Nature or nurture? Why some people are perfectionists

Studies suggest that genetics determine perfectionist tendencies

Topics: Behavioral Health, Service Lines

November 1, 2012

Experts have long blamed overbearing parents for making their children into "perfectionists," but a growing body of research suggests that parents' perfectionist genes may play a bigger role in passing on the personality trait.

For one study, researchers at the Michigan State University Twin Registry examined perfectionism in 146 pairs of identical and fraternal female twins ages 12 to 22. Identical twins—which share 100% of their genetic makeup—scored similarly on tests measuring perfectionism and anxiety. Meanwhile, fraternal twins—which share only 50% of their genetic makeup—recorded less similar scores on measures of perfectionism and anxiety.

Another study examining 170 pairs of identical and fraternal twins found that identical twins demonstrated similar body-image issues.

Although researchers have not identified the specific gene that carries the trait, the studies indicate "that there is a significant biological component that we need to understand more," says Jason Moser, an assistant professor at Michigan State who led the anxiety study.

According to the Wall Street Journal, perfectionism is not currently classified as a psychological condition, but some health experts say that it can be toxic to a person's mental health and cause depression, insomnia, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.

"Our research shows that successful perfectionists are successful in spite of it, not because of it," says Minneapolis-based psychologist Tom Greenspon (Beck, Journal, 10/29).

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