Patricia DiBartolo, Smith College – Perfectionism – 10-Year Anniversary

We’re celebrating a decade of the Academic Minute this week with one segment from each year.

This segment from 2010, Patricia DiBartolo, professor of psychology at Smith College, informed us about the good and bad aspects of perfectionism.

Current Bio:
Patricia DiBartolo teaches several courses, including clinical psychology, developmental psychopathology, advanced research methods, and child and adolescent anxiety disorders. In 2008, she was the recipient of Smith’s Sherrerd Prize for Distinguished Teaching.

DiBartolo has longstanding research interests in investigating the phenomenology of perfectionism and its clinical correlates, especially anxiety, in both adult and youth samples. More recently, her research interests have expanded to include teaching and learning about the scientific method. She has published three books and 40 articles and chapters on these topics.

Currently serving as associate dean of the faculty/dean for academic development, DiBartolo works with the faculty to shape the undergraduate and graduate curriculum and to advance their professional development through all stages of their careers. She previously served as faculty director of the sciences and as program director for the college’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to support transforming pedagogy through early course-based research experiences.



Is it true that trying to be perfect is unhealthy for you?  Perfectionism is defined as the setting of high standards, paired with excessive concerns about failure.  Over the past 20 years, psychologists have discovered that these two dimensions of perfectionism have a very different set of relationships to our health.  First, there is the negative dimensions of perfectionism.  That is the part that is focus on worries about failure.  Often fueled by a pressure from others to be perfect.  Psychologists find consistent and robust relationships between this particular aspect of perfectionism and all kinds of negative outcomes, including anxiety, depression, poorer physical health and even mortality and thoughts of suicide.

The second dimension of perfectionism, setting high goals for oneself is often considered it’s more positive aspect.  But is it? Achievement striving shows an inconsistent relationship with health.  Sometimes associating with better, and sometimes worse, outcomes.  What makes achievement striving unhealth, is when people feel their accomplishments are the sole measure of their worth.  

So is trying to be perfect unhealthy for you?  Clearly there are costs to pursuing perfection, but these costs are less likely for people who can keep a healthy sense of health.  For when they are inevitably, imperfect.