The Desire for Perfection

By Meenu Johnkutty ‘21

Figure 1. The strive for perfection is on the rise among college students of this generation.

According to the American Psychological Association, the desire to be perfect in multiple areas of life is on the rise among college students. A recent study conducted by lead author Dr. Thomas Curran of the University of Bath is the first to analyze different forms of perfectionism among college students of multiple generations.

Dr. Curran and his colleagues defined perfectionism as an “irrational desire to achieve alongside being overly critical of oneself and others.” They proceeded to collect data from over 41,641 American, Canadian, and British college students who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, which analyzes changes in generational perfectionism. The researchers termed perfectionism in three different ways: self-oriented –an innate, and often irrational, drive to achieve perfection; socially prescribed –the drive to perfection motivated by social pressures; and other-oriented –the placing of unreasonable standards on other people.

In the results, the scientists found that today’s college students reported the higher scores of each form of perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism increased by 10 percent, socially prescribed perfectionism by over 33 percent, and other-oriented by approximately 16 percent. The researchers traced this rise in perfectionism to numerous factors. According to Curran, social media may be one factor. Though this claim has yet to be substantiated, Curran posited that social networking sites pressure young adults into striving for unreasonable body types and increases social isolation. He listed the desire to achieve lofty career goals and financial status as yet another contributing factor to the drive to be perfect, which may be affecting the psychological health of college students. The study concludes that striving for perfection may be one of the causes of above average rates of suicide, depression, and anxiety in this decade’s university students.

Whatever the motivation may be, the drive to achieve perfection in multiple areas of life is not a healthy trend among the college students of this generation. Reducing levels of competition and offering outlets for mindfulness may serve to alleviate the psychological effects of the increased pressure to be perfect.


  1. T. Curran and A. Hill, Perfectionism is increasing over time: a meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin (2017). doi 10.1037/bul0000138.
  2. Image retrieved from:

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