Perfectionism in mind, body and career is on the rise in the young, new research finds.
The current crop of college students is more obsessed with being perfect than they were 30 years ago.
Making comparisons on social media could be one important driver for the rise in perfectionist tendencies.
The change could be having a dramatic negative effect on their mental health.
Dr Thomas Curran, the study’s first author, said:
“Meritocracy places a strong need for young people to strive, perform and achieve in modern life.
Young people are responding by reporting increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves.
As a result, perfectionism is rising among millennials.”
The study included 41,641 people from the US, Canada and Britain.
All were asked about three types of perfectionism:
- Self-oriented: the desire from within to be perfect.
- Socially prescribed: trying to live up to perfectionist standards imposed by others.
- Other-oriented: applying unrealistic standards of perfectionism to others.
Between 1989 and 2016, the type that had increased the most was socially prescribed — that which is imposed by society (up by 33%).
Other-oriented had increased 16% and self-oriented by 10%.
Dr Curran said:
“These findings suggest that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations.
Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth.”
Competition among young people may be harming them, the researchers think.
There is competition over grade point averages, careers and how they look.
In the face of these pressures it can be hard to maintain good mental health.
This may help to explain why levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are higher among young people than a decade ago.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin (Curran & Hill, 2017).