background of the Construct
The psychological construct of perfectionism has been addressed in psychological theories of personality and psychopathology since long time ago. The construct was characterized by exacting standards, meticulous living, and unfulfilled expectations (Horney,
1950) and as irrational and dysfunctional, highlighted by the catastrophic nature of failing to meet unrealistic standards
(Ellis, 1962), and the
all-or-nothing attitude in which
falling short of expectations is interpreted as a failure (Beck, 1976).
Perfectionists are preoccupied with fear of failure and
disapproval, and if they experience failure and disappointment, become
dysfunctionally depressed (Hollender, 1965).
They are strive to meet very high standards in everything they do, and pursue
unrealistically high goals across any domains, be it in the workplace, in
sport, cooking, etc (Hewitt & Flett, 1991).
There are two forms of perfectionism: adaptive and
maladaptive. The idea of adaptive and maladaptive
forms of perfectionism emerged as
the striving for perfection and superiority was portrayed
as a basic human drive necessary for
adaptation, but this striving
for perfection could also take on pathological properties if the perfection of the self took precedence over social interest (Adler, 1956).
This distinction is clarified by the source of the
motivation to perform; a maladaptive fear of failure compared to an adaptive desire for improvement (Hamachek, 1978). According to Burns (1980) adaptive is the healthy
pursuit of excellence, quality
work, and true accomplishment and on
the other hand maladaptive is the compulsive striving and self-defeating drive to meet impossible expectations.
The Dual Process Model of Perfectionism made a distinction
between the pursuit of success,
excellence, approval, and satisfaction; and the avoidance of failure,
mediocrity, disapproval, and dissatisfaction (Slade
& Owens, 1998). Based on Frost & DiBartolo
(2002) perfectionism has been identified as one of the six domains of
obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD), and both clinical and nonclinical
populations have demonstrated significantly higher levels of perfectionism
(Frost & Steketee, 1997). Higher levels of depression have been found to be
associated with higher levels of self-oriented and socially prescribed
perfectionism from the Hewitt and Flett Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale
(Hewitt & Flett, 1991).
The Frost and colleagues conceptualization focused on
the intrapersonal dimensions of perfectionism while the Hewitt and Flett focused on the interpersonal dimensions (Parker
& Adkins, 1995).
Based on the multidimensional approach
of the Frost and colleagues (1990) theory some important dimensions are identified: (a) excessively high standards;
(b) the level of concern
over mistakes; (c) a sense of
doubt about the quality of one’s performance; (d) concern over
parent’s expectations and evaluations; and (e) an
overemphasis on precision, order, and organization.
The Hewitt and Flett conceptualization added
interpersonal dimensions to previous unidimensional self-directed approach. The
conceptualization is made up of three dimensions: (a) self-oriented
perfectionism, (b) other-oriented perfectionism, and (c) socially prescribed perfectionism, each of which is
characterized not by differences in behaviors or cognitions but in the object
of the perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism describes the exacting
standards and excessive critical evaluation of one’s performance.
Other-oriented perfectionism describes the same high standards and criticism
directed at others. Socially prescribed perfectionism describes the perceptions
that significant others have unrealistic standards for them, are overly
critical, and pressure them to be perfect.
(Hewitt & Flett, 1991)
There is an ongoing
debate between the dimensional approach of Hewitt
and Flett (Flett & Hewitt, 2006) and the group
(i.e., positive and negative) approaches (Slade
& Owens, 1998). Flett and Hewitt (2006) have questioned the existence of positive perfectionism and stated their belief
that the term, “perfectionist,”
should be used only for individuals who rigidly hold to their
standards even though the situation
does not call for perfection,
and who continue to set
unreasonably high standard in several life domains.
There is a new conceptual model that integrates these
approaches. From the dimensional approaches a distinction has emerged between
perfectionistic strivings (e.g., striving for excellence) and
perfectionistic concerns (e.g.,
worry about making a mistake),
whereas the group approach divides positive and negative perfectionists. In this model,
perfectionists and non-perfectionists can be identified by the presence of any
perfectionistic strivings. The differentiation between positive and negative perfectionists is made using
the level of perfectionistic concerns. Perfectionistic concerns are
characterized by rigid and inflexible concern over mistakes, doubts about
actions, evaluation of the discrepancy between achievement and standards,
self-criticism, and a fear of failure. Using this model, adaptive
perfectionists would be high in perfectionistic strivings and low in
perfectionistic concerns while maladaptive or pathological perfectionists would
be high in perfectionistic strivings and concerns (Stoeber & Otto, 2006).
Concerning the issue of adaptive perfectionism, in 1996,
the Almost Perfect Scale (APS) was developed by Slaney and his colleagues. The
intent was to approach the subject with an unbiased perspective and qualitative
methodology to instruct the development of the theory (Slaney & Ashby,
1996). It identifies three aspects of perfectionism: (a) high standards, (b) order, and (c) discrepancy. The “high standards” and “order” dimensions correspond to adaptive characteristics and the “discrepancy” dimension corresponds to maladaptive characteristics.
Based on Pacht’s (1984)
conceptualization, a number of symptoms of perfectionism in students that seem
to be counterproductive to learning of any kind include:
1 performance standards that are
impossibly high and unnecessarily rigid;
2 motivation more from fear of
failure than from pursuit of success;
3 measurement of one’s own worth
entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment;
4 all-or-nothing evaluations that label
anything other than perfection as failure;
5 difficulty in taking credit or
pleasure, even when success is achieved, because such achievement is merely
what is expected;
6 procrastination in getting
started on work that will be judged, and
7 long delays in completing assignments, or repeatedly starting
over on assignments, because the work must be perfect from the beginning
and continue to be perfect as one goes along (cited
in Gregersen & Horwitz,
Perfectionism in Context
Perfectionism was reported to be associated with procrastination behavior
and poorer writing performance (Frost et al. 1990)
and problems with resource management
strategies like managing
the time and the study environment along with maladaptive learning strategies
(Mills & Blankstein 2000).
Positive perfectionism has been associated with higher
academic and interpersonal adjustment in middle school students, while negative perfectionists
displayed greater emotional distress and lower interpersonal adjustment (Gilman &
Ashby, 2003). Maladaptive perfectionism has been
linked to poor adjustment in college students (Rice & Dellwo, 2002) and also linked to low self-esteem and interpersonal difficulties (Parker, 2002).
Few studies have addressed
the association between perfectionism and language learning.
One of the studies which aimed at such a relationship was that of Gregersen and Horwitz (2002). They
examined the relationship between perfectionism and language learning
with a focus on language anxiety. They believe the reactions of the students to their oral performance indicated that anxious and non-anxious foreign language learners do differ
in terms of their self reports of perfectionist tendencies. Specifically, anxious learners
reported higher standards
for their English performance, a greater tendency
toward procrastination, greater worry over the opinions
of others, and a higher
level of concern
over their errors
than non-anxious learners. According to Pishghadam and
Akhondpoor (2011), in the educational context of Iran, the ideas of “the best” and “the perfect”
exist and are valued in its different levels. Foreign language proficiency, for
example, is usually defined in terms of a native speaker competence and many
English learners believe in the superiority of the British or the American
accents and spend their time and energy in strict imitation of either varieties.
Perfectionism has been reported
to be in association with academic
achievement and in a number of studies performed
in the field. Kottman et al. (1999) believed that maladaptive perfectionists may be more inclined to use social comparison as a measure
of achievement and be motivated
by a fear of failure,
which may negatively affect academic importance Blankstein and Dunkley (2002) suggested
that socially prescribed
perfectionism in students has been associated with maladaptive learning
strategies. Conroy (2003) stated that a fear of failure in perfectionists has been associated with problems in achievement.
The relationship between positive and
negative perfectionism, and academic achievement, motivation, and wellbeing of
students was also found by Ram (2005). The Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism
Scale (MPS) was used to measure positive, negative, and total levels of
perfectionism. It was concluded that positive perfectionism can have a positive
association with academic achievement, achievement motivation, and general
well-being, while negative perfectionism can have a negative association with
Roohafza et al. (2010)
investigated the association among the dimensions of perfectionism with the
academic achievement and other psychopathologies, such as depression and
anxiety. The results showed that there were negative and positive perfectionisms
to be negative and positive predictors, respectively, for academic achievement and conversely,
positive and negative predictors for depression and anxiety, respectively.
Pishghadam and Akhondpoor (2011)
performed a study and examined the role of learner perfectionism in foreign
language learning success, academic achievement, and learner anxiety using
Ahwaz Perfectionism Scale (2000) and Spielberger’s State/ Trait Anxiety
Inventory (1983). Students’ grades of four main skills and GPA were also
obtained through the questionnaires. The results indicated a negative
significant relationship between skills of reading, speaking, listening, GPA, and perfectionism and also a positive significant relationship between learner
perfectionism and learner anxiety.
Related study perfectionism and anxiety
perfectionism is associated with a number
of psychological issues including psychological distress, depression, low self-esteem and anxiety disorders
(Rheaume et al. 2000), poor physical health, procrastination,
interpersonal problems, shame and guilt, stress, and low self-esteem (Ashby
& Rice, 2002; Hewitt & Flett, 2002) and
many forms of psychopathology including trait anxiety (Hewitt
& Flett, 1991).
Perfectionism is responsible for the
test anxiety of some students who habitually put impractical demands
on themselves and feel that anything less than a perfect
test performance is a failure
(Horwitz et al. 1986).
Price (1991) concluded from his case studies that
certain personality variables
(e.g., perfectionism and fear of public speaking)
and stressful classroom experiences are all possible
causes of anxiety.
In a study on the relationships between
dimensions of perfectionism and state and trait anxiety, Flett et al. (1995)
found socially prescribed perfectionism was associated with higher state
anxiety, especially under high self-involvement situations, while few
consistent relationships were found between dimensions of perfectionism and
trait anxiety (Besharat and Mirzamani 2004).
In an interview study,
Gregersen and Horwitz
(2002) compared language
anxiety in the oral skill to perfectionism, taking into account that perfectionists have excessively ambitious performance objectives and are very self-critical and that in second or foreign language
learning which can lead to anxiety. It was found that highly anxious students were reticent
about discussing their interviews and often steered the conversation toward
more general topics such as how they postponed assignments and tended to avoid
talking about their oral performance on the recording. Low-anxious participants
were willing to talk about how they fared in the interview, admitting that they
had made mistakes but were less stringent with themselves, apparently satisfied
with feeling calm and unconcerned about being hindered by their lack of knowledge.
As cited in Chowdhury (2014), according to Zhang and
Zhong (2012), learners’ ‘unrealistic high standard’ is the main reason
for creating language anxiety (p.28). Kitano
(2001) reported that, using tapes
or videos of native speakers’ communication in
speaking class is sometimes
responsible for making learners
anxious. When teachers use such materials learners try to follow the native speakers and
expect to be as proficient as
they are but when their lack of
ability hinders them to become successful, they become highly anxious (p.
559). So, learners’ high ambition to become
native-like is an important factor for creating language anxiety.