Research identifies hidden toll perfectionism takes on college students
New research from Texas State University shows that perfectionism among college students is associated with clinically significant levels of depression, anxiety and stress, but has no impact on cognitive function or GPA.
The study was conducted by Anthony Robinson, a recent graduate from the master of arts in psychological research program at Texas State, and his thesis advisor Amitai Abramovitch, an assistant professor at the Department of Psychology. Their research, “A Neuropsychological Investigation of Perfectionism,” is published in the journal Behavior Therapy (www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005789419301121).
The study by Robinson and Abramovitch is the first comprehensive neuropsychological study of perfectionism to include examination of cognitive function (e.g., attention, memory, inhibition etc.) and related clinical symptoms.
“Perfectionism rates among college students are high and increasingly on the rise,” said Robinson, who is currently pursuing a clinical psychology doctorate at Louisiana State University. “Given that perfectionism revolves around evaluation of one’s own performance, it is surprising that no study to date utilized a comprehensive set of objective measures of performance on gold standard cognitive tests, and GPA to examine the relationship between perfectionism and objective performance measures.
The study compared two large samples: students with extreme levels of perfectionism and students with very low levels of perfectionism (control sample). Results indicated that the high perfectionism group did not differ significantly on any cognitive domain, or GPA compared to the control group. However, the high perfectionism group had clinical levels of depression, anxiety and stress, whereas the control group had normal levels of those symptoms.
The findings suggest that although perfectionism has a substantial psychological toll, it can be overlooked among college students given that these students may still present with intact cognitive and academic performance. The authors recommend that universities disseminate information regarding perfectionism, and at the very least offer low intensity interventions to support these students. This is of particular importance since perfectionism is not recognized as a distinct psychological disorder.