Visual Triggers of Skin Picking Episodes: An Experimental Study in Self-Reported Skin Picking Disorder and Atopic Dermatitis


  • Linda Marlen Mehrmann
  • Alice Urban
  • Alexander Leopold Gerlach Orcid


Background: Skin Picking Disorder (SPD) is a new diagnosis with limited information available about triggers of picking episodes. Itch can be induced via audio-visual stimuli and the effect of contagious itch is stronger for those affected by atopic dermatitis. We examined if picking-related visual stimuli can trigger the urge to pick skin in self-reported SPD. We compared itch and the urge to pick in a sample of AD and/or SPD-affected to controls without either. Method: Urge to pick skin and/or scratch when viewing 24 itch-related, picking-related or neutral online pictures was assessed in adult females, who self-report skin-picking (SPD-only, n = 147) and/or atopic dermatitis (AD-only, n = 47; AD+SPD, n = 46) as well as in skin healthy controls (HC, n = 361). Results: All participants reported a stronger urge to pick for picking-related pictures compared to neutral content (F[1, 597] = 533.96, p < .001, ηp2 = .472) and more itch for itch-related pictures compared to neutral stimuli (F[1, 597] = 518.73, p < .001, ηp2 = .465). SPD-all (SPD-only & AD+SPD) reported stronger urges to pick for picking-related vs. other stimuli compared to the AD-only and HC group (p < .001, ηp2 = .047). Likewise, AD-all (AD-only & AD+SPD) reported significantly stronger itching for itch-related vs. other stimuli compared to SPD-only and HC (p = .001, ηp2 = .019). Conclusions: Analog to visual provocation of itch, the urge to pick can be triggered by visual stimuli. Treatments for SPD and AD may profit from addressing visual stimuli.