submitted which answers. This suggests people might have hid their agreeableness in noise picking however they are self-conscious about the social pressure from the public.

To further is argument, another result says 100% of responses say it is okay for a child to pick their nose in public. "we define early social and emotional development as the emerging ability of young children (ages 0-5) to "form close and secure adult and peer relationships; experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways; and explore the environment and learn - all in the context of family, community, and culture" (Yates et al., 2008) This indicated that as we grew up, we were shaped by ideas around us, not necessarily our own. Without social pressure and preconditioning as children we were likely to pick nose whenever we feel like it.

However, there is hope here for changing people's opinions. 100% of responses say it is okay for a child to pick their nose in public.

During our interview, we asked our clients, "when person next to you starts picking nose, does this has any negative effect on you?" The result is 76.9% no and 23.1% yes. However after we took personal hygiene into account and asked "if people were to sanitize their hands after picking their nose in public, would it be more tolerable for you?" The amount of negative response decreases significantly. The results become 2% no and 92.3% yes. Therefore, we were able to argue that the noise picking act behavior itself is not gross, however, what people find gross might really be their personal hygiene at stake. To further prove this, from the result of the majority of people (76.9%) are not really bothered when there are people picking nose around them.

A similar situation is breastfeeding rate in United States. The breastfeeding rate is increasing every year since organizations such as governments, health agencies are actively promoting the act educate people its health benefits (Kristen Fischer, 2016, August 26). Through our research, we also found out nose picking has health benefits. If public organizations are willing to get involved in promoting the health benefits of nose picking, the rate for people to nose pick will likely to grow every year as well.


In conclusion, we found that participants who were interviewed were intolerant with the act when done in public. However, from our online surveys, participants who took part had a different point of view. The chart shows that individuals are more relativists rather than being strong absolute. Although people are reluctant to accept however there is hope for a nose picking future. If we can reconstruct our view and social norm, educate people on the health benefits of nose picking, and having government and health agencies involved, we will likely to see more people join our public nose picking army.

Our Survey Responses

How disgusted are you when you see someone picking their nose in public?

              Could picking your nose be GOOD for you?

If you find out that nose picking/eating boogers is healthy for you,
will you start to do this?

              When a person next to you starts picking nose,
does this have any negative effect on you?

Your personal mobile phone contains more bacteria than toilet seats.
Knowing this,do you think picking your nose is more gross than
touching a dirty phone?

         If people were to sanitize their hands after picking their nose in public,
would it be more tolerable for you?

Do you think it's okay for a child to pick their nose in public?

         If some came to you and offered you one thousand dollars to pick
your nose everyday for the next 2 weeks, surrounded by many people,
would you accept?

In our society, many people flick their cigarettes in places out in public.
Compared to flicking your boogers in public, which one would you
prefer to see more?

         Would you feel comfortable seeing someone spitting in public places
or flicking their boogers out in public?

Why is it okay for a child to pick their nose?

Leave the child alone
Because it's human nature
Its norm
Don't really care
They are young, and maybe don't know this kind of things are not good.
Children don't think before doing so let them just be kids.
It's children
Because it’s cute
kids are kids
I Believe that if you do it quickly it would be alright to pick your nose because sometimes it can help relieve you of something that's bothering you and as for children they just want to get rid of discomfort from their body.
they are kids and they don't have much experience yet.
Because they are not mature to control themselves