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A woman wearing a Scold's bridle, a Middle Ages social punishment for nagging.

Nagging, in interpersonal communication, is repetitious behaviour in the form of pestering, hectoring, or otherwise continuously urging an individual to complete previously discussed requests or act on advice. As expressed by Elizabeth Bernstein, reporter for the Wall Street Journal, nagging is "the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it and both become increasingly annoyed".[1] Thus, nagging is a form of persistent persuasion that is more repetitive than aggressive and it is an interaction to which each party contributes. Nagging is a very common form of persuasion used in all aspects of life including domestic and professional. It is also a common practice in order to avoid more aggressive persuasive moves like threats.[2] The word is derived from the Scandinavian nagga, which means "to gnaw".[3]


Kari P. Soule describes nagging as an "interpersonal ritual."[4] Nagging as a form of interpersonal communication is considered to be a form of persistent persuasion between a nagger (persuader) and the person being nagged. Martin Kozloff, Ph.D., Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, identifies four main steps of nagging:

  1. The nagger gives the signal to perform or stop performing a task or behaviour.
  2. The person being nagged does not comply to the request from the nagger.
  3. In response, the nagger repeats his request or signal in a further effort to gain compliance.
  4. The person being nagged again responds with non-compliance.

Kozloff argues that this interaction cycle continues until either the one who is being nagged complies to the nagger’s request or the nagger gives up the attempt to persuade. Kozloff identifies other important aspects of nagging; for instance, non-compliance is necessary for the persuader to be persistent. In addition, the persuader will often change the initial requests words and paralinguistic cues as a strategic tactic to entice the target into complying with the request.[5]

Regarding compliance, behavioural noncompliance describes the situation that occurs when the person being nagged remains silent or agrees to complete the request, but later does not follow through. This strategy is employed to end the confrontation or interaction quickly without conflict, which is why it is common among spouses or partners. As the nagging interaction that starts out in a calm and polite manner continues and the persuader becomes more repetitive, the interaction is more likely to become aggressive in nature. Verbal noncompliance, on the other hand, describes the situation that occurs when the target tells the persuader through words that he will not comply, and is a more direct tactic than behavioural noncompliance. An example of verbal noncompliance could be a simple no, or I am too busy right now, or an even more elaborate response. This tactic does end the nagging interaction more rapidly; however, it can cause a more aggressive response from the persuader, who may escalate persistent persuasion into a threat or another aggressive form of persuasion.

Psychotherapists such as Edward S. Dean, M.D. have reported that individuals who nag are often "weak, insecure, and fearful ... their nagging disguises a basic feeling of weakness and provides an illusion of power and superiority".[3] Nagging is sometimes used by spouses of alcoholics as one of several "drinking control efforts",[6] but it is often unproductive.[7] Psychologically, nagging can act to reinforce behavior.[7] A study by the University of Florida found the main factors that lead a person to nag are differences in "gender, social distance, and social status and power".[8]

Soule states, "The term nagging seldom appears in interpersonal communication or conflict textbooks. It appears that 'nagging' is commonly used in everyday conversation but it rarely makes it to academic print".[9]


Nagging has been found to attributed to be more of a feminine form of interpersonal communication rather than masculine. Nagging is commonly seen as a repetitious form of persuasion rather resorting to more aggressive tactics in order to gain compliance. This belief was upheld in a study by Kari P. Soule (Ph. D., Communication Studies)--Northwestern University of 63 females and 40 males aged 19 and one of 202 people aged 24 to 84-49.[10] An equal number of men and women nag; however, studies have shown that women are more likely to nag both men and women, while men are more likely to nag only men. Meaning women nag all people, which can be attributed to the reason why women are stereotyped as nagging people all the time.

Nagging by spouses is a common marital complaint. Nagging can be found between both male and female spouses, though usually over different subjects, according to a Good Housekeeping article which described husbands' nagging as usually involving finding "fault with their dinner, with the household bills [and] with the children", along with "carry[ing] home the worries of business."[11] It has been found that behavioural noncompliance is more common among spouses.

Parental and child nagging[edit]

Regarding parental nagging of children, a study done at Washington State University in 1959 stated that nagging was a "symptom of the rejection of the child" because of the way that children interfere with their parents' "individual needs and aspirations" and with their requirements of "time and energy".[12] According to James U. McNeal in his 1992 book Kids as Customers, there are seven classifications of juvenile nagging, wherein children nag their parents to obtain something they desire.[13]


During the Middle Ages, a scold's bridle, also called a brank, was an instrument of punishment used primarily on women.[14] The device was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head. A bridle-bit (or curb-plate), about 2 inches long and 1 inch broad, projected into the mouth and pressed down on top of the tongue.[15] The curb-plate was frequently studded with spikes, so that if the offender moved her tongue, it inflicted pain and made speaking impossible.[16] Wives who were seen as witches, shrews and scolds, were forced to wear the branks, locked onto their head.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bernstein, Elizabeth. "Meet the Marriage Killer". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  2. ^ Kozloff, Martin A. (1988). Productive interactions with students, children and clients. Springfield. 
  3. ^ a b Dean, Edward S. (1964–1965), "A Psychotherapeutic Investigation of Nagging", Psychoanalytic Review (51D): 15–21  (subscription required)
  4. ^ Galvin, Kathleen (2011). Making Connections. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 193. 
  5. ^ Kozloff, Martin A. (1988). Productive interactions with students, children and clients. Springfield. 
  6. ^ Yoshioka, Marianne R.; Thomas, Edwin J.; Ager, Richard D. (1992), "Nagging and other drinking control efforts of spouses of uncooperative alcohol abusers: Assessment and modification", Journal of Substance Abuse 4 (3): 309–318, doi:10.1016/0899-3289(92)90038-Y 
  7. ^ a b Meyers, Robert J.; Wolfe, Brenda L (2003), Get your loved one sober: alternatives to nagging, pleading, and threatening, Hazelden Publishing, ISBN 1-59285-081-2 
  8. ^ Boxer, Diana (2002), "Nagging: The familial conflict arena", Journal of Pragmatics (Elsevier) 34 (1): 49–61, doi:10.1016/S0378-2166(01)00022-4, retrieved December 20, 2010  (subscription required)
  9. ^ Galvin, Kathleen (2011). Making Connections. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 193. 
  10. ^ Soule, Kari (2011). The What, When, Who and Why of Nagging in Interpersonal Relationships. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  11. ^ "The Nagging Man". Good Housekeeping (Hearst Corporation) 26: 164. 1897. Retrieved December 20, 2010. 
  12. ^ Ellis, David; Ivan Nyet, F. Ivan (1959), "The Nagging Parent", The Family Life Coordinator: 8, retrieved December 20, 2010  (subscription required)
  13. ^ Schlosser, Eric (2001). Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Volume 1000. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 44. Retrieved February 5, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Definition of branks". Free Dictionary. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  15. ^ "Scolds Bridle". National Education Network, U.K. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
  16. ^ "History talk sheds light on Scold's Bridle". Retrieved 7 August 2012. 

Further reading[edit]