Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Examining Perfectionism through the Lens of Achievement Goal Theory

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Examining Perfectionism through the Lens of Achievement Goal Theory

Article excerpt

Over the past few decades, American society has become increasingly fixated on performance outcomes, and winning or being declared the best has become of paramount importance (e.g., Crain, 2004; Kohn, 1986). Winning is often viewed as an all or nothing virtue, whereby greatness is a descriptive term reserved only for those whose names appear at the top of the list. The message conveyed is that only one's final results matter, regardless of the intensity of his/her effort. Toward this end, Nicholls (1976) wrote that "the largest rewards are generally associated with outstanding performance, not outstanding effort" (p. 313). For many individuals the ideas of achievement, excellence, and self-worth have become highly dependent upon the perceived outcomes of the competitions or events in which they engage. That is, outperforming one's competitors serves as the defining characteristic of success or excellence which, in turn, appear to serve as a key determinant in the individual's self-assessment of life satisfaction (Harackiewicz, Barron, & Elliot, 1998).

The premise that success is defined in terms of competitive results or peer-referenced standards seems especially applicable within our education system. Previous authors (e.g., Covington & Berry, 1976; Harackiewicz et al., 1998; Shim & Ryan, 2005) have hypothesized that today's students who are seeking academic advancement have begun to place too much of their focus on the comparative markers that are perceived to be indicative of success (e.g., grades, admissions tests scores), instead of viewing education as a way of enhancing their knowledge base or level of competency (i.e., learning). Thus, students' emphasis on performance-related outcomes coincides with a sacrificing of more intrinsically-motivated achievements, such as advancing their personal growth or enhancing the quality of their scholarship (Ames, 1992; Harackiewicz et al., 1998).

Two prominent psychological constructs, namely perfectionism and achievement goal orientation, appear to bear important implications for the manner by which students vary in their approaches to achievement-related endeavors. Indeed, perfectionism and achievement goal orientation have become important conceptual frameworks for understanding the means by which students meet the demands imposed upon them and, more globally, how they perceive, interpret, and respond to their environment (Archer, 1994; Hamachek, 1978). Moreover, both constructs have been linked with varying cognitive styles, behavioral patterns, manifestations of affectivity, and academic-related outcomes. However, a review of the literature suggests that perfectionism and achievement goal orientation have been studied relatively independently of each other, despite the apparent similarities they share. The current study sought to bridge this gap by demonstrating that groups of perfectionists vary in their reported achievement goal orientations in addition to their differing profiles of psychological adjustment and academic functioning.

A Brief History of Perfectionism

Within recent decades, perfectionism has become an increasingly popular construct for psychological investigation. In fact, publications related to the study of perfectionism increased over 300% in the 1990s as compared to the 1980s (e.g., Flett & Hewitt, 2002), with many researchers investigating its psychological and educational implications across all different age groups, especially the college student population (e.g., Mills & Blankstein, 2000; Rice & Lapsley, 2001; Rice & Mizradeh, 2000). Hence, perfectionism has emerged as an important and relevant concept for understanding individual differences across numerous domains of functioning, including the presence of mental health symptoms (e.g., Frost & Marten-DiBartolo, 2002; Marten-DiBartolo, Li, & Frost, 2008; Shafran & Mansell, 2001), interpersonal functioning (e.g., Chang, 2000; Hill, Zrull, & Turlington, 1997), and academic functioning including procrastination (e. …

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