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Multidimensional Perfectionism in Middle School Age Gifted Students: A Comparison to Peers from the General Cohort.

A preponderance of educators (SAGE Conference Proceedings, 1994) and authors (Adderholt-Elliot, 1987; Delisle, 1990; Dorry, 1994; Frey, 1993; Kline & Short, 1991: Parker & Atkins, 1994; Reis, 1987; Rimm & Maas, 1993: Roberts & Lovett, 1994; Silverman; 1983; Webb, 1994) have associated giftedness with perfectionism per·fec·tion·ism
A tendency to set rigid high standards of personal performance.

per·fection·ist adj. & n.
. In a number of recent conceptual manuscripts, authors have contended that gifted students are a perfectionistic group that frequently experiences maladjustment maladjustment /mal·ad·just·ment/ (mal?ah-just´ment) in psychiatry, defective adaptation to the environment.

1. Faulty or inadequate adjustment.

 (Dorry, 1994; Maxwell, 1995), including loss of self-esteem (Delisle, 1990), procrastination (Adderholt-Elliot, 1987), underachievement (Reis, 1987), career indecisiveness in·de·ci·sive  
1. Prone to or characterized by indecision; irresolute: an indecisive manager.

2. Inconclusive: an indecisive contest; an indecisive battle.
 (Emmett & Minor, 1993), and emotional turmoil such as depression (Delisle, 1990), discouragement, and hopelessness (Kline & Short, 1991).

Roberts and Lovett (1994) suggested that gifted children face a set of internal and external forces that may lead them to develop a need to be perfect. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 these authors, gifted students "perceive a socially prescribed standard of perfection" (Roberts & Lovett, 1994, p. 242). Roberts and Lovett (1994) also contended that gilled students seem to strive for perfection as a means of maintaining their own self worth. Webb (1994) argued that gifted children are burdened with a range of potential problems including perfectionism. He concluded that "15-20% of these students may be hindered significantly by perfectionism at some point in their academic careers, and even later in life" (Webb, 1994, p. 2). Reis (1987) described a "perfection complex" (p. 86) of gifted females that causes them to engage in ceaseless striving toward unreasonable goals. Delisle (1990) argued that perfectionism in gilled students is a significant contributor to suicide. He claimed that "over time, perfectionistic teens begin to equate personal worth with personal success, so that any defeat is seen as a devastating dev·as·tate  
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.

2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark.
 loss of pride" (p. 222).

While numerous authors have claimed a natural association between giftedness and perfectionism that leads to a variety of negative consequences, the authors of this manuscript could identify only one study empirically investigating this association. Parker and Mills (1996), using a measure of multidimensional mul·ti·di·men·sion·al  
Of, relating to, or having several dimensions.

 perfectionism, compared the perfectionism scores of 600 academically talented 6th graders to 418 of their peers from the general cohort. The authors found no difference between the gifted and their general cohort peers on an overall perfectionism score. While the authors did find differences between the two groups in perfectionism on two subscales of the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, (Frost, Marten marten, name for carnivorous, largely arboreal mammals (genus Martes) of the weasel family, widely distributed in North America, Europe, and central Asia. Martens are larger, heavier-bodied animals than weasels, with thick fur and bushy tails. , LaHart, & Rosenblate, 1990) Doubts About Actions and Organization, the comparison group scored significantly higher than the academically talented group on these subscale measures. However, Parker and Mills (1996) cautioned that "these differences had such small effect sizes as to be inconsequential in·con·se·quen·tial  
1. Lacking importance.

2. Not following from premises or evidence; illogical.

A triviality.
" (p. 196).

One possible reason for the lack of significant results in the Parker and Mills (1996) study may be due to the lack of clarity in the definition and measurement of perfectionism. While perfectionism has been given significant attention in the professional literature (e.g., Blatt, 1995; Burns, 1980; Pacht, 1984), definitions of perfectionism and attempts at subsequent measurement have varied considerably.

Early definitions and measures conceptualized perfectionism as a unidimensional u·ni·di·men·sion·al  

Adj. 1. unidimensional - relating to a single dimension or aspect; having no depth or scope; "a prose statement of fact is unidimensional, its value being measured wholly in terms
 and pathological personality trait (Burns, 1980; Pacht, 1984). More recent authors and researchers (i.e., Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990; Hewitt & Flett, 1991) have viewed perfectionism as multidimensional, but they continue to see these perfectionism dimensions as problematic and undesirable. Researchers adopting this multidimensional negative view have linked perfectionism in adults to a variety of symptoms and problems, including depression (Blatt, 1985; Burns, 1980; Haines, Norris, & Kashy, 1996), eating disorders eating disorders, in psychology, disorders in eating patterns that comprise four categories: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, rumination disorder, and pica. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation to avoid obesity.  (Cooper, Cooper, & Fairburn, 1985; Mizes, 1988; Ruderman, 1986), procrastination (Flett, Blankstein, Hewitt, & Koledin, 1992), Type A personality (Thurman, 1983), self-handicapping (Hobden & Pliner, 1995), and general anxiety (Flett, Hewitt, & Dyck, 1989).

More recently, however, Slaney, MoNey, Trippi, Ashby, and Johnson (1996) developed a multidimensional measure (i.e., the Almost Perfect Scale - Revised; APSR APSR American Political Science Review
APSR Asia Pacific Society of Respirology (Tokyo, Japan)
APSR Alabama Para Spiritual Research
APSR Axial Power Shaping Rod
) that includes adaptive as well as maladaptive Maladaptive
Unsuitable or counterproductive; for example, maladaptive behavior is behavior that is inappropriate to a given situation.

Mentioned in: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
 dimensions of perfectionism. Research using the APSR has supported the conceptualization con·cep·tu·al·ize  
v. con·cep·tu·al·ized, con·cep·tu·al·iz·ing, con·cep·tu·al·iz·es
To form a concept or concepts of, and especially to interpret in a conceptual way:
 of an adaptive form of perfectionism. For example, Rice, Ashby, and Slaney (1998) found that while maladaptive perfectionism was significantly related to depression, adaptive perfectionism was not. In a later study, Ashby and Rice (1999) found that adaptive perfectionism was significantly related to higher self-esteem while maladaptive perfectionism was related to lower self-esteem. A number of other studies have used the APSR to identify groups of adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists Perfectionists: see Noyes, John Humphrey.  and found that the adaptive perfectionists had lower levels of interiority (Ashby & Kottman, 1996), higher levels of general and social self-efficacy (Ashby, LoCicero, Kottman, Schoen, & Honsell, 1998), and a higher internal locus of control locus of control
A theoretical construct designed to assess a person's perceived control over his or her own behavior. The classification internal locus indicates that the person feels in control of events; external locus
 (Perisamy, Ashby, & LoCicero, 1999) than maladaptive perfectionists.

Parker and Mills (1996) suggested that future research on gifted students address not only perfectionistic strivings that frustrate students but also perfectionistic strivings that result in the pursuit of excellence. The current study was designed to head this suggestion by investigating the levels of adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism in a gifted sample versus a comparison group from the general cohort. The study was specifically designed to extend Parker and Mills' (1996) study by using an instrument (APSR) designed to measure adaptive as well as maladaptive perfectionism. The research question posed was: do gifted students differ from a group of their peers from the general cohort on a multidimensional measure of perfectionism that includes maladaptive as well as adaptive components?


The participants were 195, mostly Caucasian (76.9%) and African American African American Multiculture A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. See Race.  (20.5%), middle school students from a rural Southeastern middle school system. The mean age of the students was 13 years old (minimum 12, maximum 17), and there were 80 (41%) males and 115 (59%) females. The sample was comprised of eighty-three (43%) gifted students and one hundred and twelve (57%) students from the general cohort.


Gifted students from two schools in the school system were asked to participate. The gifted sample had a mean age of 13 (12 minimum, 15 maximum), consisted of 34 (41%) males and 49 (59%) female, and were predominantly Caucasian (91.8%) with 8.2% African American.

Gifted students were identified by the school district from their placement in the gifted program (i.e. Quest). The county in which this sample was taken defines gifted as a student who qualifies for the program in one of two ways. First, students, are accepted into the gifted program by scoring at or above the 96th percentile percentile,
n the number in a frequency distribution below which a certain percentage of fees will fall. E.g., the ninetieth percentile is the number that divides the distribution of fees into the lower 90% and the upper 10%, or that fee level
 by age on the composite or full scale score of a standardized mental ability test (Cognitive Abilities Test, CogAT). Students must also meet one of the following achievement criteria: a 90th percentile by age or grade on total battery, reading, or math of a system wide achievement test (Iowa Test of Basic Skills The Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) are a set of standardized tests given annually to school students in the United States. These tests are given to students beginning in kindergarten and progressing until Grade 8 to assess educational development. , ITBS ITBS Iowa Test of Basic Skills
ITBS Iliotibial Band Syndrome
ITBS Industrial Technologies Business Solutions
); or a numerical score at or above 90% on a superior student generated product or performance evaluated by a panel of three or more qualified educators. A second way for a student to qualify for eligibility in the gifted program is through a multiple-criteria assessment process. The criteria for this process is to meet minimal requirements in any three of four areas that include mental ability, achievement, creativity, and/or motivation.

A comparison group consisted of those that did not meet the gifted criteria. These general cohort students had a mean age of 13 (minimum 12, maximum 17), consisted of 42 (37.5%) males and 70 (62.5%) females, and predominantly Caucasian (64.6%) and African American (31.3%). Due to the number of students available in this group, only one school was needed for the selection of general cohort students.


The middle school counselor A school counselor is a counselor and educator who works in schools, and have historically been referred to as "guidance counselors" or "educational counselors," although "Professional School Counselor" is now the preferred term.  designated two teaching teams in which the researchers would be allowed to have access to the teachers' classes for surveying students. The general cohort students were grouped by teaching teams in each grade level. Students in these teaching teams were classified according to alphabetized al·pha·bet·ize  
tr.v. al·pha·bet·ized, al·pha·bet·iz·ing, al·pha·bet·iz·es
1. To arrange in alphabetical order.

2. To supply with an alphabet.
 surnames. According to school officials, these students were presumed to be representative of the non-gifted population in the school at large. Participants were given an answer sheet and the Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APSR) (Slaney, et al., 1996). All participants completed the surveys during class time. Only those students returning parental consents were allowed to participate.


The APSR (Slaney et al., 1996) contains 23 items designed to measure adaptive and maladaptive components of perfectionism. Participants respond to the items using a 7-point Likert scale Likert scale A subjective scoring system that allows a person being surveyed to quantify likes and preferences on a 5-point scale, with 1 being the least important, relevant, interesting, most ho-hum, or other, and 5 being most excellent, yeehah important, etc  from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. The inventory has three subscales: Standards (7 items measuring personal standards), Discrepancy (12 items measuring distress caused by the discrepancy between performance and standards) and Order (4 items measuring degree of orderliness). The order subscale is not used to distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists and was, therefore, not utilized in this study. Slaney, Rice, and Ashby (in press) described a series of confirmatory factor analyses that supported the structure and independence of the scales. In separate analyses of samples of 600 and 260 university students, factor loadings for the items ranged from .49 to .86 in the first sample and .50 to .86 in the second sample. Slaney et al. (1996) also provided support for the convergent and divergent validity of the subscales. The authors reported Cronbach's coefficient alphas for Standards (.85) and Discrepancy (.92). Internal consistency In statistics and research, internal consistency is a measure based on the correlations between different items on the same test (or the same subscale on a larger test). It measures whether several items that propose to measure the same general construct produce similar scores.  reliabilities for this sample were .91 (Standards) and .96 (Discrepancy).

The APSR is scored by taking the 66th percentile of the Standards subscale to classify perfectionists and nonperfectionists (i.e., the top third of the sample in Standards scores are identified as perfectionists). Once perfectionists have been identified in the sample, adaptive perfectionists and maladaptive perfectionists are determined by a median split of the Discrepancy subscale. Those perfectionists scoring in the top half on the Discrepancy subscale are classified as maladaptive perfectionists (i.e., maladaptive perfectionists experience higher levels of distress than their counterparts when they do not meet their high standards). Conversely, adaptive perfectionists are identified as those scoring in the lower half on the Discrepancy subscale. Adaptive perfectionists are those perfectionists that experience less distress when assessing a discrepancy between standards and performance for any task.


Exploratory t-tests comparing gifted and general cohort students for age and gender differences indicated that these groups were not significantly different on these variables, age: t = .314 (df = 170), gender: t = -.492 (df = 170).

Data were analyzed using two one-way analyses of variance (ANOVA anova

see analysis of variance.

ANOVA Analysis of variance, see there
). The dependent variables in the two analyses were the APSR subscales (Standards and Discrepancy). The independent variable in each analysis was gilled status (in Quest program or not in Quest program). Twenty-three cases with missing data were deleted prior to the analyses.

Experimentwise type 1 error was controlled by a Bonferroni technique. Alpha was set for the analyses at .025. Nominal alpha was .05, and the Bonferroni corrected alpha was .025.

Results of the ANOVAs indicated that gifted students had significantly higher scores on the APSR Standards scale (F = 5.906, p [is less than] .025, effect size (es) = .40) and significantly lower scores on the APSR Discrepancy scale (F = 6.342, p [is less than] .025, es = .37) than the general cohort students. The means and standard deviations In statistics, the average amount a number varies from the average number in a series of numbers.

(statistics) standard deviation - (SD) A measure of the range of values in a set of numbers.
 for the dependent variables for each group appear in Table 1.

Table 1 Means and Standard Deviations for APSR Subscales (Standards & Discrepancy)
                 Gifted (n = 73)        Comparison Group (n = 99)

                  Mean        SD           Mean             SD

Standards        41.21        6.33        38.67            7.08
Discrepancy      36.55       13.32        41.46           12.15

                 Complete Sample (n = 172)

                  Mean        SD

Standards        39.74        6.87
Discrepancy      39.38       12.85


The purpose of this study was to investigate differences in adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism between gifted students and a group of their peers from the general cohort. The results suggest that gifted students may be more perfectionistic in adaptive ways (holding high personal standards) but not in maladaptive ways (increased distress resulting from a discrepancy between one's standards and one's performance). These results support the contention of authors (e.g., Maxwell, 1995: Silverman, 1983) who have suggested that gifted students are likely to strive for perfection. However, the results do not support the contention that gilled students are likely to experience significant distress and subsequent maladjustment resulting from discrepancies between their performance and their high standards (e.g., Dorry, 1994).

These results are consistent with the results of Parker and Mills (1996), which indicated that gifted students were not more perfectionistic in maladaptive ways as generally hypothesized (e.g., Dorry, 1994; Maxwell, 1995). These results extend the research of Parker and Mills (1996) by the use of a perfectionism measure designed to measure positive dimensions of perfectionism (i.e., high standards) as well as negative (i.e., discrepancy concerns). It is possible that Parker and Mills (1996) found no significant differences in levels of perfectionism between gifted and non-gifted students because they used a measure designed to measure primarily pathological perfectionism (i.e., Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale; Frost, et al., 1990).

The results of this study suggest that the assumption that gifted students are perfectionistic may be valid. However, the notion that their perfectionism leads them to unhealthy strivings and frustrations may be misguided. Winner (1996) underscored that gifted children are well known to be perfectionists, "But being a perfectionist per·fec·tion·ism  
1. A propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.

 could well be a good thing if it means having high standards, for high standards ultimately lead to high achievement" (Winner, 1996, p. 215). Whereas a "non-gifted" student who attempts to achieve high standards may be labeled as conscientious, a gifted student may be labeled maladaptively perfectionistic because of the expectations of school professionals (Parker & Mills, 1996). It does seem clear that operationalizing perfectionism as having both adaptive and maladaptive dimensions seems a more sophisticated and accurate method of investigating the construct.

The results of this study are also consistent with Terman's (1947) early research that found the personality functioning of gifted children to be similar to or healthier than their age-related counterparts. The current study's results are also consistent with other authors (Janos & Robinson, 1985; Nail & Evans, 1997; Olszewski-Kubilius, Kulieke, & Krasney, 1988) who have reported that differences between gifted and peers from the general cohort tend to show gilled students as emotionally healthier.

There are a number of possible explanations for these findings. Luthar, Zigler, and Goldstein (1992) attributed the positive psychological adjustment and high achievement of gifted students to those students' higher cognitive maturity and experiences of past success. Gifted students may also approach tasks with more creativity. Thus, gifted students may have more flexibility for accommodating error or imperfection im·per·fec·tion  
1. The quality or condition of being imperfect.

2. Something imperfect; a defect or flaw. See Synonyms at blemish.


 in the pursuit of their high standards.

In Olszewski-Kubilius, Kulieke, and Krasney (1988), the researchers found the gilled to have lower levels of anxiety than their age related counterparts. Maladaptive perfectionists exhibit more anxiety as it relates to the discrepancy between their own personal standards and performance outcome toward those standards. On the other hand, adaptive perfectionists set high personal standards, but feel less distress over the discrepancy between their standards and outcome. It might be that gifted students are less inclined to flee failure and more likely to pursue success.

Although the findings of the study are consistent with the literature on perfectionism, readers should bear in mind that there are several limitations. The sample size was large enough to yield statistically significant findings, but the population was a relatively homogeneous group. The sample was drawn from a Southeastern rural school. The correlational design of the study also limits any causal inferences. The psychometric psy·cho·met·rics  
n. (used with a sing. verb)
The branch of psychology that deals with the design, administration, and interpretation of quantitative tests for the measurement of psychological variables such as intelligence, aptitude, and
 properties of the APSR have been validated in a university student population. At present, only initial studies have been conducted with the APSR and adolescent samples. In general, however, perfectionism differences between the gifted and general cohort groups were significant enough to be interesting and were consistent with the theoretical literature suggesting that gifted students may be more adaptively perfectionistic than their age related counterparts.


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The association has around 150,000 members and an annual budget of around $70m.
, San Francisco San Francisco (săn frănsĭs`kō), city (1990 pop. 723,959), coextensive with San Francisco co., W Calif., on the tip of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, which are connected by the strait known as the Golden , CA.

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1. Filled with confusion or bewilderment; puzzled.

2. Full of complications or difficulty; involved.

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Child naturally endowed with a high degree of general mental ability or extraordinary ability in a specific domain. Although the designation of giftedness is largely a matter of administrative convenience, the best indications of giftedness are often those
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Any of a variety of techniques in psychotherapy that utilize guided self-discovery, imaging, self-instruction, and related forms of elicited cognitions as the principal mode of treatment.
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1. the branch of medicine dealing with the causes and processes of mental disorders.

2. abnormal, maladaptive behavior or mental activity.
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Involving aspects of both social and psychological behavior.
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Newton County Newton County is the name of several counties in the United States:
  • Newton County, Arkansas
  • Newton County, Georgia (Located in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area)
  • Newton County, Indiana
  • Newton County, Mississippi
  • Newton County, Missouri
  • Newton County, Texas
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Winner, E. (1996). Gifted Children. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Basic Books.

Manuscript submitted April, 1999.

Revision accepted September, 1999.

Kenneth A. LoCicero is a doctoral candidate in Counselor Education at Georgia State University History
Georgia State University was founded in 1913 as the Georgia School of Technology's "School of Commerce." The school focused on what was called "the new science of business.
. Jeffery S. Ashby is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services at Georgia State University.
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Author:Ashby, Jeffrey S.
Publication:Roeper Review
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
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