February 5, 2018

Dear Colleagues,

The National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC) provides information about relevant and current research in service of disseminating and promoting evidence-based treatment. This month’s summary focuses on changes in levels of perfectionism across generations.

The authors, Curran and Hill (2017), defined perfectionism using a three-factor model developed by Hewitt and Flett (1991). The first construct, self-oriented perfectionism, relates to excessively high personal standards with overly critical self-evaluations. The second is socially prescribed perfectionism, which is the perception of being judged harshly by others unless unrealistic standards are obtained. Finally the third construct, other-oriented perfectionism, is about one imposing these perspectives and judgments on others. The meta-analysis focused on changes in perfectionism over time by analyzing data collected using the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale from 1989 to 2017. The meta-analysis included 146 studies with a sum of 41,641 American, British and Canadian college students. The analysis revealed an increase in self-oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, and other-oriented perfectionism over time. Notably, socially prescribed perfectionism showed the greatest increase over generations. This type of perfectionism is correlated with social anxiety, body dissatisfaction, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.

The authors suggest various reasons for these cohort differences. One salient implication for mental health professionals is being aware that specific perfectionistic beliefs can impact both the development of social anxiety and other types of psychopathology. In addition, beliefs are likely to differ based on various facets of identity, including the age of the client.

How does perfectionism impact your clients? What experiments or other behavioral interventions have helped clients address this topic? What cognitive interventions have you found effective in modifying beliefs and behaviors associated with perfectionism?

Curran, T., & Hill, A. P. (2017). Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. Link to abstract.

Michelle Dexter, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

Representative of NSAC Los Angeles (Behavioral Associates, Los Angeles)