Calling All Perfectionists!

The-Perfectionist-Scale-Perfectionist Guide to Results Blog The-Perfectionists-Guide-to-Results-Blog






Look familiar? Are these the standards you use to assess your success? If so, you may be on your way to psychological burnout. A new meta-analysis of 43 studies published by Personality and Social Psychology Review found that some aspects of perfectionism can lead to negative psychological outcomes. Now, if you are a recovering perfectionist, you might be thinking,

Duh gif

“I didn’t need a meta-analysis to tell me that!”


I’m with you. I, too, have struggled with perfectionism and, subsequently, feeling burned out and exhausted. But this meta-analysis is important for several reasons. First, not only does it present empirical evidence to support people’s personal experiences and anecdotes, but it also condenses and provides a robust summary—an analysis, if you will—of the findings from 43 studies, all while taking into account additional factors, such as the domain (e.g., school, work, sports). In other words, solid findings that you are not imagining things and more details to explain what you might be experiencing. Let’s face it: your perfectionism is probably getting you down.

Researchers Hill and Curran use the following definition of perfectionism and burnout:

  • Perfectionism: multidimensional tendency to have exceedingly high standards and to be extremely self-critical1
    • Typically expressed through strivings, the setting of high personal standards and an aim for perfection, and concerns, or a fear of making mistakes and judging oneself harshly for them (See above images)
  • Burnout: a stress-induced psychosocial syndrome associated with motivational, performance, and psychological deficits2
    • Symptoms: emotional exhaustion, cynical attitude, perceived decreases in personal accomplishments and efficacy2
    • May resemble something like the images below



The primary finding indicates that perfectionism and burnout are positively correlated. That is, the more perfectionism a person displays, the higher rates of burnout they’re likely to experience, and this was true especially in the work domain (we’ll discuss that later). However, aspects of perfectionism are not equally at fault. Perfectionistic concerns, rather than perfectionistic strivings, accounted for most of the correlation with burnout.  In other words, and unsurprisingly, the tendency to be extremely self-critical and to judge oneself harshly are more harmful than setting and striving for high personal standards. In fact, perfectionistic strivings may provide a small buffer against the negativity associated with negative self-evaluation, particularly in school/education or sports.

The work domain was unique in its findings. For people dealing with burnout at work, strivings were found to be less effective at buffering against components of perfectionistic concerns, like cynicism and exhaustion. The researchers suggest that people may feel less in control at work than in school or sports given that a “perfect” work performance is typically more ambiguous. This finding deserves particular attention from ambitious high school or college graduates who are entering the workforce and potentially transitioning to a job with less tangible performance feedback.

Burnout is not inevitable, even if you identify as a perfectionist. Factors such as resilience, ability to cope with stress, and social support can all provide protection against burnout and its associated symptoms.2 So can learning to say no—over-commitment may also contribute to psychological distress.

Keep in mind that this meta-analysis describes correlational relationships. Perfectionism does not cause burnout but, rather, is closely associated with it and certainly a contributing factor. If you’d like to learn more specifics about this particular meta-analysis, check out the references below. Let’s just ignore the irony of me wanting to perfect this post before publishing it.

1-Frost, R.O., Marten, P., Lahart, C., & Rosenblate, R. (1990). The dimensions of perfectionism. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 14, 449-468.

2-Hill, A.P. & Curran, T. (2015). Multidimensional perfectionism and burnout: A Meta-Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1-20.


Social Psych Snapshot: Week of 8/24/15


Image from Duke University

In this week’s Social Psych Snapshot, Hannah has curated the following:

Some brief tips on projecting power.

“It’s the sort of little joy that can’t be forced…” – the psychology of things fitting into other things.

Study finds that teenage metalheads of the 1980s turned out just fine.

Licensing at the grocery store: The unintended consequences of bringing your own bag.



Hannah graduated with a degree in Psychology from Reed College, and worked in educational research and meta-analysis as a lab manager at Duke University before entering the Social Psychology PhD program in 2014. Her research focuses on social psychological processes at work in educational contexts.

Social Psych Snapshot: Recent Research


Image from Duke University

We’re excited to announce our first guest post by our colleague, Hannah! In her posts, Hannah will compile a short list of recent links to interesting articles and news in the world of psychology for your perusing pleasure. Enjoy the fruits of her labor below!

Frustrated at work? Venting on gchat may not be the best coping strategy.

The science of vacations.

Your phone can distract you even when you (try to) ignore it.

Through “echoborgs,” an old concept developed by Stanley Milgram (who is known for his studies on obedience) finds new life.

Three psychologists weigh in on empathy.

Hannah graduated with a degree in Psychology from Reed College, and worked in educational research and meta-analysis as a lab manager at Duke University before entering the Social Psychology PhD program in 2014. Her research focuses on social psychological processes at work in educational contexts.

Super Bowl Sunday: The Social Psych Perspective

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 2.45.36 PM

Image from AZSuperbowl

About a third to a half of America’s population tunes in to the Super Bowl every year. That may not seem surprising, but the wildly popular American Idol only pulled in about 30 million viewers in its best years. A huge amount to be sure, but it pales in comparison to the Super Bowl’s 110 million (give or take).* Social psychologists may not be surprised about the popularity of the Super Bowl, given our tendency to invest ourselves deeply in sports.

In a famous study at Ohio State University, Robert Cialdini and colleagues found that students wore OSU clothing more following a win than after a loss.1 They also noticed that people were more likely to use “we” language (i.e. “we won”) when the team performed well, and were more likely to use “they” language when the team performed poorly (i.e. “they lost”).1 This phenomenon is often referred to as Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRGing) and Cutting Off Reflected Failure (CORFing).2 However, there is some evidence that die-hard fans may not engage in CORFing, suggesting they have more dedication to the team.3

So enjoy those wings, call some couch plays and no matter the outcome (***cough, cough*** Patriots win ***cough, cough***), don’t be a fair-weather fan!

*EDIT-on a good year! These stats do include worldview viewership, but worldwide viewership is notoriously low

  1. Cialdini, R. B., Borden, R. J., Thorne, R. J., Walker, M. R., Freeman, S., & Sloan, L. R. (1976). Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 34, 366-375.
  1. Cialdini, R. B., & De Nicholas, M. E. (1989). Self-presentation by association. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 57, 626-631.
  1. Sloan, L. R. (1979). “The function and impact of sports for fans: A review of theory and contemporary research.” Pp.219-262 in J. H. Goldstein (00.), Sports, games, and play: Social and psychological viewpoints. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Self-Control and Eating: Which counts more, health or taste?

Could the time it takes you to process taste- and health-related characteristics of food predict the final food decision you’ll make? A study recently published in the journal Psychological Science1 would suggest so. The study examined the hypothetical food decisions of 28 male and female undergraduates using a mouse tracking task, which captured both the time and trajectory of participants’ decisions. See image below of the task and sample trajectory results.

FoodChoice_Mouse track

food choice_caption Participants low in dietary self-control processed tastiness of a food significantly faster than healthiness of a food before making a final food decision. The researchers suggest that the earlier a factor like taste is processed while making a decision, the more heavily weighted that factor will be in someone’s final decision. Health-related attributes (e.g. calories), on the other hand, are delayed in the decision-making process and won’t be as strongly considered in the decision-making process. For example, someone low in dietary self-control who has a weak spot for gooey fudge brownies will immediately think about how delicious and sweet the brownies will be rather than their relative unhealthiness, and this deliciousness factor will be the strongest and loudest factor when that person decides whether to eat the brownies. Knowing this, no one is surprised when the brownies win the majority of the time.

In contrast, participants high in self-control processed tastiness and healthiness at approximately the same time, making both attributes relatively balanced when making a food decision, which may explain why those high in dietary self-control are more often successful when trying to exert self-control in a food situation.

Based on these findings, the researchers suggest the following implications:

  1. Delaying a food decision, even by a small waiting period, may be enough time to allow health factors to influence a final decision more strongly
  2. Interventions that can increase speed with which health information is processed may improve dietary self-control.
  3. Marketing strategies that display health attributes more prominently may promote faster processing of health attributes

To read the original article, check out the citation below.

1- Sullivan, N., Hutcherson, C., Harris, A., & Rangel, A. (2014). Dietary self-control is related to the speed with which attributes of healthfulness and tastiness are processed. Psychological Science. Advance online publication. 1-13. doi: 10.1177/0956797614559543

Justifying indulgence on Thanksgiving

Louis CK’s take on Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving! That time of year when you feel that your indulgence is somewhat justified and the guilt for everything you ate is mitigated by the tradition of the holiday. If I just described you, don’t be alarmed. You are certainly not alone. Thanksgiving is a prime day for rationalizing indulgences for people who may otherwise feel guilty about blowing their diet. Recent research finds that people typically rely on six different explanations to justify eating (a lot of) unhealthy foods1, all of which are relevant to Thanksgiving dinner:

  1. Availability of unhealthy food: Unhealthy foods abound and are difficult to avoid. Those green beans just pale in comparison to the mashed potatoes.
  2. Intentions to compensate for the unhealthy eating in the near future: You make firm plans to exercise regularly for the next week and to limit your consumption of leftovers.
  3. Indulgence as an exception to the norm: Thanksgiving is just one day a year, after all. You never eat pumpkin pie or dessert, for that matter. And when was the last time you had your uncle’s stuffing?
  4. Feeling deserving of the unhealthy food: Related to all of the above and then some. You have been eating healthy foods consistently lately, and you just got a promotion at work. Plus, having to interact with some of your extended family makes you feel deserving of any prize.
  5. Curiosity-compelled indulgence: I don’t know exactly what this cookie is, but it looks and smells delicious. I have to try it!
  6. Irresistibility of the foods: Who can turn down sweet potato casserole? Everything smells fantastic!

Honestly, indulging occasionally shouldn’t have to be guilt-inducing. Thanksgiving is a special occasion involving atypical foods and eating companions who may live far away. The act of eating is social and pleasurable and should be enjoyed. However, if you’re someone who finds that the holidays are a more permanent setback for your health goal, you are not doomed. Strategies exist for maintaining your health goals and still enjoying (yes!) your Thanksgiving meal. Check out this Slate article for some tips by Brian Wansink, an expert food researcher, on how to manage your eating.

Did the researchers miss any justifications? What have you noticed at previous Thanksgiving meals?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

1 Taylor, Webb, & Sheeran. (2013). ‘I deserve a treat!’: Justifications for indulgence undermine the translation of intentions into action. British Journal of Social Psychology.