Featured Topic: Perfectionism

Sarah Krivan 


The term perfectionist is often used in a positive light, in reference to people who pursue high standards or desire excellence. This does not account for the potentially negative, or maladaptive, correlates and outcomes of the personality trait. Coutinho et al. (2022) defined maladaptive perfectionism in terms of the gap between desired and actual performance, whereby an individual holds high performance standards for themself but perceives that they are failing to meet these standards. Adaptive perfectionists, by contrast, hold similarly high standards for themselves but do not perceive such a stark difference between desired and actual performance.

Maladaptive perfectionism has been linked to negative mental health outcomes, such as depression and anxiety, and to a greater incidence of procrastination, which leads to reduced performance in work and school contexts. On the other side of the coin, adaptive perfectionism contributes to greater self-efficacy and life satisfaction. The dual nature of perfectionism means its effects and interrelationships offer many and varied avenues for empirical research. Here is a selection of the work our authors have published on this personality trait: 

To gain a broader picture of the link between perfectionism and procrastination, Xie et al. (2018) diverged from previous unidimensional characterizations by conducting a meta-analysis in which they classified both perfectionism and procrastination as multidimensional. They found that there was an overall negative trend in the relationship between perfectionistic strivings and procrastination, whereas the link between perfectionistic concerns and procrastination trended positive. Further, self-efficacy acted as a mediator.

Çerkez and Birol (2014) examined the link between perfectionism and experience of catharsis, and reported that an individual’s doubts about their action and the level of their concern over mistakes had a significant influence on catharsis, whereas personal standards, parental expectations, parental criticism, and organizational factors showed no significant impact.

Hibbard and Walton (2012) compared samples of perfectionists and nonperfectionists, and found that perfectionists reported feeling more pressure from their families to succeed. Further, their parents were overly critical of their mistakes when they were growing up, whereas nonperfectionists did not have this experience.

Perceived social support has been found to have mixed effects on perfectionism. Zhou et al. (2013) reported that perceived social support had a protective effect in reducing the likelihood of perfectionists experiencing depression and anxiety. However, they also noted that it can induce greater pressure as the positive perfectionist internalizes social support as a reason to strive to do even better.

It’s clear that perfectionism provides a rich field for scientific investigation and that there is still much to learn. Interested in reading more about the outcomes of and factors influencing perfectionism, as documented in the pages of our journal during the last five decades? Sign up for a personal subscription to SBP to gain access to over 3,900 papers spanning the fields of social, behavioral, and developmental psychology.

The association of perfectionism and active procrastination in college students – Mariana V. C. Coutinho, Aaina Menon, Rasha Hasan Ahmed, and Imani Fredricks-Lowman, 2022, 50(3), Article e10611.

Procrastination and multidimensional perfectionism: A meta-analysis of main, mediating, and moderating effects – Yu Xie, Jiyu Yang, and Faxiang Chen, 2018, 46(3), 395–408.

A comparative analysis of perfectionism and the density of experiencing catharsis – Yağmur Çerkez and Cem Birol, 2014, 42, S21–S30. 

Where does perfectionism come from? A qualitative investigation of perfectionists and nonperfectionists – David R. Hibbard and Gail E. Walton, 2012, 40(7), 1121–1122.

Perceived social support as moderator of perfectionism, depression, and anxiety in college students – Xueting Zhou, Hong Zhu, Bin Zhang, and Taisheng Cai, 2013, 41(7), 1141–1152.