Why Perfectionism Isn't Perfect
Stress Hormone Rises Higher in Perfectionists Under Pressure
May 4, 2007 -- Perfectionism may be an exhausting pressure-cooker, a new
The study demonstrates that in trying situations, perfectionists tend to get
more stressed than people with more attainable standards.
The study comes from Swiss and German researchers including Petra Wirtz,
PhD, of the clinical psychology and psychotherapy department at Switzerland's
University of Zurich.
They studied perfectionism in 50 physically and mentally healthy men who
were 42 years old, on average.
In a lab, the men completed psychological and personality surveys including
a 35-item perfectionism questionnaire about personal standards and concern over
The perfectionism questionnaire shows that 24 men were highly
perfectionistic. They tended to be more anxious, neurotic, and exhausted than
the remaining 26 men, who had low levels of perfectionism.
The men also provided blood and saliva samples. The researchers measured
saliva levels of the stress hormone cortisol and blood levels of other
No major differences were seen in the men's blood and saliva samples -- but
that changed when the researchers put the men in two stressful situations.
Perfectionism Under Pressure
The men took two stressful tests: a mock job interview and a five-minute
oral math quiz in front of an audience of a man and a woman.
The researchers monitored the men's blood pressure and heart rate during the
Afterward, the men spent an hour in a quiet room, providing blood and saliva
samples several times during that hour.
Saliva cortisol levels in highly perfectionistic men rose higher during the
test and kept rising for 20 more minutes, peaking about 10 minutes later than
the less-perfectionistic men.
An hour after the tests, the highly perfectionistic men still had higher
saliva cortisol levels than the mellower men.
Perfectionism wasn't linked to any other stress-related chemicals, according
to the study, which appears in Psychosomatic Medicine.
The researchers don't rule out the possibility that factors other than
perfectionism influenced the results.
They call for future studies to track ties between stress response,
long-term health, and perfectionism.
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