In work settings, perfectionism is often viewed as a trait to be desired. Perfectionists tend to set high goals, they are detail-oriented, and they tend not to quit until the job is done (even if the job takes longer than expected).
There is a downside to perfectionism, however. Past research has found that perfectionists are more likely to exhibit other mental health problems due to the fact that they hold unrealistically high expectations of themselves and engage in overly critical self-evaluations. Interestingly, some research suggests that perfectionism is on the rise in the United States and Europe.
Adding to the growing body of research on perfectionism, new research published in Frontiers in Psychology examined the core nature of perfectionism. Specifically, a team of researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway attempted to understand whether the personality trait we know as perfectionism is actually composed of two distinct subcomponents: “strivings” and “evaluative concerns.”
To study this question, the researchers recruited 423 Norwegian adults to complete the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale. The scale, first developed in the early 1990’s, is composed of eight agree-disagree statements and is grouped into two categories: strivings and evaluative concerns. Here is the scale:
- I set higher goals for myself than most people.
- I have extremely high goals.
- Other people seem to accept lower standards from themselves than I do.
- I expect higher performance in my daily tasks than most people.
- If I fail at work/school, I am a failure as a person.
- If someone does a task at work/school better than me, then I feel like I failed at the whole task.
- If I do not do well all the time, people will not respect me.
- The fewer mistakes I make, the more people will like me.
By reading the statements above, you can see how the two components of perfectionism diverge. One has to do with a innate desire to be the best while the other has to do with the importance of not failing in the eyes of others.
Through a series of fancy statistical techniques, the researchers assessed whether the scale was a better measurement tool when strivings and evaluative concerns were lumped together, or when they were treated separately. Interestingly, they found that the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale was a more accurate instrument when separated into two distinct components. They write, “The bifactor and the confirmatory factor analysis […] support the two-factor model, indicating that the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale lends itself best to studying correlations and changes in evaluative concerns and strivings separately.”
The researchers also point out that the evaluative concerns dimension of perfectionism is likely the form of perfectionism that leads to psychological problems. In their data, evaluative concerns correlated significantly to measures of anxiety and depression, whereas striving had a weak correlation to anxiety and did not correlate with depression.
In other words, the strivings dimension of perfectionism may be something to be encouraged while the evaluative concerns dimension of perfectionism is likely something to be suppressed. The authors hope their work inspires more research on developing effective interventions for maladaptive perfectionism.