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Steady Rise in Student Perfectionism Since 1990s

College students have become more likely to have unrealistic demands for themselves and others, according to a new study.

Westend61/NewscomWestend61/NewscomSince the 1990s, college students have grown steadily more likely to place unrealistic demands on themselves and others, according to a new analysis of nearly three decades of psychological testing data from the U.S., the U.K., and Canada. Recent student cohorts were also significantly more prone than their predecessors to perceive others as having excessively high expectations for them.

"Cross-temporal meta-analysis revealed that levels of self-oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, and other-oriented perfectionism have linearly increased," state the British researchers Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill in "Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time," published December 28 in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin.

Perfectionism is "broadly defined as a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations."

For the study, Curran and Hill analyzed 27 years of student responses to the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, which measures perfectionism on multiple levels. The earliest data were collected in 1989, when mid-cohort Generation Xers were first entering college, and the last in 2016, as the youngest members of the millennial generation were graduating. Overall, their research included responses from more than 41,000 students at American, Canadian, and British colleges.

Some significant differences could be seen over time, and also between students in different countries.

The biggest difference was a rise in socially prescribed perfectionism—a perception that other people demand excessive things from you. These types of perfectionists "believe their social context is excessively demanding, that others judge them harshly, and that they must display perfection to secure approval," the authors explain.

Between 1989 and 2017, socially prescribed perfectionism scores increased by 32 percent.

Self-oriented perfectionism describes an internalized pressure to succeed and stand out: attaching "irrational importance to being perfect," having unrealistic expectations for yourself, and judging yourself overly harshly. Other-oriented perfectionism refers to a tendency to have unrealistic expectations for others and to demand those around you be "perfect."

Self-oriented perfectionism scores rose 10 percent over the study period and other-oriented perfectionism scores increased by 16 percent.

These "worrying trends," the authors write, "suggest that young people may be increasingly more sensitive to perceived external pressures and are finding it more difficult than previous generations to cope with them." Recent college students also "appear to be imposing more demanding and unrealistic standards on those around them than generations previous."

Increases in different types of perfectionism varied somewhat by country. American college students reported higher levels of self-oriented perfectionism than peers in Canada or the U.K. but lower levels of socially prescribed perfectionism. British college students are apparently the least demanding of others, reporting lower levels of other-oriented perfectionism than Canadian or American peers.

Photo Credit: Westend61/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Since the 1990s, college students have grown steadily more likely to place unrealistic demands on themselves...

    I sure didn't. And I certainly didn't care what other students were doing.

  • CE||

    That's because you didn't have Facebook.

  • Hugh Akston||

    These types of perfectionists "believe their social context is excessively demanding, that others judge them harshly, and that they must display perfection to secure approval," the authors explain.

    Fortunately when these kids got out into the real world they found that performance standards in most jobs are incredibly lax, and they can just skate by and collect a check without much difficulty.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Well, the ones who make it through college without developing crippling anxiety and depression do, anyway.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Yeah it's best to wait until after you graduate to cultivate anxiety and/or depression in order to cope with the tedium and inertia of the working world.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    That's certainly worked out great for me. /sarc

  • BYODB||

    Yeah, I worked before I went to college so I knew more or less what was expected in the 'real world' after I got my degree. My fiancé though is utterly shocked by how 'unprofessional' everyone is in their professional life. It was a rude awakening for her.

    That said, I suspect a lot of this survey revolves around the use of information technology between the younger and older generations. If you're a 'Millennial' you might be frustrated with bosses that refuse to use the in-house electronic records systems and other IT solutions. I know I've had a few bosses that wanted everything on paper, even while the entire system set up by the organization was literally intended to avoid exactly that.

    I feel like this study is pretty much hokum and bullshit though, like basically all international psychological studies.

  • Juice||

    how 'unprofessional' everyone is in their professional life

    High school never actually ends for most people.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Self-oriented perfectionism describes an internalized pressure to succeed and stand out: attaching "irrational importance to being perfect," having unrealistic expectations for yourself, and judging yourself overly harshly.

    Haha, this one was totally me. I would throw up from anxiety and work just crazy hard. Which had some advantages, it meant that by the time I got to my upper division CS and Graduate CS classes nothing was really hard. I was so used to working long hours that I could just sit down and do it.

    Actually I still do that in work now, but I'm trying to get away from that. Because I realized that I really don't need work to be my main focus in life. Sadly, I really don't know how to date. I was in a significant relationship for so long that I don't know how to meet people.

    Thanks for reading my blog. I love you all. Happy New Year.

  • BYODB||

    Have you tried throwing bundles of cash at women in bars? That usually works...

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    The problem is I want a woman who loves me for who I am. Which is, as we can all know, indicative of a very fucked up individual.

  • BYODB||

    No woman loves you for who you are, they love you for the person they can turn you into. True story.

  • Juice||

    Oh, somebody's taken the red pill. ;-)

  • Citizen X - #6||

    BYODB takes his fedora off, and there's another fedora underneath it. Also, he's being sued for plagiarism by every comedian from 1940-1996.

  • ||

    No woman loves you for who you are, they love you for the person they can turn you into. True story.

    Not that BUCS isn't deceiving himself with the 'loves me for who I am' bit. If you didn't want them to change you, being viewed from afar with occasional petting, feeding/watering, and intermittent banter would be on the menu. Like a house plant or a cat. No woman gets a domestic cat and thinks "Imagine how responsible, cultured, and emotionally-complete I could make this cat!" Similarly, no guy is following them home thinking, "Ooh! I hope she sleeps in the bed and doesn't talk to me while I sit in the sunny bay window for a couple of hours."

    Unless she's your daughter, she can love you for who you are or you can make her call you Daddy, not both.

  • BYODB||


    No woman gets a domestic cat and thinks "Imagine how responsible, cultured, and emotionally-complete I could make this cat!"

    Clearly, you have not met my fiancé. She bought a thing that's supposed to potty train the cat. No shit. It's been a source of constant hilarity for me.

  • ||

    If using the toilet were the height of women's ideals with regard to responsibility and social culturing, I think more men would be more OK with women's expectations in this regard.

    When she's got the cat carrying her shopping bags *and* feigning interest in knick-knacks, china patterns, and Twilight or Fifty Shades, please post a link to the video.

  • BYODB||

    Ugh, if she thought knick-knacks, china patterns, or Twilight / 50 Shades were culture I'm confident we would not be getting married in the first place. Your point, however, is well taken lol

  • Hugh Akston||

    A) crustyjugglerdatingtips.blogspot.com

    B) They have upper division/graduate courses in car sales?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    A) Good idea. And it looks like most of those tips will tie nicely into the info I got from Riggs about buying from Canadian Pharmacies.

    B) Absolutely. Credentialism is the heart of all industry. Car sales and used car sales included.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Huh. Kurt Russell made it look so easy.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Well, he also made kidnapping and brainwashing Goldie Hawn look easy. You can't judge by Kurt Russell. He's a god.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Awesome true fact: Kurt Russell's name was among the last words Walt Disney wrote before he died.

  • ||

    "Cross-temporal meta-analysis revealed that levels of self-oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, and other-oriented perfectionism have linearly increased,"

    *Only* linearly? I blame millennials.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    In MY DAY our mental issues grew at a Logarithmic rate dammit.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I know my cynicism and hatred for everyone and everything have been growing at a logarithmic rate.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    I blame millennials.

    Because they raised themselves? If only. No, it is the baby boomers everything is the baby boomers fault!

  • chemjeff||

    Really? Huh. If you say so. But that is not what I experience. I see a lot of young people wanting to find the path of least resistance - instead of doing a job right, they want to do a job with just the minimum of necessary effort to barely pass.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    true dat

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I too love being lazy and then posting on my Tumblr about how the government should do something. Haha, us millennials.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Fact: BUCS's Tumblr is the reason they instituted a content-based registration wall.

  • NoVaNick||

    It seems that the students who responded may have confused perfectionism in academics with social perfectionism (always being at the right party, wearing the right clothes, having the right friends...). I used to think that the only thing that mattered in college was your GPA, but 20+ years later from what I have seen, its the popular kids and not so much the nerds who are bringing home the fatter paychecks.

  • BYODB||

    It turns out that people who are smart enough to get perfect grades aren't necessarily the best when it comes to salary negotiation. Probably because, perversely, the more you know the more you know that you don't know. RE: Dunning-Kruger.

    It turns out that ignorance might actually be bliss, in related news.

  • ||

    It turns out that people who are smart enough to get perfect grades aren't necessarily the best when it comes to salary negotiation.

    They're also not the best at taking initiative and coming up with creative solutions to problems. Self-starters and good problem-solvers are the ones who ditched high school and forged notes from the doctor to not get caught.

    Perfect grades indicate someone who is great at following orders.
  • sharmota4zeb||

    You got it. Good grades come from obeying all the rules and doing a tone of work in exchange for teacher approval. It turns out that hardly any employers care what your 9th grade teacher thought of your work ethic, and most of them will squeeze as much as they can out of you before replacing you when you finally get disillusioned.

  • Longtobefree||

    Full quote:
    "Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise".
    Subtle but significant difference.

  • CE||

    No, it's the nerds in California.

  • Leo Kovalensky||

    Maybe it goes without saying but...

    WOULD...
    BOTH...
    SAME TIME...

  • Longtobefree||

    But, they are not perfect, you know - - - -

  • EscherEnigma||

    The biggest difference was a rise in socially prescribed perfectionism—a perception that other people demand excessive things from you. These types of perfectionists "believe their social context is excessively demanding, that others judge them harshly, and that they must display perfection to secure approval," the authors explain.


    Huh. I wonder if that has anything to do with articles complaining that Millenials are killing the napkin industry.

  • Eidde||

    Ewww!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm proud to say that I always kept my goals low, my expectations super-reasonable and imminently reachable.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Yet they're still coming out of college less-educated and less-capable than prior generations. Go figure.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Home prices and school budgets depend on kids getting high test scores. Instead of teaching kids that it is OK to get a B, teachers responded to student stress by making tests easier.

  • damikesc||

    Looking at millenials and college students, self-oriented perfectionism is in short order while social-ordered perfectionism cannot be met enough.

  • Tony||

    Peak workload for me was high school. I took enough AP to make college a relative breeze, and work, apart from requiring longer hours and all that crap, doesn't take as much brainpower as school did, and there's less homework, and it pays.

    Meanwhile my friends and loved ones who slacked off in school (or just weren't good at it) now do tedious labor.

    This was not any kind of plan. I was simply motivated by what this article talks about. I refer to it as a neurosis. A report card without all As on it would irritate some OCD part of me to no end, and was thus unacceptable. Now that I'm working for the man, I don't care as much, but that part of my personality manifests in other ways, such as keeping the kitchen organized.

    As for British college students, they're all wasted or hungover 100% of the time, so that might have something to do with it.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    As for British Brazilian college students, they're all wasted or hungover 100% of the time, so that might have something to do with it.

    Does that sentence still sound socially acceptable, or is it a little racist?

  • Tony||

    But it's 100% true of the British. I was there.

  • Mickey Rat||

    There is a high incidence of conformist neurotics among today's college students.

    I think we knew that.

  • Longtobefree||

    Throw out the Canadian and UK data as irrelevant.
    Ignore the US data as meaningless.
    So who cares? They are just college students anyway. They exist to provide income to tenured idiots, and student loan administrators, and title IX dictators.
    As we would have said in the sixties, if we even cared; "fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

  • mtrueman||

    "The biggest difference was a rise in socially prescribed perfectionism—a perception that other people demand excessive things from you. These types of perfectionists "believe their social context is excessively demanding, that others judge them harshly, and that they must display perfection to secure approval," the authors explain."

    In other words, despite being fuckups, they make damn fine employees. And it's mostly down to the students themselves to pay for their education. This college stuff is quite the racket.

  • action physical man||

    I got a tear running down my thigh for millennials and their psychological problems.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I'm guessing the reality is that college students are wanting people to perceive them as perfect, as opposed to them actually striving to be perfect.

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