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A conversation with Johannes Stricker

An interview

We recently talked to Johannes Stricker about his paper, "Multidimensional Perfectionism and the Big Five Personality Traits: A Meta‐analysis", which has appeared in the March/April issue of EJP. Johannes is a PhD student at the Trier University, Germany.

Read more about the study below!

Picture Johannes.jpg

Q: Hi Johannes! Can you tell us a little about yourself and what got you interested in personality psychology?

I’m a PhD student at the University of Trier (Germany) and in training to become a clinical psychologist. During my undergraduate studies, I worked as a student research assistant in different areas of psychology. It was very difficult for me to commit myself to one single psychological research field. Thus, my interest in personality psychology was awakened, when I realized that understanding individual differences in personality structure has important implications across different psychological subfields and areas of application. The more I became involved with personality psychology, the more convinced I became that personality has a unique role in predicting real-world psychological outcomes. For example, perfectionism (which I am currently most interest in), is relevant for the development and maintenance of mental disorders, for educational outcomes, for the performance and well-being of athletes, and for workplace behavior.

Q: What was the present study about?

Our meta-analysis investigated the relations between perfectionism and the Five-Factor Model of Personality. Perfectionism is a multidimensional construct that comprises two broader dimensions: perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings. Perfectionistic concerns entail the fear of making mistakes, doubts about one’s performance, and perceiving others as expecting perfection of oneself. Perfectionistic strivings describe the tendency to hold exceedingly high personal expectations and the belief that being perfect is important for oneself.

We had three main research questions. First, we investigated the bivariate relations of the two perfectionism dimensions with the Big Five personality traits. Despite decades of research, it was largely unclear how perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings are located within a larger personality framework, which is crucial to understanding what these constructs represent, to provide a basis for comparisons, and to reveal redundancies. We found a divergent pattern of relations with the Big Five traits, supporting the differentiation between perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings. Perfectionistic concerns were characterized by high Neuroticism and, to a lesser extent, by low Extraversion, low Agreeableness, low Conscientiousness, and low Openness. Perfectionistic strivings were characterized by high Conscientiousness and, to a lesser extent, by high Openness, high Neuroticism, and high Extraversion. These findings are in line with theoretical models of multidimensional perfectionism and with findings from a different large meta-analysis by Smith and colleagues (2019).

Second, we tested whether the measurement instrument moderates the relations between perfectionism dimensions and the Big Five personality traits. There is a multiplicity of measures that capture sub-facets of perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings. These measures where developed based on different theoretical models. Thus, they might reflect different constellations of broader personality traits. Our results showed that all sub-facets of perfectionistic concerns most strongly related to Neuroticism and all sub-facets of perfectionistic strivings most strongly related to Conscientiousness. The measurement instrument moderated most relations of perfectionism dimensions with the Big Five personality traits. Hence, perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings provide a useful framework to distinguish between perfectionism facets that primarily relate to Neuroticism (i.e., perfectionistic concerns) or Conscientiousness (i.e., perfectionistic strivings). However, the distinctive features of sub-facets of perfectionism are lost in the two-dimensional approach. The finding that the measurement instrument moderated most relations with the Big Five personality traits also highlights the need to define commonly agreed upon measures of perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings.

Third, we tested the unique relations of perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings with the Big Five personality traits after statistically partialling the respective other perfectionism dimension. Removing the shared variance between two predictor variables (e.g., in a multiple regression) changes their interpretation. This is particularly problematic when the predictor variables are substantially correlated as is the case for perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings. Through the removal of variance, the partialled variable may then no longer represent the original variable (as has been demonstrated for the Dark Triad by Vize et al., 2018). In perfectionism research, there has been a large debate how the nature of perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings changes when the empirical overlap between the two dimensions is statistically partialled out. We found that partialling increased all correlations with the exception of the previously positive correlation between perfectionistic strivings and Neuroticism, which ceased to be significant. Thus, partialled perfectionistic concerns may be interpreted as a more maladaptive form of perfectionistic concerns and partialled perfectionistic strivings may be interpreted as a more adaptive form of perfectionistic strivings. Further research is needed to clarify the distinction between partialled perfectionistic strivings (i.e., perfectionistic strivings without its neurotic component) and other related psychological constructs like excellencism.

Q: What made you decide to research this topic?

At first, I became interested in perfectionism because I was fascinated by the idea that this construct may have adaptive and maladaptive components (even though I am now somewhat more skeptical about the idea of “healthy perfectionism”). Studying a construct that may be a transdiagnostic risk factor for mental diseases and, allegedly, a predisposition for outstanding academic and professional achievement, seemed incredibly appealing. Then, during the first months of my PhD, I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the field containing dozens of different measures, approaches, and labels for perfectionism facets. Thus, locating the various facets of perfectionism within the FFM as a widely accepted personality framework, which can be used to describe other personality constructs, seemed like a good first step to me.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the (near) future?

I am currently focused on two larger research topics. First, I am interested in perfectionism, its structure, developmental antecedents, consequences, and relations with other personality constructs and real-world outcomes. Against the background of the high prevalence of perfectionism in the general population, I believe that better understanding the consequences of perfectionism and identifying factors that determine who develops which form of perfectionism will help improve people’s lives. Thus, I would like to extend my collaborations both with researchers who are interested in the relations of perfectionism with other personality constructs and with researchers who investigate real world consequences of perfectionism. Currently, I am particularly interested in the effects of educational experiences on personality development. Second, I am working with the WHO Collaborating Centre for Quality Assurance and Empowerment in Mental Health (Prof. Gaebel, Düsseldorf) to investigate the reliability and clinical utility of the ICD-11 Clinical Descriptors and Diagnostic Guidelines.

After completing my PhD (hopefully within the next year) and my clinical training (hopefully within the next two years), I plan to work in the intersection of clinical and personality psychology. I think that better bridging these two fields will further stimulate promising developments such as dimensional models of psychopathology (in contrast to the categorical focus in ICD-11 and DSM-5) and insights into the dynamic developmental interplay of personality and psychopathology. Additionally, I hope that I can continue to see some patients as part of my daily work.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Doing sports (particularly squash and cycling) is great fun for me. Additionally, I like to travel (preferably to European capitals) both with my girlfriend or friends from school. In my daily life, I also spend a lot of time cooking (in what, against all odds, my girlfriend has sparked my interest), socializing, and discussing politics.

Q: Thanks for the interview, Johannes!

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