Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2014, 2, 27-34
Published Online August 2014 in SciRes.
How to cite this paper: Andrews, D.M., Burns, L.R. and Dueling, J.K. (2014) Positive Perfectionism: Seeking the Healthy
“Should”, or Should We? Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2, 27-34. 14. 28005
Positive Perfectionism: Seeking the Healthy
Should, or Should We?
Danielle M. Andrews1, Lawrence R. Burns1, Jacqueline K. Dueling2
1Department of Psychology, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, USA
2Department of Psychology, Roosevelt University, Chicago, USA
Received May 2014
Using a prospective design we examined the nomological network of positive and negative perfec-
tionism by considering relations with optimism, pessimism, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and
variables of health and psychological well-being. Positive perfectionism was found to have a large
amount of variance in common with optimism and conscientiousness and negative perfectionism
was found to share a large amount of variance with pessimism and neuroticism, but not enough to
be considered redundant in either case. Importantly, both positive and negative perfectionism
were found to add significant incremental validity to the prediction of the criterion measures even
after controlling for the influence of time one variables. Implications of these findings for future
research on perfectionism are discussed.
Positive Perfection, Negative Perfection, Positive Affect, Negative Affect, Optimism, Pessimism,
Health Behaviors, Psychological Well -Being
1. Positive Perfection: Seeking the Healthy Should” or Should We?
The perfectionism construct has long been conceptualized as a pathological personality trait [1]-[3]. Reference [4]
characterized perfectionists as likely to engage in distorted unhealthy “all or nothing” dichotomous thinking
especially by using should statements (e.g., “I should have known better,” “I should be a better person,” etc.)
that inevitably diminished their accomplishments and set them up for future failure. However, within the past few
years, researchers have begun to investigate the idea that perfectionism can be beneficial to the individual rather
than leading to some manifestation of psychopathology [5]-[8].
Perfectionism can be advantageous under certain circumstances. This is evident in individuals who motivate
themselves to increase their performance in daily life activities and goal-oriented tasks. Perfectionism is not a
mental disorder; rather, it is a set of beliefs about oneself and one’s relation to others as in [9] and can be seen as
more or less beneficial to an individual depending upon their manifestation of either positive or negative related
perfectionistic qualities [10]. Positive perfectionism has been shown to improve performance on several types of
neurocognitive tests, including working memory tasks, suggesting it is adaptive in nature [11]. Perfectionism has
even been proposed to be a key element in the gifted personality [12] and [13].
D. M. Andrews et al.
In 1978, reference [14] described normal perfectionism, where the individual is able to set high goals and
standards which act as motivators; when the situation changes, individuals have the ability to modify their pre-
vious standards. This normal type of perfectionism is seen as beneficial because it is adaptive and a sense of sa-
tisfaction is gained from accomplishments. Those who are seen to have a normal type of perfectionism have high
personal standards and strive to accomplish achievements through positive consequences. Hamachek also de-
scribed negative, or neurotic, perfectionism characterized by an individual being inflexible in goal attainment and
overly critical of failure. A sense of self-doubt and a tendency to avoid negative consequences also accompanies
negative perfectionism. With negative perfectionism, a sense of accomplishment is perceived as “unearned” be-
cause one perceives the level of achievement as hardly good enough. This conceptualization allows for some
positive aspects of perfectionistic behavior, while at the same time, accounting for its negative characteristics.
Other similarly dichotomous models use terms such as satisfied and dissatisfied perfectionism [15], adaptive and
maladaptive perfectionism [16]-[18], positive striving and maladaptive evaluation and functional and dysfunc-
tional perfectionism [19].
The Positive and Negative Perfectionism Scale or PNP [5] represents this alternative view of perfectionism,
utilizing a behavioral perspective that is based, in part, on Hamachek’s dichotomous conceptualization. From this
perspective, perfectionism is determined to be either positive or negative based on the reinforcers that follow the
perfectionistic behavior. Reference [20] states that perfectionistic behavior cannot be determined to be positive or
negative without considering the relevant reinforcers. Reference [21] provides support for the behavioral approach,
concluding that individuals are attuned to varying motivational sources as a function of their perfectionistic ten-
dencies when considering perfectionism and achievement goals. The PNP has two subscales. Positive perfec-
tionism is defined by the experience of positive reinforcement as a result of perfectionistic behavior and is similar
to Hamachek’s normal perfectionism. The second subscale is negative perfectionism (similar to Hamachek’s
neurotic perfectionism) which is a perfectionistic behavior motivated by a fear of failure or to avoid negative
References [5] and [12] note that few systematic studies of normal perfectionism have been conducted. One
purpose of this study is to address this issue. Recent research on negative perfectionism has been consistent with
previous research findings based on pathology-based models, but the findings with positive perfectionism, al-
though generally supportive of its validity have been less demonstrative of its utility (see also [22] [23]). One
possible explanation for these findings may lie in the fact that, as assessed by the PNP, perfectionism is concep-
tualized by positive and negative outcome expectancies [24]. The two subscales of the PNP model are quite sim-
ilar in nature to the broadly defined outcome expectancies of optimism and pessimism. So much so, that it is dif-
ficult to see how they might be unrelated [25]. Just how these might be different from the similar, albeit more
broadly defined outcome expectancies of optimism and pessimism is not clear [25]. For example, in an extensive
series of studies [26] reported on the positive effects of optimism and the negative effects of perfectionism as
moderators of health outcomes. Based on these findings we hypothesize negative perfectionism as consistent with
prior findings, but the relationship and overlap between positive perfectionism, optimism, and health behaviors
warrants further investigation.
Reference [27] used the Perfectionism Inventory, which is shown to include two primary factors: conscientious
perfectionism and self-evaluative perfectionism [28]. Conscientious perfectionism appears similar to positive
perfectionism as it includes organization, striving for excellence, planfulness and high standards of others [28].
Self-evaluative perfectionism seems to encompass the more negative facets of perfectionism as it includes concern
over mistakes, need for approval, rumination and perceived parental pressure [28]. Reference [27] found a strong
positive relation between conscientious perfectionism and the personality trait, conscientiousness, and a small
relation between conscientious perfectionism and neuroticism. This study contributed to the growing concerns of
the validity of perfectionism and conscientiousness as separate entities. Reference [27] also reported a moderate
relation between self-evaluative perfectionism and neuroticism suggesting some conceptual overlap; further
complicating the distinctions between perfectionism and neuroticism. In a sample of Turkish university students,
[17] found that adaptive perfectionism was significantly predicted by conscientiousness, openness, and extraver-
sion while maladaptive perfectionism was significantly predicted by neuroticism, anxiety, and attachment
avoidance. Conscientiousness was found to be the greatest predictor of adaptive perfectionism, compared to the
other Big Five personality traits and attachment styles [17].
Subjective well-being is an important measure of psychological adjustment [29] and [30]. Reference [22] found
a positive relation between subjective well-being (SWB), as measured by the Extended Satisfaction with Life
D. M. Andrews et al.
Scale [31] and positive perfectionism. They also found a negative relationship between SWB and negative per-
fectionism [22]. Similarly, [32] reported a positive association between SWB and optimism and a negative rela-
tionship between SWB and pessimism. Given the apparent similarities in the associations between these con-
structs, further evaluation of how negative perfectionism may differ from pessimism is warranted.
In the current study, we attempt to further clarify the perfectionism construct as defined by [5] by examining the
discriminant validity and utility of positive as well as negative perfectionism in predicting psychological
well-being, in particular, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and health behaviors. These are important indicators of
adjustment in a college student population, from which the participants will be drawn (see [33]). The second
objective is to investigate the discriminant validity and utility of positive and negative perfectionism when posi-
tive and negative affectivity are controlled. Perfectionism, as conceptualized, appears to be related to a variety of
other personality characteristics. Because of established relations between each of these constructs, the possibility
of overlap with more global constructs of positive and negative affectivity [34] and with optimism and pessimism
[25], the utility of perfectionism warrants further consideration. Therefore, it is important to determine whether
associations between positive and negative perfectionism and the criterion measures of well-being are a reflection
of shared variance between perfectionism and the measures of affectivity, optimism and pessimism.
There remains little agreement on the precise definition and appropriate measures of perfectionism, although
two distinct factors are found to lie within perfectionism consistently using factor analysis [35]. The goal of the
present study is to further parse out the differences between the two types of perfectionism, positive and negative
perfectionism, using the behavioral model and Positive and Negative Perfectionism Scale. The present study seeks
to address the current ambiguity of research surrounding perfectionism with two main goals. First, the current
study aims to support the validity and utility of positive and negative perfectionism as separate entities. Secondly,
we sought to investigate the difference of positive perfectionism from optimism and positive affectivity as well as
the difference of negative perfectionism from neuroticism and pessimism.
2. Method
2.1. Participants
The participants in our sample were 188 undergraduates (91 women, 97 men) enrolled in an introductory psy-
chology course at a Midwestern university. Participants completed all measures in exchange for extra credit re-
ceived in the course. The sample had mean age of 19.0 (SD = 3.1) years. The ethnic/racial composition was 90%
Caucasian, 6% African-American, 2% Asian and 2% other. Three participants did not complete all measures.
Their data was excluded. Final sample size was 185.
2.2. Procedure
Informed consent was obtained. The study measures were completed in two small group-testing sessions held
during a single semester. In the first session, the following tests were administered; the Positive and Negative
Perfectionism Scale (PNP), the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), and the Extended Life Orien-
tation Test (ELOT). Participants then self-addressed an envelope to their local address and approximately five
weeks later the Behavioral Inhibition and Activation Scale (BIS), and the Wellness Inventory of the Lifestyle
Assessment Questionnaire were mailed to them. All materials were returned in person directly to the lab. To as-
sure confidentiality, only subject numbers were placed on the answer sheets. There were no observed effects from
the different session environments. All subjects were debriefed after they completed all measures.
2.3. Measures
2.3.1. Positive and Negative Perfectionism Scale (PNP)
This scale assesses perfectionism from a functional or behaviorist perspective. There are two subscales that
represent the different types of rein forcers a person could experience. Accordingly, positive perfectionism is
believed to be a type of perfectionism resulting from linking positive reinforcements with antecedent perfectio-
nistic behaviors. Negative perfectionism is theorized to be directly linked to negative reinforcements. The PNP [5]
consists of 40 Likert scale questions with responses ranging from strongly disagree (1), to strongly agree (5).
Scores were obtained by summing the coded set of 18 questions representing positive perfectionism and 22
questions depicting negative perfectionism.
D. M. Andrews et al.
2.3.2. The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)
The PANAS [34] is a 20 item, Likert-type instrument that consists of a 10-item Positive Affect scale and a 10-item
Negative Affect scale. The present study used the “trait” rather than “state” instructions; that is, participants were
asked to report how they generally feel. Positive affect questions assess to what extent the participant is attentive,
interested, alert, excited, enthusiastic, inspired, proud, determined, strong and active. Negative affect questions
assess to what extent the participant is distressed, upset, hostile, irritable, scared, afraid, ashamed, guilty, nervous,
and jittery. In the experiment, the alphas were 0.82 and 0.86 for Positive Affectivity and Negative Affectivity
respectively. Support for the convergent and discriminant validity of the PANAS has been reported.
2.3.3. Extended Life Orientation Test (ELOT)
The ELOT [36] is a 20-item bidimensional measure of optimism and pessimism consisting of a six item Optimism
scale and a nine item Pessimism scale. The remaining five items are filler items. The ELOT is based on a factor
analysis of a pool of items from the Life Orientation Test (LOT; [25]) and the Optimism and Pessimism Scale
(OPS; [37]. Alphas were reported as 0.77 and 0.89 and test-retest as 0.73 and 0.84 for optimism and pessimism
2.3.4. The NEO Five Factor Inventory: Form S (NEO-FFI)
The NEO-FFI [38] is a 60-item short form version of the NEO Personality Inventory. It consists of 12 items each
for the 5 factors: Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E), Openness (O), Agreeableness (A) and Conscientiousness (C).
We used the neuroticism scale. Participants were asked to mark each item on a 5-point scale (strongly disagree to
strongly agree) according to how well it described them. Reliability and validity are well established.
2.3.5. The Behavioral Inhibition and Activation Scale (BIS/BAS)
Behavioral Inhibition System/Behavioral Activation System (BIS/BAS; [39]).
To assess for BIS/BAS motives, we used the BIS/BAS scales. The BIS/BAS scales are a 20-item: four -point
Like r t-typ e measure of BIS/BAS motives composed of four subscales. Respondents are asked to rate the extent of
their agreement from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). The BIS scale is a self-report measure used to
assess one’s effort required to regulate aversive motives, in which the desired goal is to move away or avoid
something unpleasant. This questionnaire has a series of statements in which participants can either agree or
disagree with. It asks the participant to respond to what degree they either agree or disagree with a statement and it
ranges from 1: “very true for me” to 4: “very false for me” [39].
2.3.6. Health Practices
Health practices were assessed by the Wellness Inventory of the Lifestyles Assessment Questionnaire [40] and
[41]. Composed of 10 subscales the inventory is designed to assess student’s current levels of wellness. Internal
consistencies in the validation study were reported as ranging from 0.69 to 0.94 and test retest values were re-
ported as ranging from 0.81 to 0.97. For this study we retained all scales with alphas above 0.70 [42]. The physical
exercise subscale measures one’s commitment to maintain physical fitness (e.g., “I participated in strenuous
sports”). The social-environmental subscale measures the degree to which one interacts with others (e.g., “I went
out of my way to help others”). The emotional awareness and acceptance subscale measures the degree to which
one has an awareness and acceptance of one’s feelings and related behaviors (e.g., “I talked with friends about my
thoughts and feelings”). The last scale used was the occupational subscale, which measures the satisfaction gained
from one’s work (e.g., “I found satisfaction from the work I did”).
3. Results
As shown in Table 1, positive perfectionism was significantly positively correlated with optimism and positive
affect, while significantly negatively correlated with pessimism and neuroticism. On the other hand, negative
perfectionism was significantly positively correlated with pessimism and neuroticism, while significantly nega-
tively correlated with optimism and positive affect (Table 1).
In order to determine how much of the variance in positive perfectionism is accounted for by optimism and
positive affectivity combined, and the amount of variance in negative perfectionism is accounted for by pessimism
and neuroticism combined, the authors performed separate hierarchical regression analyses on each measure of
D. M. Andrews et al.
perfectionism consisting of two steps. Optimism or pessimism was entered as the first step in the analysis followed
by positive affectivity or neuroticism as the second step. The results of these analyses are shown in Table 2.
All zero-order correlations, means, standard deviations, and Cronbach’s alphas are reported in Table 1.
Optimism and positive affectivity were found to account for approximately 13.4% of the variance in the posi-
tive perfectionism scale. Pessimism and neuroticism combined were found to account for about 43.7% of the
variance in the negative perfectionism scale.
In the next set of analyses, the authors appraised the contribution of each perfectionism measure to the predic-
tion of measures of health and psychological well-being by computing Pearson partial correlations, controlling for
optimism or positive affectivity when the predictor was positive perfectionism, and controlling for pessimism or
neuroticism when the predictor was negative perfectionism. The results for positive perfectionism are shown in
Table 3, and those for negative perfectionism are shown in Table 4.
In relation to measures of health and well-being, positive perfectionism was found to have small positive cor-
relations with physical exercise, sociality, emotional awareness and acceptance, positive affect, joviality affect,
negative affect, fear, and scores on the behavio r al-inhibition scale (Table 3). Positive perfectionism had a mod-
erate positive correlation with occupational factors (Table 3). The correlations between positive perfectionism
and physical exercise, sociality, emotional awareness and acceptance, occupational factors, positive affect, and
joviality affect became smaller when controlling for either optimism or positive affect. Inversely, the correlations
between positive perfectionism and state anxiety, negative affect, fear, and scores on the behavioral-inhibition
scale became greater as either optimism or positive affect was controlled for.
Negative perfectionism was found to have small negative correlations with physical exercise, emotional
awareness and acceptance, joviality affect, and scores on the be ha vio ra l-activation fun seeking scale (Table 4).
Negative perfectionism was shown to have a moderate negative correlation with state anxiety (Table 4). Negative
perfectionism was also found to have a moderate positive relationship with negative affect, fear, hostility, sadness,
and scores on the behavioral-inhibition scale (Table 4). All of the aforementioned variables of health and
well-being had smaller correlations with negative perfectionism when either pessimism or neuroticism was con-
trolled for.
Table 1. Zero -order correlations, cronbach alphas, means, and standard deviations among the major study variables.
Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 Positive Perfectionism (0.89) - - - - -
2 Negative Perfectionism 0.08 (0.85) - - - -
3 Optimism 0.17 0.36 (0.78) - - -
4 Pessimism 0.16 0.55 0.68 (0.89) - -
5 Positive Affect 0.36 0.19 0.45 0.50 (0.85) -
6 Neuroticism 0.06 0.64 0.56 0.67 0.41 (0.87)
Mean 69.1 59.7 21.8 21.3 35.9 23.5
SD 9.3 11.5 3.7 6.6 5.5 8.9
Note: N = 185; r >.20, p < .001; r = 0.19, p < 0.01; r > 0.10 & < 0.19, p < 0.05; Alphas on the diagonal.
Table 2. Hierarchical regression analysis showing amount of variance in positive perfectionism and negative perfectionism
accounted for by optimism and positive affectivity or pessimism and neuroticism.
Positive Perfectionism Negative Perfectionism
Predictor ∆R2 F ∆R2 F
Model 1 - - - -
1. Optimism 0.031 5.77
- -
2. Positive Affectivity 0.103 21.45** - -
Model 2 - - - -
1. Pessimism - - 0.312 81.97**
2. Neuroticism - - 0.125 40.12 **
Note: N = 183; *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01.
D. M. Andrews et al.
Table 3. Relations between positive perfectionism and measures of health and psychological well-being with and without
optimism and positive affectivity controlled.
r Controlling
for OPT Controlling
for PA
Health and Psych. Well-being
Physical Exercise 0.168 0.134 0.054
Social 0.198 0.174 0.095
Emotional Aware/Accept 0.252 0.201 0.070
Occupational 0.322 0.293 0.231
Positive Affect 0.205 0.157 0.015
Joviality Affect 0.112 0.069 0.070
Negative Affect 0.123 0.175 0.182
Fear Affect 0.126 0.161 0.156
Sadness 0.062 0.023 0.012
Beh-Inhibition 0.111 0.115 0.164
Beh-Act. Fun Seeking 0.051 0.050 0.084
Note: N = 185. OPT = Optimism; PA = Positive Affect. r > 0.25, p<.001; r > 0.18 & < 0.25, p < 0.05; r < 0.18 & > 0.14, p < 0.05.
Table 4. Relations between negative perfectionism and measures of health and psychological well-being with and without
pessimism and neuroticism controlled.
r Cont rolling
for PES Controlling
for NEU
Health and Psych. Well-being
Physical Exercise 0.138 0.011 0.041
Social 0.040 0.080 0.054
Emotional Aware/Accept 0.291 −.096 0.083
Occupational 0.026 0.099 0.100
Positive Affect
State Anxiety 0.108 0.100 0.126
Joviality Affect 0.228 0.068 0.080
Negative Affect 0.379 0.214 0.106
Fear Affect
Hostility 0.313 0.181 0.112
Sadness 0.370 0.222 0.167
Beh-Inhibition 0.491 0.458 0.322
Beh-Act. Fun Seeking 0.185 0.027 0.007
Note: N = 185. PES = Pessimism; NEU = Neuroticism. r > 025, p < 0.001; r > 0.18 & < 0.25, p < 0.01; r < 0.18 & > 0.14, p < 0.05.
In addition to these partial correlations, the tables also show the simple correlations between the perfectionism
scales and the criterion measures before partialing out the variance associated with optimism, pessimism, positive
affectivity, and neuroticism.
4. Conclusions
Using a prospective design we were able to determine that even controlling for results gathered at time one, pos-
itive and negative perfectionism still added significant incremental validity to measures of health and subjective
well-being. Research has shown that positive and negative perfectionism can predict changes related to mental
health criteria, including psychological well-being and distress. This is very important for future research, hig-
hlighting the utility of using positive and negative perfectionism in predicting future life satisfaction and psy-
D. M. Andrews et al.
chological health.
Positive perfectionism may act as a buffer against psychological distress given its corresponding lower levels of
anxiety than those reported by negative perfectionists and non-perfectionists. It is our opinion that positive per-
fectionists view potentially anxiety-provoking situations with significantly less self-criticism and focus on future
improvements. The relationship between positive perfectionism and increased subjective well-being may be a
result of better coping strategies, greater optimism, fewer depressive symptoms, less psychological distress,
greater self-esteem, feelings of pride and/or greater academic success. Further research is required to better un-
derstand the mediators between positive perfectionism and subjective well-being.
In conclusion, our findings suggest that, for some, positive perfectionism and pursuit of the healthy sho uld
may prove beneficial and deserving of any rewards accrued.
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