Characteristics and perceptions of perfectionism in gifted adolescents in a rural school environment

Date of Completion

January 1997


Education, Guidance and Counseling|Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Special




This qualitative study investigated the characteristics of perfectionistic gifted male and female adolescents in a rural middle school, how they perceived their perfectionism, the influences on their perfectionism, and the consequences of their perfectionistic behaviors in the context of their perceived gender roles and their rural middle school experiences.^ Qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection were employed to gather data from 20 gifted male and female adolescents who were identified as having perfectionistic tendencies. Semi-structured interviews, record and document review, self-report teacher survey, and participant observation were used to identify factors which may influence the perceptions and behaviors of this population.^ Findings from this study confirm the theoretical proposition that perfectionism is a characteristic of many gifted adolescents. In this study, 87.5% of gifted adolescents in accelerated courses in a rural middle school were identified as having perfectionistic tendencies. Results support the multi-dimensional theory of perfectionism which states that perfectionism exists on a continuum with healthy to dysfunctional behaviors (Hamachek, 1978). Several differences exist between the healthy perfectionists and the dysfunctional perfectionists. Healthy perfectionists possessed an intense need for order and organization; displayed self-acceptance of mistakes; enjoyed high parental expectations; demonstrated positive ways of coping with their perfectionistic tendencies; had role models who emphasize doing one's "best"; and viewed personal effort as an important part of their perfectionism. The dysfunctional perfectionists lived in state of anxiety about making errors; had extremely high standards; perceived excessive expectations and negative criticisms from others; questioned their own judgments; lacked effective coping strategies; and exhibited a constant need for approval.^ Family, teacher, and peer influences on perfectionism were perceived as mostly positive for the healthy perfectionists, but negative for the dysfunctional perfectionists. The impact of gender roles was not found as an influence. The perceived lack of challenge by a majority of the perfectionists was manifested in their enormous efforts to perfect school work, while exerting minimal intellectual effort and receiving high grades in return. Teacher difficulty in identifying mild perfectionistic distress may be due to the perception of perfectionistic gifted adolescents as being "model students" who have good school adjustment. ^