Perfectionist college students who dwell on the discrepancy between expectations and actual performance experience greater task-related and overall anxiety, as well as poorer psychological well-being, a recent study in Personality and Individual Differences reported.
The study authors reported that, to date, there has been limited research into how discrepancy affects emotional experience in university students. In addition, not many studies have looked at the relationship between the aspects of perfectionism and time spent on tasks.
Researchers recruited 83 undergraduate students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher: 48 women, 34 men, and one individual identifying as non-binary, all ranging from 18 to 27 years of age. Participants completed a lab test followed by a series of questionnaires. The lab test included summarizing two readings. To elicit perfectionist thoughts, the researchers told participants they were chosen based on their “exceptional academic performance” and that the purpose of the study was to better understand how “intelligent, high-performing students” process information. Questionnaires included multiple anxiety scales, the Almost Perfect Scale-Revised, and the World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire, among others.
The discrepancy subscale of the Almost Perfect Scale-Revised was significantly associated with task-related anxiety after both reading tasks. Discrepancy did not affect time spent on tasks. After the longer, easier reading, discrepancy created a statistically significant variance in the regression analyses.
Discrepancy was significantly associated with overall anxiety and psychological well-being. The characteristic created an 8% variance when combined with the impact of neuroticism and stress on anxiety and well-being.
Limitations include a lack of diversity as most participants were Asian or White, as well as a small sample size.
“Further research addressing self-critical perfectionists’ distress levels in response to academic tasks of varied difficulty and length is warranted,” the study authors wrote. “Longitudinal study designs can provide additional insight into the stability of the relationship between discrepancy and state anxiety. Additionally, future research may investigate how certain psychological processes (e.g., cognitive flexibility) interact with perfectionism in order to better understand what mechanisms underlie perfectionistic thought processes and behaviors.
Rassaby M, Cassiello-Robbins C, Sauer-Zavala S. When perfect is never good enough: The predictive role of discrepancy on anxiety, time spent on academic tasks, and psychological well-being in university students. Pers. Individ. Differ. 2021;168;110305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110305