Perfectionism's relationship to anxiety, depression, and attributional style within a stressful task paradigm
Whittaker, Paul Dave
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The diathesis-stress model of perfectionism proposes that an interaction exists between perfectionistic behavior and stress/failure, and that this interaction leads to increases in depression (Hewitt & Flett, 1991b). It has been further hypothesized that a stress and failure interaction additionally affects the relationship between perfectionism and other forms of negative affect (i.e., anxiety) (Antony, Purdon, Huta, & Swinson, 1998). Hence, the perfectionism construct has often been conceptualized as representing a dysfunctional attributional/cognitive style (Pacht, 1984). Preliminary research has supported the association between perfectionism and certain attributional styles (i.e., causal attributions that are internal, stable, and global) often found in depressed individuals (Flett, Hewitt, Blankstein, & Pickering, 1998). Moreover, research has demonstrated that specific dimensions of perfectionism (i.e., socially-prescribed perfectionism, concern over mistakes, parental criticism), posited to represent the more maladaptive cognitive styles of those high in perfectionism, are positively associated with negative affect (Frost, Heimberg, Holt, Mattia, & Neubauer, 1993). Thus, the purposes of this study were to further explore the cognitive and affective responses of individuals high and low in perfectionism when subjected to a stressful task paradigm and investigate whether certain cognitive variables (i.e., attributional style) and/or perfectionism dimensions were predictive of increases in negative effect. The present study posited that (1) perfectionism would have a moderating effect on one's level of anxiety and depression in stressful scenarios, (2) attributional styles of individuals high in perfectionism would be similar to attributional styles found in depressed individuals, (3) specific "maladaptive" dimensions of perfectionism would be more predictive of increases in anxiety and depression than the more "positive" dimensions, and (4) the maladaptive dimensions would be more predictive of increases in negative performance perceptions than the positive dimensions. Resufts did not support the first hypothesis which examined the diathesis-stress model of perfectionism, suggesting that level of perfectionism did not interact with stress to predispose one to increased anxiety or depression. However, results were consistent with the other hypotheses and supported the theoretical distinction between more adaptive and maladaptive forms of perfectionism. Maladaptive perfectionism was positively related to increases in negative effect, dysfunctional attributional styles, and negative performance perceptions.