Why Do We Pick at Scabs and Pimples? The Evolutionary Roots of Dermatological Impulses

Uncover the evolutionary roots of our dermatological impulses and their societal impact.

Why Do We Pick at Scabs and Pimples? The Evolutionary Roots of Dermatological Impulses
Photo by Gemma Evans / Unsplash

The human instinct to pick at scabs, pimples, and other skin imperfections is a behavior deeply rooted in our evolutionary history.

Understanding this seemingly self-destructive impulse requires a closer look at the way evolutionary traits shape our behaviors.

Behavioral Evolution: Rules of Thumb

In the realm of evolutionary biology, behaviors are often viewed as 'rules of thumb' rather than strict directives.

These behaviors are not specific instructions but rather general guidelines that have contributed to our survival as a species.

For instance, consider the behavior of a mama bird feeding cuckoo birds, even when they are larger than her.

This highlights the principle that the rule is to nourish all squawking entities in the nest, without discrimination based on size or species.

Dermatological Behavior and Evolution

Similarly, when it comes to skin-related behaviors, the rule of thumb might not be to selectively remove harmful elements while preserving beneficial ones.

Rather, it could be a more general directive to remove foreign objects from the skin altogether.

This impulse may have offered survival advantages in our evolutionary past, as it helped to protect against parasites, infections, and injuries that could hinder survival and reproduction.

Evolutionary Selection: 'Good Enough' Criteria

Evolutionary processes do not always lead to the selection of the 'best' traits or behaviors.

Instead, they favor traits and behaviors that are 'good enough' to ensure survival and successful reproduction.

As a result, certain behaviors, including the urge to pick at scabs or pimples, may have persisted over generations, even if they are not always beneficial in modern contexts.

The Persistence of Evolutionary Behaviors

While some behaviors may seem counterproductive or even detrimental in the contemporary world, they continue to persist due to their historical importance in ensuring our ancestors' survival.

The human body has retained numerous behavioral predispositions, including the impulse to pick at scabs and pimples, as a result of evolutionary pressures.

Societal Impact

The evolutionary origins of this impulse shed light on the deeply ingrained nature of certain behaviors.

By understanding the evolutionary underpinnings of these actions, we can seek more effective strategies to manage and mitigate them, ultimately improving our overall well-being.