Perfectionism Dimensions and Research Productivity in Psychology Professors: Implications for Understanding the (Mal)Adaptiveness of Perfectionism

By Sherry, Simon B.; Hewitt, Paul L. et al. | Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Perfectionism Dimensions and Research Productivity in Psychology Professors: Implications for Understanding the (Mal)Adaptiveness of Perfectionism


Sherry, Simon B., Hewitt, Paul L., Sherry, Dayna L., Flett, Gordon L., Graham, Aislin R., Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science


The consequences of demanding perfection of oneself are hotly debated, with researchers typically arguing for either the adaptiveness or the maladaptiveness of this trait. Research informing this debate involves mainly psychiatric patients, undergraduates, and self-report data, suggesting a need to broaden this relatively narrow evidence base. The present study examines self-oriented perfectionism (i.e., demanding perfection of oneself), conscientiousness, socially prescribed perfectionism, neuroticism, and research productivity in psychology professors. Self-oriented perfectionism was negatively related to total number of publications, number of first-authored publications, number of citations, and journal impact rating, even after controlling for competing predictors (e.g., conscientiousness). Self-oriented perfectionism may represent a form of counterproductive overstriving that limits research productivity amongst psychology professors. Although self-oriented perfectionism is often labeled as adaptive, such statements may be overly general.

Keywords: perfectionism, conscientiousness, neuroticism, productivity, academia, professors

The benefits and costs of demanding perfection of oneself are a matter of frequent and spirited debate (e.g., Stoeber & Otto, 2006). Indeed, it is difficult to find a perfectionism researcher who has not commented on this issue. Whereas certain perfectionism dimensions (e.g., concern over mistakes or socially prescribed perfectionism; Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990; Hewitt & Flett, 1991) are generally regarded as maladaptive, the pros and cons of demanding perfection of oneself are open to question and a point of contention.

Two main positions are involved in debate over the (mal)adaptiveness of perfectionism. To some (e.g., Blankstein, Dunkley, & Wilson, 2008), self-imposed perfectionistic strivings and expectations are seen as primarily adaptive characteristics associated with positive outcomes (e.g., increased academic achievement). In contrast, other authors conceptualize self-imposed perfectionistic strivings and expectations as primarily maladaptive characteristics with a high potential to undermine well-being and impede achievement (e.g., Flett & Hewitt, 2006).

Limitations of Existing Studies

Despite many valuable contributions to this debate (e.g., Owens & Slade, 2008), there is still much to learn about the (mal)adaptiveness of perfectionism. Research on this issue involves a relatively narrow evidence base, with most research using either psychiatric or undergraduate samples. In the present study, we begin to address this limitation by investigating the relationship between perfectionism dimensions and research productivity in psychology professors.

Research productivity is operationalized in terms of total number of publications, number of first-authored publications, number of citations, and journal impact rating. These four variables are important, and substantively different (e.g., Seglen, 1994), contributors to career outcomes such as tenure and promotion (Byrnes, 2007). Most research on the (mal)adaptiveness of perfectionism is solely reliant upon participant self-report and subject to the limitations of this method (e.g., reporting biases). The present study improves on this literature by measuring several objectively verifiable performance indicators (e.g., citations). Our focus on research productivity is also congruent with calls to study perfectionism in relation to a wider range of real world adaptational outcomes (Bieling, Israeli, & Antony, 2004). Moreover, little is known about the role of perfectionism in the workplace, making the present research a contribution to an understudied area.

Several prominent measures purporting to assess perfectionism are also saturated with facets of conscientiousness such as selfdiscipline and organisation (Flett & Hewitt, 2006). This point is apparent when considering items from these measures: "I am very good at focusing my efforts on attaining a goal" (Frost et al. …

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