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Some Perfectionists Have a Darker Side

Some Perfectionists Have a Darker Side

A new study has looked into how different types of perfectionists differ in their social behavior as well as what type of humor they engage in, among other traits.

The findings show that people who are “other-oriented” perfectionists (those who hold high expectations for others but not for themselves) have a much darker side to their personalities, often exhibiting traits of narcissism and even psychopathy.

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by the setting of extremely high standards and being excessively critical of oneself or other people. Psychologists recognize three types of perfectionism, each with different beliefs, attitudes, motivations and behaviors: self-oriented, socially-prescribed, and other-oriented.

“Self-oriented” perfectionists have extremely high personal standards, strive for perfection and expect themselves to make no mistakes. “Socially prescribed” perfectionists strive to be flawless because they believe that being perfect is important to other people.

In contrast, “other-oriented” perfectionists are only disparaging and judgmental about others. Not only do they expect other people to be perfect, but they can also be highly critical of those who fail to meet their expectations.

Research has shown that “other-oriented” perfectionists tend to have the so-called “Dark Triad” personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. They have issues with intimacy, nurturing and their social development and tend to be narcissistic, antisocial and have an aggressive sense of humor. They care little about social norms and do not readily fit into the bigger social picture.

For the study, psychologist and researcher Dr. Joachim Stoeber, of the University of Kent in the U.K., compared the traits of other-oriented perfectionists against those of perfectionists who only set the bar extremely high for themselves.

Among 229 university student participants, Stoeber found self-orientated perfectionism to be the only one of the three forms that has a pro-social element to it.

Even though they focus on themselves, they express an interest in others, care about social norms and about others’ expectations. They prefer affiliative humor that enhances relationships, and shy away from aggressive jokes.

Socially prescribed perfectionists, however, make self-deprecating jokes, have low self-esteem and low self-regard, and often feel inferior. They can be quite antisocial and unemotional, and do not respond well to positive feedback.

Other-oriented perfectionists, on the other hand, tend to exhibit an aggressive sense of humor, which is often at the expense of others. This is just one of the many uncaring traits they have that shows a disregard for the expectations of others and social norms. They express a sense of superiority and do not readily fit into a bigger social circle, making them quite antisocial.

“Other-oriented perfectionism is a ‘dark’ form of perfectionism positively associated with narcissistic, antisocial and uncaring personality characteristics,” says Stoeber.

The study is published in Springer’s Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment.

Source: Springer Science + Business Media


Some Perfectionists Have a Darker Side

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Some Perfectionists Have a Darker Side. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 19 May 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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