Authors: Betty Geidel; Katharina Lehner; Dorothea König-Teshnizi; Christoph Burger
Objective: While being harmful for some, research showed that having perfectionistic standards can be beneficial and a source of great achievement for others. In recent decades, these differential outcomes have largely been explained by distinguishing between adaptive (low discrepancy between standards and actual performance) and maladaptive (high discrepancy) perfectionism. Building on previous studies, the present study hypothesized that these two groups might also differ in their use of emotion regulation strategies. It was hypothesized that adaptive perfectionists would exhibit higher levels of adaptive strategies (e.g., reappraisal) than their maladaptive counterparts, while maladaptive perfectionists would exhibit higher levels of maladaptive strategies (e.g., suppression). A student sample was used because previous research showed high prevalence of perfectionism among this subgroup.
Methods: An initial sample of 408 students from Austrian universities completed self-report measures of emotion regulation (Emotion Regulation Questionnaire, ERQ) and perfectionism (Almost Perfect Sale Revised, APS-R). However, further analyses were only performed on a subsample fulfilling the criteria of perfectionism (cutoff: 42 in APS-R subscale standards). The remaining 205 students (51.2% female) reported an average age of 24.6 years (SD=3.31) and an average total duration of education of 17.2 years (SD=2.66).
Results: About half of the perfectionists were classified as adaptive (47.8%) and the other half as maladaptive (52.2%; cutoff: 42 in APS-R subscale discrepancy). Both groups differed significantly in their use of reappraisal (adaptive perfectionists: M=28.60, SD=5.67; maladaptive perfectionists: M=25.70 , SD=6.84 ; d=0.46). They did not, however, differ significantly regarding their use of suppression.
Conclusion: The results of this cross-sectional study indicate that students with adaptive perfectionism tend to apply reappraisal more often than maladaptive perfectionists. These findings might have theoretical and practical implications for student well-being and interventions in student counseling. Further studies will have to determine the validity of these findings in longitudinal and more diverse samples.