Friday, March 3, 2023

Psychology of Perfectionism


Perfectionism is a multidimensional durable pattern of behavior viewed by many psychological scientists as a personality trait (e.g., Smith et al., 2021).

Several facets of the perfectionism trait have been identified. Considering the language of the researchers, it is probably best to think of perfectionism as a metatrait with several subtraits or, in the language of personality inventories, a domain with a set of facets. For a review of the six facets of perfectionism, see Smith et al. (2021) who refer to the six facets as components.


Cite this post

Sutton, G. W. (2023). Psychology of perfectionism. Psychology Concepts and Theories. Retrieved from


Following is a list of the six facets grouped by two subdomains.

Three subtraits of perfectionism

  • ·         Self-oriented perfectionism (Demanding that oneself be perfect)
  • ·         Other-oriented perfectionism (Demanding that others be perfect)
  • ·         Socially prescribed perfectionism (Belief that others demand perfectionism of oneself)

Three perfectionistic attitudes

  • ·         Personal standards perfectionism (Personal standards of conduct cannot be attained)
  • ·         Concern over mistakes (An obsessive worry or concern)
  • ·         Doubts about actions (Doubts about the adequacy of personal action)



Three subtraits of perfectionism

Self-oriented perfectionism

  > Strong negative self-evaluation of substandard behavior

  > Constantly striving to achieve perfection

  > highly motivated to avoid failure


Other-oriented perfectionism

  > a hypercritical and demanding imposition of standards on others

  > relentlessly and harshly demanding that others be perfect

  > blaming others

  > extreme and rigid arrogance

Socially prescribed perfectionism

  > attempts to be perfect based on beliefs of the standards expected by other people

  > a relational trait

Three perfectionistic attitudes


Personal standards perfectionism

  > setting exceptionally high standards

  > belief in the importance of the high standards


Concern over mistakes

  > distress over personal mistakes

  > linking distress to evaluating oneself as a failure

  > high sensitivity to failure

  > concerned with loss of respect


Doubts about actions

  > obsessive self-doubt

  > indecisiveness




In psychology, human behavior is usually viewed on a continuum although some write as if an aspect of personality represents a type or category. Given the way psychologists measure perfectionism and other traits, it is possible to have a range of scores representing the strength of a behavior pattern thus, a categorical term like perfectionist would mean a person with a high degree of the perfectionism trait evident in more than one measured facet.



Researchers have examined the relationship between perfectionism and the Five Factor Model (FFM). The correlations vary with the perfectionism facet and the FFM domain.





Self-oriented, personal standards


Low socially prescribed


Concern over mistakes, doubts about actions



Researchers have reported correlations between perfectionism scores and mental disorders.



Mental Disorders




Pinto et al., 2017

Self-oriented, socially prescribed


Smith et al., 2021

Other-oriented perfectionism


Antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic

Sherry et al., 2007

Socially prescribed perfectionism

Depression, anxiety, hostility, suicide

Blankstein et al., 2007; Enns & Cox, 2002; Smith et al., 2018

Concern over mistakes

Eating disorders

Kehayes et al., 2019



Perfectionism is often found in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In OCD, the obsessions cause intense distress, which appears to be temporarily relieved by compulsive behavior. The obsessions include recurrent and intrusive thoughts and images (Pinto et al., 2017). One type of OCD is scrupulosity, which has also been called religious OCD (Phillips & Fisak, 2022). One measure of scrupulosity is the Penn Inventory of Scrupulosity (PIOS, Abramowitz et al., 2002). Olatunji et al. (2017) reported a revised version of the PIOS was significantly correlated (r = 0.43) with a measure of obsessive-compulsive symptoms (Obsessive Compulsive Inventory-Revised (Olatunji et al., 2007). Wang et al. (2018) reported a strong correlation between religious perfectionism and scrupulosity using the Perceived Perfectionism from God Scale (PPGS) . There are two subscales of the PPGS (Perceived Standards from God and Perceived Discrepancy from God). The correlations reveal a stronger link between scrupulosity measured on the PIOS) and God discrepancy (.55) than for God standards (.17) although both were reliable findings (ps < . 001).

Summary of perfectionism and religiosity

Religious perfectionism can be seen in people who aim to live up to standards of conduct perceived to be from God and they may evaluate the degree to which they do not meet those standards. Some may become considerably distressed with their failure to meet the perceived godly standards. This distress may reach diagnostic standards for the type of OCD known as scrupulosity.


Perfectionism has strong links to maladaptive behavior and considerable mental distress. However, some researchers find an aspect of perfectionism to be adaptive. That is, some people who strive to be perfect are recognized by others as meeting high standards if not perfection. Perhaps the prime example is a rating of 10 on a 10-point scale used in athletic competitions or a perfect game in baseball. See Smith et al. (2018) for more on the general notion of adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. See Wang et al. (2018) for an example of two factors in a form of religious perfectionism.

Measuring Perfectionism

Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale-Brief (FMPS-B; Burgess et al., 2016)

Perfectionistic Self-Presentation Scale (PSPS; Hewitt et al., 2003)

Perfectionism Cognitions Inventory (PCI, Flett et al., 1998)

Almost perfect scale-revised (APS-R; Slaney et al., 1996)

Physical appearance perfectionism scale (PAPS; Yang et al., 2012)

Perceived Perfectionism from God Scale (PPGS)

Cite this post

Sutton, G. W. (2023). Psychology of perfectionism. Psychology Concepts and Theories. Retrieved from



Abramowitz, J. S., Huppert, J. D., Cohen, A. B., Tolin, D. F., & Cahill, S. P. (2002). Religious obsessions and compulsions in a non-clinical sample: The Penn inventory of scrupulosity (PIOS). Behaviour Research and Therapy, 40(7), 824–838

Blankstein, K. R., Lumley, C., & Crawford, A. (2007). Perfectionism, hopelessness, and suicide ideation: Revisions to diathesis-stress and specific vulnerability models. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 25(4), 279–319. 0053-6

Burgess, A. M., Frost, R. O., & DiBartolo, P. M. (2016). Development and Validation of the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale–Brief. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment34(7), 620–633.


Enns, M. W., & Cox, B. J. (2002). The nature and assessment of perfectionism: A critical analysis. In G. L. Flett & P. L. Hewitt (Eds.), Perfectionism: Theory, research, and treatment (pp. 33–62). American Psychological Association.

Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., Blankstein, K. R., & Gray, L. (1998). Psychological distress and the frequency of perfectionistic thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(5), 1363-1381. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.75.5.1363

Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., Sherry, S. B., Habke, M., Parkin, M., et al. (2003). The interpersonal expression of perfection: Perfectionistic self-presentation and psychological distress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(6), 1303-1325. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.6.1303


Kehayes, I. L., Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Vidovic, V., & Saklofske, D. H. (2019). Are perfectionism dimensions risk factors for bulimic symptoms? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Personality and Individual Differences, 138, 117–125.

Olatunji BO, Abramowitz JS, Williams NL, Connolly KM, Lohr JM. (2007). Scrupulosity and obsessive-compulsive symptoms: confirmatory factor analysis and validity of the Penn Inventory of Scrupulosity. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21(6):771-87. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.12.002. Epub 2006 Dec 30. PMID: 17250990.

Pinto, A., Dargani, N., Wheaton, M. G., Cervoni, C., Rees, C. S., & Egan, S. J. (2017). Perfectionism in obsessive-compulsive disorder and related disorders: What should treating clinicians know? Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 12, 102–108.

Sherry, S. B., Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., Lee-Baggley, D. L., & Hall, P. A. (2007). Trait perfectionism and perfectionistic self-presentation in personality pathology. Personality and Individual Differences, 42(3), 477–490.

Slaney, R. B., Mobley, M., Trippi, J., Ashby, J. S., & Johnson, D. (1996). Almost Perfect Scale—Revised (APS-R) [Database record]. APA PsycTests.

Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Ge, S. Y. J., Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., & Baggley, D. L. (2021). Multidimensional perfectionism turns 30: A review of known knowns and known unknowns. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne.

Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Ray, C., Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (2021). Is perfectionism a vulnerability factor for depressive symptoms, a complication of depressive symptoms, or both? A meta-analytic test of 67 longitudinal studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 84, Article 101982.

Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Vidovic, V., Saklofske, D. H., Stoeber, J., & Benoit, A. (2019). Perfectionism and the five-factor model of personality: A meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 23(4), 367–390.

Smith, M. M., Vidovic, V., Sherry, S. B., Stewart, S. H., & Saklofske, D. H. (2018). Are perfectionism dimensions risk factors for anxiety symptoms? A meta-analysis of 11 longitudinal studies. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 31(1), 4–20.

Wang, K.T., Allen, G.E.K., Stokes, H.I. et al. (2018). Perceived perfectionism from God scale: Development and initial evidence. Journal of Religion and Health, 57, 2207–2223.

Yang, H., & Stoeber, J. (2012). The Physical Appearance Perfectionism Scale: Development and preliminary validation. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 34(1), 69–83.


Perfectionism has been linked to suicide and suicidal ideation.

Help is available:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 988.

Call 911.

Go to the nearest emergency room.

Geoffrey W. Sutton, PhD is Emeritus Professor of Psychology. He retired from a clinical practice and was credentialed in clinical neuropsychology and psychopharmacology. His website is


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