The Phenomena of Perfectionism
When conducting sophisticated research within social research it is in certain aspects an act of art as no statistical test is able to tell the analytical success when obtained significance as this is only sometimes valid to the investigated population at a particular moment of time (Babbie, 2016).
For the purpose of this assessment two papers focusing on perfectionism (P) from different methodological standpoints were chosen to demonstrate how those two approaches can work more as fulfilling rather than as antagonistic tools aiming for better understanding the phenomena of perfectionism. Starley (2018) for instance delivered comprehensive research using qualitative pragmatic approach where the main attention was focused on understanding the roots of the P by gathering systematic review of up to date knowledge surrounding perfectionism and creating a very powerful message that P is a coping skill, ‘a way of coping with anxiety arising from unmet need’.
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When on the other hand Ferrari, Yap, Scott, Einstein, & Ciarrochi (2018) were utilizing the qualitative approach of self-report questionnaires to investigate maladaptive perfectionism, self-compassion, and depression during the lifespan between two samples and leading to the conclusion that self-compassion acts as a buffer when approached by dysfunctional P on depression. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate advanced analytical and critical skills, as well as an understanding of the undisclosed principles for both main research methods utilized in social science. One of the core principles of this written inquiry will be to find the evidence of the application of the analytical techniques used for given research questions; design and data as well as critically investigate the statistical analysis of qualitative data used in psychological research.
When facing the dilemma of choosing the methods ‘appropriate’ for the purpose of investigation of the phenomena it can be problematic, as the ‘qualitative-quantitative debate’ is still an actively open subject for constructive argumentation. The topic itself is not new, rooting as far as 1894 with Dilthey been heavily criticized for his reductionism way of explaining mental processes (Collican, 2017). For the purpose of this paper, two chosen articles investigated in their perused of understanding perfectionism. This paper will produce evidence how both approaches can deliver different valuable insight into the topic as well as they can work in a synergistic way in order to deliver comprehensive understanding of the phenomena, and this is the main aim of this paper.
Ferrari et al. (2018) delivered interesting research utilising application of quantitative principles when exploring perfectionism although they research faced multiple limitations as well and strengths by the chosen enquiry to investigate the phenomena by numbers and statistics. Despite the fact sample, size was impressive as 541 (99males, 442 females) with men age of 14 years and one month and obtaining significant results, it is still important to mention that the size of the examined population was relatively small when aiming for generalisation of the results due to biased sample.
In order to claim for generalisations it is important to conduct similar research but with heterogeneous population; bigger than 541 participants without using convenience sampling in this case – students of private schools are not the representation of the whole population, and they should adopt homogeneous convenience samples to prevent poor generalisability by using conventional convenience samples (Jager, Putnick, & Bornstein, 2017). Another limitation of the quantitative investigation the use of the self-report surveys, rising serious questions about validity of the obtained results due to the subjective nature of the participants in the way they approached the questionnaires (Fonagy et al., 2016; Spector, 1994;).
In terms of making claims of generalisability, it will be difficult as the participants for the study were not a reflection of the population as they were recruited from five Australian private schools, and all participants completed the questionnaires as a fragment of a bigger wellbeing intervention study, as a part of baseline assessment (Ferrari et al., 2018). Study utilised standardised scales; The Child and Adolescent Perfectionism Scale (CAPS, Flett et al., 2016) to measure perfectionism; The Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ, Sharp, Goodyer, & Croudace, 2006) to measure depressive mood, and The Self-Compassion Scale-Short form (SCS-s, Raes, Pommier, Neff, & Van Gucht, 2011) to measure self-compassion.
Research project granted ethical approval; participation was voluntary, anonymous and only students who returned completed information and consent forms were allow taking part in the study. There were situation in the study when they needed to break confidentiality for the students who identified very depressed mood with the need for future referral; however this way of dealing with data was explain in the information and consent form. The study clearly provided information about dependent variable – depression, and predictor variables included maladaptive perfectionism and self-compassion. In total 1,249 participants were invited but only 541 returned the signed consent by parents and students and collected data was analysed using hierarchical multiple regressions.
This study has multiple strengths, one of them was to establish a moderating role of self-compassion, and suggesting for future clinical interventions to assess the benefits of practising self-compassion based intervention for depression and perfectionism (Ferrari et al., 2018). Research faced few limitations; due to investigating two independent age unit, obtained data was cross-sectional and it is not clear whether self-compassion was the cause or the result of depression.
One of the greatest contribution delivered by the research is the acknowledgment of the high cost of perfectionism on individuals in holistic way especially linked to psychopathology. This paper delivered evidence that self-compassion acts as a buffer to the impact of maladaptive perfectionism on depression therefore further research into these interventions should be explored further utilising different approaches.
Starley (2018) explored perfectionism from a qualitative standpoint by synthesise the current relevant literature and research in the field of psychology in order to face perfectionism as a challenging but worthwhile research area for educational psychology, when actually exceeded the expectations and managed to produced explanation for the causation of perfectionism. One of the most important advantage of the article is sophisticated conceptualisation of the phenomena by exploring research gathered in New Zealand, Australia and Asia, which was considered as one of the limitations of the study.
Research and knowledge on P in UK school students is restricted to a small sample of studies focused on P in relation to sporting rather than academic achievement and this was one of the reasons Starley (2018) conducted the pioneering research in this challenging area. As much as the topic was difficult to investigate in quantitative approach, the findings can deliver the answer for increasing problems in mental health not only in United Kingdom but globally.
The United Kingdom is one of the top country with the highest rate of mental health problems among children, adolescent and adults, with suicide as a leading cause of death in young peoples. Globally suicide is the second most common cause of death among adolescents after road traffic accidents (Mental Health Foundation, 2018) that research exploring the phenomena should be read by the people responsible for the changes on the government and executive level. Growing interest in the phenomena indicate hopefully healthy pursuit to ‘treat’ in disciplines such as education, psychology, counselling and health or to effectively support individuals effected by perfectionism instead of only trying to ‘measure’ it using self-rating scales.
As reported by Starley (2018) when conducting review of literature of childhood perfectionism, they were multiple challenges, starting from conceptualisation, with broad definitions of the construct with only one agreement made on multidimensionality of perfectionism’s by Hewitt & Flett (1991). This generosity of the views reflected in scales attempted to rate perfectionism, with assessments showing contrasting constructs (Morris & Lomax, 2014) with ambiguous, subjective and highly challenging quality to measure. Concepts of healthy achieves and perfectionism lacks clarity, as well as the scales to ‘measure’ the phenomena this can present the barrier to deliver an effective treatment through approaching life with growth mindset rather than a need for perfection, however people need to feel good enough, well attached as a child and so on.
One of the biggest argument against quantitative research is the subjectivity, ambiguity and the importance of critical reflexibility Mitchell, Boettcher-Sheard, Duque, & Lashewich (2018). Author was emphasising the dominant theme within the current literature surrounding perfectionism, making clear cut that there is nothing healthy about perfectionism and linking perfectionism with development and maintenance of mental health problems as anxiety Jensen et al. (2018), obsessive-compulsive disorder Melli, Bulli, Doron, & Carraresi (2018), and eating disorders Drieberg, McEvoy, Hoiles, Shu, & Egan (2018).
Despite the fact, there is very limited literature about the perfectionism as well as and the area is a challenging due to lack of agreement on its nature Starley (2018) made sure that all the paper cover all aspects including making a sophisticated distinction between perfectionism and striving for achievement or healthy pursuit for excellence. The author in small steps explain the ethology behind perfectionism, introducing the concept of ‘roots and leaves’ proposed by Shafran, Egan, & Wade (2010) conceptualised the idea of perfectionism as a root of variety of mental health conditions, and perfectionism should be addressed first than for example focusing on depression or anxiety.
This model has more practical application, looking beyond a diagnostic label and moving to more positive, systematic thinking, solution-focused psychology and exploring this construct as a way of communicating something about the individual’s needs.
Regardless of the operationalization chosen for exploration of perfectionism, both studies provided unique set of knowledge with supportive evidence that perfectionism is not a positive trait linked with anxiety and arised from unmet needs, having own function, as a coping skill Starley (2018). On the other hand, Ferarri et al. (2018) argued that by improving self-compassion lead to significant reduction of maladaptive perfectionism on the individuals.
Both chosen methodologies to explore research topic have they limitations and strengths however deliver an encouraging message for further research looking for effective way of dealing with negative impact of perfectionism on the individuals especially children as they were influenced by mental health issues linked directly to perfectionism. Based on the information provided in the both articles quantitative approach seems to deliver the answer and potential effective cure for perfectionism.