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Objective: To examine the relationship between Positive and Negative Perfectionism and Social Physique Anxiety (SPA) and the extent to which these two variables predict disturbed eating attitudes in male and female elite athletes.Design: Cross-sectional survey.Method: Athletes (n=316) completed measures of Positive and Negative Perfectionism, SPA, disordered eating and social desirability. Zero- and first-order (partial) correlations were examined to determine the relationship between Positive and Negative Perfectionism and SPA. Hierarchical regression analyses were used to examine how two individual difference variables, perfectionism and SPA, relate and contribute to disordered eating.Results: For both male and female athletes, Negative Perfectionism was significantly related to SPA. For males, Positive Perfectionism made a small, yet significant, contribution (i.e. 6%) in predicting disturbed eating attitudes. For females, Negative Perfectionism and SPA uniquely and in combination significantly contributed 41% of the variance in the prediction of disturbed eating attitudes.Discussion: These findings suggest that Negative Perfectionism is strongly linked with SPA and that, in females, SPA is an additional psychosocial variable to consider in the relationship between Negative Perfectionism and disordered eating.
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Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209–222www.elsevier.com/locate/psychsport
Perfectionism, social physique anxiety and disordered eating:
a comparison of male and female elite athletes
Anne M. Haase
a,*
, Harry Prapavessis
b
, R. Glynn Owens
a
a
Department of Psychology, Tamaki Campus, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
b
Department of Sport and Exercise Science, Tamaki Campus, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Received 11 September 2000; received in revised form 21 March 2001; accepted 23 May 2001
Abstract
Objective: To examine the relationship between Positive and Negative Perfectionism and Social Physique
Anxiety (SPA) and the extent to which these two variables predict disturbed eating attitudes in male and
female elite athletes.
Design: Cross-sectional survey.
Method: Athletes (n=316) completed measures of Positive and Negative Perfectionism, SPA, disordered
eating and social desirability. Zero- and first-order (partial) correlations were examined to determine the
relationship between Positive and Negative Perfectionism and SPA. Hierarchical regression analyses were
used to examine how two individual difference variables, perfectionism and SPA, relate and contribute to
disordered eating.
Results: For both male and female athletes, Negative Perfectionism was significantly related to SPA.
For males, Positive Perfectionism made a small, yet significant, contribution (i.e. 6%) in predicting disturbed
eating attitudes. For females, Negative Perfectionism and SPA uniquely and in combination significantly
contributed 41% of the variance in the prediction of disturbed eating attitudes.
Discussion: These findings suggest that Negative Perfectionism is strongly linked with SPA and that,
in females, SPA is an additional psychosocial variable to consider in the relationship between Negative
Perfectionism and disordered eating. 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Perfectionism; Social physique anxiety; Disordered eating; Elite athletes; Personality; Gender
Introduction
Several studies have examined various different aspects of perfectionism, although not as fre-
quently in athletic populations (Frost & Henderson, 1991; Gould, Udry, Tuffey, & Loehr, 1996;
* Corresponding author.
1469-0292/02/$ - see front matter 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S1469-0292(01)00018-8
210 A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209–222
Hewitt & Flett, 1991a). In general, perfectionism has been dened as the setting of unrealistic,
excessively high standards in relation to ones goals and expectations (Burns, 1983). The maladap-
tive effects of perfectionism have been linked with various psychopathologies, such as eating dis-
orders, depression, neuroticism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a variety of different anxiety
disorders (Davis, 1997; Flett, Hewitt, & Dyck, 1989; Pacht, 1984).
Over the years, a convergence of descriptive studies on perfectionism has emerged, suggesting
both a normalform along with a neuroticform. For instance, Hamachek (1978) distinguished
between normal and neurotic perfectionists, where normal perfectionists experience high satisfaction
and increased self-esteem from their achievements. Neurotic perfectionists, on theother hand, “…are
unable to feel satisfaction because in their own eyes they never seem to do things good enough…”
(p. 27), focusing on the perceived inadequacy and failure of their efforts. This distinction parallels
that which was made by Slade and Dewey (1986) between Satisedand Dissatisedperfec-
tionists and that by Frost, Heimberg, Holt, Mattia, and Neubauer (1993) between Positive Achieve-
ment Strivingand Maladaptive Evaluative Concerns.
Terry-Short, Owens, Slade and Dewey (1995) recently proposed a theoretically-based distinction
between normal healthy perfectionism and unhealthy neurotic perfectionism. Positive (normal) Per-
fectionism can be dened as the motivation to achieve a certain goal in order to obtain a favourable
outcome. Negative (neurotic) Perfectionism can be dened as the motivation to achieve a certain
goal in order to avoid adverse consequences (Terry-Short et al., 1995). This distinction is grounded
in behavioural theory (Skinner, 1968). Skinner noted that similar behaviour might be associated
with different emotional responses depending on whether it is a function of positive or negative
reinforcement. For instance, performing a behaviour for positive reinforcement is perceived to be
a free choice whereas performing the same behaviour for negative reinforcement is perceived as
coerced (Skinner, 1968).
These two types of perfectionism vary across individuals and can be assessed with the Positive
and Negative Perfectionism Scale (PANPS) (Terry-Short et al., 1995). Terry-Short et al. (1995)
provided initial construct validation for the PANPS and its underlying theory by examining Positive
and Negative Perfectionism scores among four groups: athletes, eating disorder patients, depressed
patients and controls. The results showed that athletes scored the highest on Positive Perfectionism
whereas eating disorder patients scored the highest on Negative Perfectionism. With respect to the
ratios of Positive to Negative Perfectionism, they found signicant differences between the clinical
and non-clinical groups. Specically, athletes and controls showed higher levels of Positive Perfec-
tionism than Negative Perfectionism, while in contrast, eating disordered and depressed groups
showed lower levels of Positive Perfectionism than Negative Perfectionism. Further construct vali-
dation for the PANPS has been provided by Haase, Prapavessis and Owens (1999). They showed
that relations between Negative Perfectionism and disturbed eating attitudes were strongest for
female lightweight rowers with higher body mass index scores. Positive Perfectionism was unrelated
to disturbed eating.
As mentioned earlier, research has demonstrated a relationship between perfectionism and many
different forms of anxiety. For instance, Hewitt and Flett (1991a,b) found socially-prescribed perfec-
tionism (i.e. maladaptive perfectionism) correlated strongly with social anxiety in both student and
clinical samples. Saboonchi and Lundh (1997) reported similar ndings between dimensions associa-
ted with maladaptive perfectionism (i.e. concern over mistakes, doubts about action, socially-pre-
scribed perfectionism) and measures of social anxiety and agoraphobia. Lundh and Ost (1996)
211A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
reported that social phobics exhibited higher levels of perfectionism (concern over mistakes) and
self-consciousness than controls. Finally, Hall, Kerr and Matthews (1998) and Onwuegbuzie and
Daley (1999) both showed a signicant relationship between concern over mistakes and doubt
about action dimensions (i.e. maladaptive perfectionism) and competitive sport anxiety and statistics
anxiety, respectively. In short, these studies provide evidence that maladaptive perfectionism is
strongly associated with anxiety psychopathology. Through extension to Terry-Short et al.s theoreti-
cal distinction, maladaptive perfectionism (e.g. concern over mistakes, doubts over action and soci-
ally-prescribed perfectionism dimensions) closely parallels and lends itself to Negative Perfection-
ism.
In light of the connection between perfectionism and social anxiety, it would be logical to assess
the implications of other possible types of anxiety. Within the self-presentational framework, social
physique anxiety (SPA) is one type of social anxiety that has yet to be linked to perfectionism.
SPA relates to the anxiety experienced when an individual perceives that his/her body shape or
gure is being negatively evaluated by others (Hart, Leary & Rejeski, 1989). A number of studies
have shown that athletes and exercisers experience SPA in a variety of situations and contexts
(Crawford & Eklund, 1994; Hausenblas & Mack, 1999; Spink, 1992).
According to Schlenker and Leary (1982), individuals may set unrealistic high standards in
relation to their social performance, resulting in the inability and failure to be satised with how
they are regarded by others. Over a period of time, this excessive concern may be continually
reinforced through repeated failures of attempting to achieve the desired social performance and to
self-present to other important individuals in the perfectmanner. Through extension of Terry-
Short et al.s (1995) perfectionism distinction, Negative Perfectionism, not Positive Perfectionism,
should be closely related to social anxiety. By setting unrealistic high standards and attempting to
avoid failure in the perceived eyes of important others (whether in performance or physical shape
or appearance), athletes may experience more anxiety and concern about their physique due to the
possibility of failure to self-present according to their perceived perfectstandard. One purpose of
the present study, then, was to determine the relationship between perfectionism both positive
and negative and SPA (a specic physique or body social anxiety) among male and female
elite athletes.
Females consistently score signicantly higher in SPA than males (Hart et al., 1989; Martin &
Mack, 1996; McAuley, Bane, & Mihalko, 1995). Hence, it was suspected that in our current cul-
tures obsession for thinness and physical attractiveness, female athletes might pursue and struggle
with bodily perfection issues to a greater extent than their male counterparts (Brownell, 1991), and
in turn experience more anxiety about their physique if they fail to meet their high and unrealistic
standards. This proposition suggests that relations between the two constructs, Perfectionism and
SPA, should be more robust for females than males.
As also noted earlier, perfectionism has been identied as inuencing disordered eating in clinical
and student female groups (Davis, 1997; Hewitt, Flett, & Ediger, 1995). Insofar as athletes are
concerned, it has been suggested that athletes may share many of the same psychological factors
that have been implicated in the development of eating disorders within clinical populations. These
psychological factors include high levels of competitiveness (Borgen & Corbin, 1987), high empha-
sis on control (Slade, Newton, Butler, & Murphy, 1991), and perfectionist tendencies (Taub &
Benson, 1992). Athletes may also represent a high-risk population for disordered eating behaviour
because it is assumed they are exposed to body shape and weight pressures unique to sport (Leung,
212 A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
Geller, & Katzman, 1996). For instance, Striegel-Moore, Silberstein, and Rodin (1986) suggested
that sport, with its emphasis on obtaining an optimal weight for athletic performance, represents a
subculture that augments societys pressures to be thin.
The above arguments support the proposition that SPA may be an additional individual difference
factor in the development of disordered eating to consider in athletic populations. For instance, one
might expect eating pathologies to be related to self-presentational concerns involving the physique,
due to the close parallel between the two constructs. As previously mentioned, this relationship
may potentially stem from socio-cultural pressures to conform to the ideal’fit and toned image
(Striegel-Moore et al., 1986) and the desire to self-present in that manner. For example, SPA has
been shown to be related to important self-presentational motives for exercise that include exercising
for body tone, weight control and physical attractiveness (Crawford & Eklund, 1994; Eklund &
Crawford, 1994), which are the same underlying motives for developing and maintaining disordered
eating (cf. Leary, Tchividjian, & Kraxberger, 1994). In short, both SPA and disordered eating are
driven, at least in part, by self-presentational concerns about the appearance of ones physique.
Empirically, Chad and Spink (1996), Hausenblas and Mack (1999) and Reel and Gill (1996)
showed positive relations between SPA and disordered eating among female gymnasts, divers, and
cheerleaders, respectively (three groups where self-presentational concerns about ones physique are
a salient feature of the activity). These ndings were extended to other athletic groups through a
study of college athletes by Whitehead, Bratrud and Eklund (1998). Hence, a secondary purpose
of this study was to examine both the unique, and joint contribution of perfectionism and SPA in
predicting disordered eating among male and female athletes.
From a theoretical perspective, it seems reasonable to assume that SPA and perfectionism
relations with disordered eating might be stronger for females than males. For instance, girls are
praised more for physical appearance and boys for physical functioning such as athletic skills
(Striegel-Moore & Kearney-Cooke, 1994). It also has been suggested that perfectionism may be
relevant to understanding how physical attractiveness plays a role in the aetiology of disordered
eating behaviour (Davis, 1997; Davis, Claridge, & Fox, 2000). As previously mentioned, negative
perfectionistic individuals will tend to set excessively high and often unattainable standards in what-
ever goals assist them to achieve and validate their self-esteem this applies where physical
attractiveness is the main source of self-regard. Through extension, this proposition could be
extended such that as female athletesperfectionistic standards toward body shape and size are
unable to be met, SPA may occur, leading to the use of unhealthy eating to attempt to adjust the
body in line with the unrealistic goals.
Method
Participants
The sample consisted of 316 Australian elite athletes (females n=181 and males n=135) from a
number of different sports. The 135 male athletes competed in 14 sports (aerobics (n=2); archery
(n=5); basketball (n=12); cricket (n=16); cycling (n=1); diving (n=4); hockey (n=15); kayaking
(n=1); rowing (n=11); soccer (n=15); squash (n=6); volleyball (n=13); waterpolo (n=18); and wres-
tling (n=16). The 181 female athletes competed in 15 different sports (aerobics (n=6); archery (n=2);
213A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
basketball (n=9); cycling (n=2); diving (n=10); gymnastics (n=6); hockey (n=7); kayaking (n=2);
netball (n=34); rowing (n=25); soccer (n=47); squash (n=6); volleyball (n=13); and waterpolo
(n=12). Malesmean age was 19.33 years (SD=4.07) and femalesmean age was 18.54 (SD=4.11).
Measures
Positive and negative perfectionism
The Positive and Negative Perfectionism Scale (PANPS) was developed by Terry-Short et al.
(1995) to assess Positive and Negative Perfectionism two constructs that distinguish between
normaland neuroticperfectionism. The PANPS is a self-report measure where participants
respond to 20 Positive Perfectionism items and 20 Negative Perfectionism items on a 5-point Likert
type scale with anchors of strongly agreeto strongly disagree. A cut-off point for individuals at
risk of eating disorders is a score of 69 and above on the Negative Perfectionism subscale. Terry-
Short et al. reported initial factor and discriminant validity evidence for the scale. For instance, they
demonstrated that PANPS scores identied 86% of the clinically diagnosed eating disorder patient
group. Using a larger sample of rowers, Haase et al. (1999) showed the scale demonstrated accept-
able factor structure and internal consistency, as well as predictive validity.
1
In the present study,
Cronbachs alpha values were 0.84 for Positive Perfectionism and 0.83 for Negative Perfectionism.
Social physique anxiety
The Social Physique Anxiety Scale (SPAS) was originally designed by Hart et al. (1989) to
assess the trait of SPA anxiety associated with concerns that ones physique may be negatively
evaluated by others. The SPAS is a self-report inventory where participants respond to 12-items on
a 5-point Likert-type scale. Convergent validity has also been demonstrated by Hart et al. (1989),
who showed SPAS scores to be correlated with other measures involving evaluative concerns.
Recently, Martin, Rejeski, Leary, McAuley, and Bain (1997) suggested that three items (items 1,
2, and 5) be removed from the original inventory based on conrmatory analyses of the construct,
in order to produce a more parsimonious unidimensional scale. Furthermore, Motl and Conroy
(2000) provided additional evidence of factorial validity, factorial invariance and construct validity
for the unidimensional nine-item model of SPA. Hence, the nine-item version of the SPAS, as
described by Martin et al. (1997), was used in the present study. The reliability coefcient value
for the 9-item SPAS was a=0.87.
Eating attitudes
The Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-40) was developed by Garner and Garnkel (1979) to assess a
range of behaviours and attitudes related to eating disorders, specically anorexia nervosa and
bulimia nervosa. The EAT-40 is a self-report measure where participants respond to 40 items on
a 5-point Likert type scale. A score of 30 and above is commonly identied as a cut-off value
1
The factor structure of the PANPS from the data used in the present study was similar to that reported by Terry-Short et al. (1995)
and Haase et al. (1999). Specically, two coherent and interpretable factors representing positive (16-items) and negative (11-items)
perfectionism were found. When we re-computed the scales using the reduced number of items from the factor analysis virtually identical
results were found. Hence, we decided to retain the full scale. Both reduced and full Positive and Negative Perfectionism scales were
found to be mildly correlated (r0.30), hence they should not be considered completely orthogonal.
214 A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
identifying individuals with anorexia or bulimia (Garner & Garnkel, 1979; Garner, Olmsted, &
Polivy, 1983). Construct validity and internal consistency for the EAT-40 have been demonstrated
by Garner and Garnkel (1979). Cronbachs alpha in the present study was 0.88.
Social desirability
The Short Form of the MarloweCrowne Social Desirability Scale (MC-SDS) is a 13-item self-
report inventory developed by Reynolds (1982) to control for potential response repression and/or
distortion effects. A nominal (true/false) response format is used with the MC-SDS. Social desir-
ability also may be associated with self-reported anxiety (Hackfort & Schwenkmezger, 1989) and
eating attitude (Haase et al., 1999; Newton, Butler, & Slade, 1988) measures. Specically, elite
athletes completing self-report measures relating to eating disorders may potentially withhold truth-
ful responses due to fear of reprisal and restriction on competing if coaches become aware of the
athletesunhealthy eating attitudes and behaviours. Reynolds (1982) provided validity data for the
SDS via correlations with other social desirability scales, and also reported acceptable internal con-
sistency for the scale. Cronbachs alpha for the present study was 0.69.
Procedures
The PANPS, SPAS, EAT-40 and MC-SDS measures, along with a consent form and cover sheet
requesting demographic information, were distributed to Australian athletes at training sessions at
three Australian sport institutes (the Australian Institute of Sport, the South Australian Sport Insti-
tute, and the New South Wales Institute of Sport). Athletes participating in a number of different
sports were surveyed in order to increase the generalisability of the results. All the athletes were
competing at either the national or international level. Athletes were tested at least four weeks prior
to international competition to control for state anxiety levels.
Coaches from the sports represented at each institute were contacted to gain permission to distrib-
ute the questionnaires before any athlete contact was made. After informing the coaches of the
study, consent to distribute the questionnaires to the athletes was obtained from the coaches and
the sport psychologists at each institute. All the athletes were informed that completing the question-
naires was voluntary and completely anonymous and that their results would remain condential.
The completed questionnaires from those athletes who chose to participate were returned immedi-
ately to the investigator at each venue with an overall response rate of 90%. The questionnaires
were approved by the universitys ethics committee and were approved by the sport psychologists
at the three institutes of sport.
Results
In order to assess the relationship between Perfectionism and SPA, zero-order and rst order
(partial) correlations, controlling for social desirability, were conducted for both males and females.
In order to assess both the unique and joint contribution of Perfectionism and SPA to the prediction
of disordered eating, a series of hierarchical regression analyses for both males and females were
carried out with EAT scores serving as the dependent measure. The variables of interest were
215A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
entered in the order of social desirability, perfectionism (Positive and Negative), SPA, and nally
the interaction term of perfectionism X SPA.
Perfectionism and social physique anxiety relations
Descriptive statistics for males and females are presented in Table 1. Zero and rst-order (partial)
correlations between the variables are presented in Table 2. Results in Table 2 show for both males
and females that Negative Perfectionism was moderately and positively correlated with SPA. No
relationship was found between Positive Perfectionism and SPA.
Prediction of disturbed eating attitudes
Males
Hierarchical regression results are presented in Table 3. Results showed that, after controlling
for social desirability (step 1), the introduction of Positive Perfectionism and Negative Perfectionism
scores (step 2) made a signicant contribution to the prediction of EAT scores (Fchange
(3,127)=3.67, p0.05). Results showed that Positive Perfectionism increased the R
2
by 6% (see
Step 2 in Table 3). When SPA was added (step 3) to the equation, the change in R
2
was not
signicant (Fchange (4, 126)=1.05, p0.05). When the interaction terms (SPA×Positive Perfection-
ism and SPA×Negative Perfectionism) were added (step 4), the change in R
2
was not signicant (F
change (6, 124)=0.60, p0.05). These data show that Positive (healthy) Perfectionism, not Negative
(unhealthy) Perfectionism, is related to disturbed eating attitudes. Specically, as Positive Perfection-
ism increases in male athletes, disturbed eating attitudes and behaviours decrease. These data also
show that SPA failed to contribute independently or in combination with perfectionism to the predic-
tion of disturbed eating attitudes.
Females
Hierarchical regression results are presented in Table 4. Results showed that, after controlling
for social desirability (step 1), the introduction of Positive Perfectionism and Negative Perfectionism
scores (step 2) signicantly contributed to the prediction of EAT scores (Fchange (3, 170)=20.00,
Table 1
Means and standard deviations of the variables of interest for males and females
Variable Males (n=135) Females (n=181)
Mean SD Mean SD
Negative Perfectionism 52.20 9.39 51.97 10.08
Positive Perfectionism 75.49 8.05 76.30 8.29
Social Physique Anxiety
a
20.26 6.39 25.89 7.43
Eating Attitudes
b
10.00 7.89 14.51 12.15
Social Desirability 6.58 3.06 7.26 2.78
a
Signicant gender differences were found between Social Physique Anxiety, p0.001.
b
Signicant gender differences were found between Eating Attitudes, p0.001.
216 A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
Table 2
Zero- and rst-order correlations for the variables of interest in males and females
Zero-order correlations NP PP SPA EAT
Males (n=135)
Negative Perfectionism
Positive Perfectionism 0.24**
Social Physique Anxiety 0.45*** 0.08
Eating Attitudes 0.09 0.19* 0.00
Social Desirability 0.02 0.00 0.23** 0.02
Females (n=181)
Negative Perfectionism
Positive Perfectionism 0.22**
Social Physique Anxiety 0.41*** 0.06
Eating Attitudes 0.43*** 0.21** 0.49***
Social Desirability 0.21** 0.01 0.27*** 0.12
First-order (partial)
correlations
Controlling for SD NP PP SPA EAT
Males (n=135)
Negative Perfectionism
Positive Perfectionism 0.25**
Social Physique Anxiety 0.41*** 0.08
Eating Attitudes 0.08 0.19* 0.00
Females (n=181)
Negative Perfectionism
Positive Perfectionism 0.23**
Social Physique Anxiety 0.38*** 0.06
Eating Attitudes 0.42*** 0.21** 0.48***
Note: *p0.05; **p0.01; ***p0.001. PP is Positive Perfectionism, NP is Negative Perfectionism, SPA is Social
Physique Anxiety, EAT is Eating Attitudes Test, and SD is Social Desirability.
p0.001). Results showed that Negative Perfectionism increased the R
2
by 19% (see Step 2 in
Table 4). When SPA was added (step 3) to the equation, the change in R
2
was signicant (Fchange
(4, 169)=29.79, p0.001). Results at step 3 showed that SPA increased the R
2
by 12%. When the
interaction terms (SPA×Positive Perfectionism and SPA×Negative Perfectionism) were introduced
into the equation (step 4), the change in R
2
was signicant (Fchange (6, 167)=13.47, p0.001).
The interaction term of Negative Perfectionism×SPA increased the R
2
by 9%.
These data, taken together, show that Negative Perfectionism and SPA uniquely and in combi-
nation explain 41% of the response variance in disturbed eating attitudes in females. To further
elucidate the nature of the interaction between Negative Perfectionism and SPA in predicting dis-
turbed eating attitudes, female athletes were subdivided on the basis of SPA scores. Two regression
analyses were then computed: one with athletes scoring high (the top 25% of the distribution) on
SPA and the other with athletes scoring low (the bottom 25% of the distribution) on SPA. With
female athletes scoring high on SPA, the analysis revealed a signicant positive relationship between
Negative Perfectionism and disturbed eating attitudes (R=0.56, F(3,43)=11.82, p0.001). On the
217A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
Table 3
Hierarchical regression analysis examining relationships between Social Desirability, Positive and Negative Perfection-
ism, Social Physique Anxiety and Eating Attitudes for males
Prediction of Disturbed Eating Attitudes
BtRR
2
R
2
change
Step 1
Social Desirability 0.02 0.00 0.00
Step 2
Social Desirability 0.03 0.28
Perfectionism
Positive 0.23 2.53* 0.24 0.06 0.06*
Negative 0.15 1.58
Step 3
Social Desirability
Perfectionism
Positive
Negative
SPA 0.25 0.01 0.01
Step 4
Social Desirability
Perfectionism
Positive
Negative
SPA
Interaction Terms 0.26 0.01 0.01
PP×SPA
NP×SPA
Note: *p0.05. PP is Positive Perfectionism, NP is Negative Perfectionism, and SPA is Social Physique Anxiety.
other hand, with female athletes scoring low on SPA,the analysis revealed a non-signicant relation-
ship (R=0.08, F(3,35)=0.97, p0.05). In short, these data provide evidence that females with higher
SPA scores and higher Negative Perfectionism are more likely to exhibit disturbed eating attitudes.
Discussion
One purpose of the present study was to determine the relationship between perfectionism
both positive and negative and SPA (a specic physique or body social anxiety) among male
and female elite athletes. Our results showed that for both males and females, Negative Perfection-
ism was moderately and positively correlated with SPA, while Positive Perfectionism was unrelated
to SPA (see Table 2). These ndings are consistent with previous research that has shown maladap-
tive perfectionism (e.g. socially-prescribed perfectionism, concern over mistakes, doubts about
action), and not positive striving perfectionism (e.g. personal standards, organisation), is more related
to various types of anxiety (Hall et al., 1998; Hewitt & Flett, 1991a; Saboonchi & Lundh, 1997).
These ndings raise a number of issues. Firstly, contrary to what was expected, both male and
218 A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
Table 4
Hierarchical regression analysis examining relationships between Social Desirability, Positive and Negative Perfection-
ism, Social Physique Anxiety and Eating Attitudes for females
Prediction of Disturbed Eating Attitudes
BtRR
2
R
2
change
Step 1
Social Desirability 0.12 0.01 0.01
Step 2
Social Desirability
Perfectionism
Positive
Negative 0.45 0.20*** 0.19***
Step 3
Social Desirability
Perfectionism
Positive
Negative
SPA 0.57 0.32*** 0.12***
Step 4
Social Desirability 0.35 2.55*
Perfectionism
Positive 3.02 1.67
Negative 5.19 2.65**
SPA 0.11 0.09
Interaction Terms
PP×SPA 3.36 1.49
NP×SPA 5.42 2.75*** 0.71 0.51* 0.10*
Note: *p0.05; **p0.01; ***p0.001. PP is Positive Perfectionism, NP is Negative Perfectionism, and SPA is
Social Physique Anxiety.
female athletes showed the same pattern of results between Negative Perfectionism and SPA.
Although our SPA data support previous studies (Hart et al., 1989) that showed females report
higher levels of SPA compared to males (see Table 1), these differences did not inuence the within
group relationships between the variables. As previously mentioned, it was suspected that within
our current cultures obsession for thinness and physical attractiveness, female athletes might pursue
and struggle with bodily perfection issues to a greater extent than their male counterparts (Brownell,
1991), and in turn experience more anxiety about their physique if they fail to meet their high
unrealistic standards. We, therefore, expected relations between the two constructs Perfectionism
and SPA to be more robust for females than males. Given our unexpected results, future research
is warranted to understand the Negative PerfectionismSPA relationship.
Secondly, what is the causal relationship between Negative Perfectionism and SPA? According
to Leary and Kowalskis (1990) impression management model, people experience social anxiety
when they are motivated to make a particular impression on others but doubt whether they will be
successful. This model is consistent with the tenet that perfectionism leads to SPA. By setting
unrealistic high standards and attempting to avoid perceived failure in the eyes of important others
219A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
(whether in performance or physical shape or appearance), these athletes may experience more
anxiety and concern about their physique due to the possibility of failure to self-present according
to their perceived perfectstandard. In contrast, Horney (1950) offers an alternative explanation.
Horney proposed that insecurity and apprehension as basic anxietyfosters the development of
perfectionist tendencies as a means of coping with the anxiety.
A second purpose of the present study was to determine the extent to which perfectionism and
SPA contribute to the prediction of disordered eating. As expected, differences were found between
male and female athletes. For male athletes, Negative Perfectionism and SPA made no contribution
to the prediction of disturbed eating attitudes (see Table 3). We can only conjecture that perhaps
males may address their SPA and Negative Perfectionism through other means (e.g. aggression or
social withdrawal) than body weight regulation through food management practice. Or perhaps,
these other mechanisms (aggression or social withdrawal) may allow male athletes to handle the
anxiety experienced when attempting to present the perfectideal physique image.
A mild inverse relationship, however, was found between Positive Perfectionism and disturbed
eating attitudes among male athletes (see Table 3). To date, there have been few systematic studies
into normal (healthy) perfectionism. It is possible that male athletes demonstrating high Positive
Perfectionism may predispose them to manage and self-regulate their eating behaviour in a more
healthy manner. It is also possible that high levels of Positive Perfectionism may act through an
indirect mechanism to reduce the risk of developing disordered eating in elite male athletes. That
is, relations between Negative Perfectionism and disordered eating may be reduced under conditions
where levels of Positive Perfectionism are high. This nding lends support to the need for further
understanding of the reinforcement of Positive Perfectionism in male athletes. Unfortunately, it was
beyond the scope of the present study to shed light on this issue. From an intervention perspective,
this would suggest that resiliency against unhealthy eating could be increased by teaching athletes
how to develop and maintain high levels of Positive Perfectionism and cautioning against Negative
Perfectionism. Intervention with this goal in mind is a worthy topic for future research, not only
in relation to disordered eating, but also for other psychopathologies (e.g. depression).
For female athletes, results showed that both Negative Perfectionism and SPA made a unique
and combined contribution to the prediction of disturbed eating attitudes (see Table 4). Specically,
females with higher SPA scores and higher Negative Perfectionism were more likely to exhibit
disturbed eating attitudes. These ndings raise some important issues. Firstly, what are the underly-
ing mechanisms for the effect observed? For instance, female athletes with higher Negative Perfec-
tionism and SPA may resort to disordered eating to cope with their inability to self-present their
perfectideal physique image, since disordered eating tends to be a frequent coping mechanism
for females according to socio-cultural theory (Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann, and Ahrens, 1992). On
the other hand, female athletes may engage in unhealthy pathological eating patterns in order to
compensate for their inability to achieve the desired perfectphysique, yet suffer anxiety when
unable to accomplish this. In a previous study, Davis et al. (2000) suggested that perfectionism on
its own does not necessarily act as a risk factor in the development of eating disorders. Davis et
al. demonstrated that weight preoccupation in combination with neurotic perfectionism may result
in disordered eating. Our ndings indirectly support this position.
The above suggestions concerning the underlying mechanisms for the effect observed are, of
course, speculative. Further work is needed to clarify the directionality of relations between the
individual difference variables used in the present study (i.e. Perfectionism and SPA) and disordered
220 A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
eating. Previous research, and present study, have employed correlational designs and have therefore
not shed light on the causal relationship between these constructs. From a theoretical perspective,
Slade (1982) has proposed a model where the need to control serves as the mechanism through
which disordered eating develops. Through this model, it is suggested that potential trigger factors
act on this need for control (e.g. perfectionism and low self-esteem). We suggest that social-cultural
pressures to t a prescribed image leading to high SPA may be another trigger factor to consider
within this framework.
A further issue relates to the translation of disturbed eating attitudes into psychopathology. Of
the 316 participants in the present study, only 7% (22 athletes) scored above the 30 point cut-off
on the EAT for identifying individuals at risk of developing an eating disorder (Garner & Garnkel,
1979). However, 11% (20) of the female athletes exhibited EAT scores above the cut-off value. Of
those female athletes with higher Negative Perfectionism and higher SPA, 86% demonstrated EAT
scores similar to clinical populations. Clearly, the combination of Negative Perfectionism and high
SPA in female athletes presents a strong argument for these two variables to be considered important
in the development of disordered eating. It remains unclear, however, whether the observed eating
attitude concerns reect psychological abnormalities or unusual performance-driven weight manage-
ment practices. The present results, however, suggest that there may be value in considering motiv-
ational aspects of perfectionism and SPA in identifying those elite athletes potentially at risk for
developing disordered eating.
Consideration also needs to be given to the specic sport of the athletes and of the self-presen-
tational concerns potentially couched within that sport. For example, some athletes wear revealing
attire and success, in part, is due to the ability to convey physical impressions of beauty and grace
to the judges. Such issues may be associated with adopting unhealthy eating attitudes and behav-
iours. In reference to disordered eating, Hausenblas and Carron (1999) and Smolak, Murnen, and
Ruble (2000) conducted meta-analyses on studies relating to athletes and disordered eating, demon-
strating that disordered eating occurs slightly more frequently in athletes than non-athletes. However,
differences were greater in female athletes from certain sports, specically sports requiring a lean
physique. Hence, it is possible that sports where the physique is under scrutiny (e.g. aerobics, diving,
gymnastics) may inuence Negative Perfectionism and SPA relations, as well as relations between
these variables and disordered eating. Unfortunately, the small representation of athletes sampled
from these sports prevented exploration of this issue.
In conclusion, this study highlights the importance of Negative Perfectionism affecting SPA in
both male and female athletes. Furthermore, this study provides some evidence for the consideration
of the impact of both Negative Perfectionism and SPA as two important psychosocial constructs
that may inuence disordered eating in elite female athletes.
Acknowledgements
This research was supported by an AustraliaNew Zealand Sport Exchange Program Grant from
Sport Science New Zealand and the Hillary Commission. A special note of thanks to the sport
psychologists at all the institutes of sport involved with this exchange program.
221A.M. Haase et al. / Psychology of Sport and Exercise 3 (2002) 209222
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