The personality trait of perfectionism is strongly linked to developing obsessive-compulsive disorder, new research finds.
Young children who have excessive self-control and perfectionist tendencies have double the chance of developing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), psychologists have found.
For the study, children were asked to draw a perfect circle over three and a half minutes while researchers encouraged them to do better.
Those that concentrated more intensely were deemed to have perfectionist tendencies.
Scans also found that perfectionists had smaller brain volumes in an area linked to OCD, the anterior cingulate cortex.
OCD often involves recurring thoughts or obsessions, like having things in order or a fear of germs.
Dr Kirsten E. Gilbert, the study’s first author, said:
“Having a lot of self-control and striving for perfection often are considered by parents and society as good because they can eliminate mistakes, but excessive self-control and perfectionism raise a red flag.
In adolescents and adults, these characteristics are associated with OCD and other disorders, such as anorexia and social anxiety.
We’ve now been able to link this to OCD risk in children.”
It is important to catch OCD as early as possible in life so treatment can help to reduce compulsions and obsessions.
Dr Gilbert said:
“Some kids were very self-critical.
The researcher would point out flaws, but the child was critical of the effort, too.
That excessive perfectionism was the strongest predictor of OCD later on.”
The conclusions come from a study of 292 children aged just 4 and 5-years-old.
They were followed for 12 years, during which time 35 developed OCD.
Perfectionists were twice as likely to go on and develop OCD.
Dr Joan L. Luby, study co-author, said:
“In its most severe forms, OCD is a highly disabling and intractable disorder.
Therefore, this first identification of tangible risk behaviors in early childhood opens exciting new opportunities for the design of preventive interventions.”
Dr Gilbert concluded:
“One of my interests, ideally, is to create therapies geared toward prevention.
We also want to look at the role of parenting because if one of these kids has a parent who’s always saying, ‘That’s not good enough!’ you can see how this problem could spiral.”
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 JAMA Psychiatry (Gilbert et al., 2018).