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Perfectionist professors have lower research productivity, study shows

Perfectionist professors have lower research productivity, study shows

Professor Gordon Flett collaborated in the online psychology study

Perfectionism is sometimes viewed as a positive personality trait to be rewarded or reinforced, but Dalhousie University psychology professor Simon Sherry believes it is mostly a self-defeating behaviour, wrote University Affairs, Jan. 12:

In professors, the effect can be particularly pernicious: in a new study, Sherry and colleagues found that perfectionism leads to lower research productivity. The findings suggest that professors who display a higher level of perfectionism are less likely to produce publications, garner citations or publish their research in high-impact journals.

“We found that perfectionism trips up professors on the way to research productivity. The more perfectionistic the professor, the less productive they are,” said Dr. Sherry. This could “seriously and adversely impact” their career development. The study was published in the October 2010 issue of the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science.

. . .

To investigate the issue, he and colleagues Gordon Flett of York University’s Faculty of Health and Paul Hewitt of the University of British Columbia studied the link between perfectionism and research productivity among psychology professors working at universities in the US and Canada. They limited it to their own profession to simplify the logistics and restricted it to universities with graduate programs in psychology.

They contacted 10,000 professors, of whom 1,258 responded using an online survey. The researchers found a “robust correlation” between increased perfectionism and decreased research productivity in the respondents. A higher level of perfectionism was associated with a lower number of total publications and a lower number of first-authored publications. It was also associated with a lower number of citations and a track record of publishing in journals with a lower impact rating.

. . .

If professors suspect they’re perfectionists, Dr. Sherry counsels that they seek professional help. The best treatment options appear to be interpersonal or cognitive behavioural therapy, he added.

Ironically, “perfectionists are often very reluctant to seek help because they see it as tantamount to being imperfect,” he said. As well, perfectionism itself can be a barrier to effective treatment; afflicted individuals might subconsciously sabotage their course of treatment because of unrealistic expectations.

Perfectionist profs have another reason to worry: research has linked perfectionism with depression, suicide and various forms of eating disorders such as bulimia, binge eating and anorexia.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.