The psychological significance of different adolescent perfectionist profiles
AffiliationMelbourne School of Psychological Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
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© 2018 Dr. Amanda Sironic
Perfectionism has historically been regarded as a significant risk factor in the development and maintenance of psychological disorders. However, perfectionism is not always associated with poor psychological outcomes. Indeed, contemporary multidimensional perfectionism questionnaires include both adaptive and maladaptive dimensions, and recent research suggests a better understanding of perfectionism is achieved by focusing on combinations of these dimensions (rather than individual dimensions) to identify adaptive and maladaptive perfectionist subgroups/profiles. The purpose of the research reported herein was to investigate the nature of these subgroups in adolescents. Study 1 (n = 105, 17-year-olds) (Sironic & Reeve, 2012) examined perfectionist subgroups based on the Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R: Slaney, Rice, Mobley, Trippi, & Ashby, 2001), as well as the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS: Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995) and Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, & McKeachie, 1991). It was hypothesised that four meaningful perfectionist subgroups could be derived from the APS-R’s High Standards and Discrepancy dimensions, and that each subgroup would rate their anxiety, depression, stress, and learning metacognitive beliefs differently. As predicted, cluster analysis of High Standards and Discrepancy dimension responses yielded four subgroup profiles: (1) high High Standards/low Discrepancy; (2) high High Standards/high Discrepancy; (3) low High Standards/high Discrepancy, and; (4) low High Standards/low Discrepancy). Subgroups were related to psychopathological symptoms and learning metacognitions in predictable ways. The low High Standards/high Discrepancy subgroup claimed to use metacognitive self-regulation significantly less often than the high High Standards/low Discrepancy and high High Standards/High Discrepancy subgroups; and the two high Discrepancy subgroups exhibited significantly higher depression ratings than the high High Standards/low Discrepancy subgroup. These findings support a four-subgroup account of perfectionism. The findings were interpreted as suggesting that the low High Standards/high Discrepancy subgroup might lack insight into (or deny) their perfectionistic tendencies—a tendency often associated with psychological disorders. Some suggest that perfectionism may be either externally and/or internally motivated. Insofar as this is correct, it is possible that students in this fourth subgroup are not seeking their own high standards but adopting the standards of significant others. Study 2 was designed to investigate this possibility. In Study 2 (n = 938, 14- to 17-year-olds) (Sironic & Reeve, 2015), high school students completed three commonly used perfectionism questionnaires (i.e., the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, FMPS: Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990; Child and Adolescent Perfectionism Scale, CAPS: Flett, Hewitt, Boucher, Davidson Munro, 2000; and APS-R), as well as the DASS. Preliminary analyses revealed commonly observed factor structures for each perfectionism questionnaire. Exploratory factor analysis of item responses from the three questionnaires (combined) yielded a four-factor solution (factors were labelled High Personal Standards, Concerns, Doubts and Discrepancy, Externally Motivated Perfectionism, and Organisation and Order). A latent class analysis of individuals’ mean ratings on each of the four factors yielded a six-class solution. Three of the six classes represented perfectionist subgroups (labelled adaptive perfectionist, externally motivated maladaptive perfectionist, and mixed maladaptive perfectionist) and three non-perfectionist subgroups (labelled non-perfectionist A, non-perfectionist B, and order and organisation non-perfectionist). Each subgroup was meaningfully associated with depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. The mixed maladaptive perfectionist and externally motivated maladaptive perfectionist subgroups reported significantly higher levels of self-reported depression, anxiety, and stress compared with the adaptive perfectionist and non-perfectionist subgroups. The mixed maladaptive perfectionist and externally motivated maladaptive perfectionist subgroups did not differ in their depression and anxiety ratings, but the mixed maladaptive perfectionist subgroup reported significantly greater levels of stress than the externally motivated maladaptive perfectionist subgroup. The same three perfectionism questionnaires used in Study 2 were used in Study 3 (n = 299, 19-year-olds) (Sironic, Paul, & Reeve, under review at the time of thesis submission). Study 3 sought to establish whether externally motivated perfectionism was also an important aspect in a university undergraduate sample, and whether perfectionists’ beliefs about thinking (their clinical metacognitive beliefs, as measured by the Meta-Cognitions Questionniare-30 Shortened Version (MCQ-30: Wells & Cartwright-Hatton, 2004)) may differentiate perfectionist subgroups and help better explain their DASS depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. Study 2’s four-factor solution was confirmed by factor analysis of items from the three perfectionism questionnaires, and the same three perfectionist subgroups were identified using latent class analysis of individuals’ average ratings on each factor. Clinical metacognitive beliefs and depression, anxiety, and stress ratings varied in expected ways in the different subgroups, with the externally motivated maladaptive perfectionists at greatest risk of poor psychological outcomes. Overall, the findings of the three studies offer new insights into the conceptualisation of adolescent perfectionism. Support was found for the existence of three perfectionist subgroups (one adaptive, two maladaptive) in adolescence. Findings showed that three out of 10 students were classified as maladaptive perfectionists, and that maladaptive perfectionists were more prevalent than adaptive perfectionists. Notably, the externally motivated maladaptive perfectionist subgroup seemed to possess the poorest metacognitive skills and be most at risk of experiencing psychopathology symptoms. These findings have implications for the treatment of perfectionists. They suggest that intervention strategies are needed to address issues associated with externally motivated perfectionism (i.e., the impact of parents, teachers or significant others); and that enhancing metacognitive skills could be included as part of an intervention strategy.
Keywordsperfectionism; perfectionist subgroups; depression; stress; anxiety; metacognitive beliefs; adolescence
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