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Abstract

The standards that a person pursue in life can be set in a rigid or flexible way. The recent literature has emphasized a distinction between high and realistic standards of excellence, from high and unrealistic standards of perfection. In two studies, we investigated the role of striving towards excellence (i.e., excellencism) and striving towards perfection (i.e., perfectionism) in relation to divergent thinking, associative thinking, and openness to experience, general self‐efficacy, and creative self‐beliefs. In Study 1, 279 university students completed three divergent thinking items, which called for creative uses of two common objects and to name original things which make noise. A measure of openness to experience was included. Results from multiple regression indicated that participants pursuing excellence tended to generate more answers and more original ones compared with those pursuing perfection. Openness to experience was positively associated to excellencism and negatively associated to perfectionism. In Study 2 (n = 401 university students), we replicated these findings and extended them to associative tasks requiring participants to generate chains of unrelated words. Additional individual differences measures included general self‐efficacy, creative self‐efficacy, and creative personal identity. The results suggested that excellencism was associated with better performance on divergent thinking and associative tasks, compared with perfectionism. Excellencism was positively associated with all four personality variables, whereas perfectionism was significantly and negatively associated with openness to experience only. Implications for the distinction between perfectionism and excellencism with respect to creative indicators are discussed. In addition, the paradoxical finding that perfection strivers had high creative self‐efficacy and creative personal identity but lower openness to experience and poorer performance on objective indicators of creative abilities is discussed.
Running head:
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 0
Is Perfectionism a Killer of Creative Thinking? A Test of the Model of Excellencism
and Perfectionism
Jean-Christophe Goulet-Pelletier1, Patrick Gaudreau*1, and Denis Cousineau1
1 University of Ottawa
*Corresponding author information: Patrick Gaudreau, Université d'Ottawa, 136 Jean-
Jacques Lussier, K1N 6N5, Ottawa, Canada, (email: patrick.gaudreau@uottawa.ca).
This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative
document published in the British Journal of Psychology. Please do not copy or cite
without the author’s permission. The final article is available, upon publication, at
https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12530
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 1
Abstract:
The standards that a person pursue in life can be set in a rigid or flexible way. The recent
literature has emphasized a distinction between high and realistic standards of excellence,
from high and unrealistic standards of perfection. In two studies, we investigated the role
of striving toward excellence (i.e., excellencism) and striving toward perfection (i.e.,
perfectionism) in relation to divergent thinking, associative thinking, and openness to
experience, general self-efficacy, and creative self-beliefs. In Study 1, 279 university
students completed three divergent thinking items which called for creative uses of two
common objects and original things which make noise. A measure of openness to
experience was included. Results from multiple regression indicated that participants
pursuing excellence tended to generate more answers and more original ones compared to
those pursuing perfection. Openness to experience was positively associated to
excellencism and negatively associated to perfectionism. In Study 2 (n = 401 university
students), we replicated these findings and extended them to non-creative associative
tasks requiring participants to generate chains of unrelated words. Additional individual
differences measures included general self-efficacy, creative self-efficacy, and creative
personal identity. The results suggested that excellencism was associated with better
performance on divergent thinking and associative tasks, compared to perfectionism.
Excellencism was positively associated with all four personality variables, whereas
perfectionism was significantly and negatively associated with openness to experience
only. Implications for the distinction between perfectionism and excellencism with
respect to creative indicators are discussed. In addition, the paradoxical finding that
perfection strivers had high creative self-efficacy and creative personal identity but lower
openness to experience and poorer performance on objective indicators of creative
abilities is discussed.
Keywords:
Perfectionism; Excellencism; Divergent Thinking; Associative thinking; Openness to
experience; Self-Efficacy; Creativity
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 2
Is Perfectionism a Killer of Creative Thinking? A Test of the Model of Excellencism and
Perfectionism
Many bloggers describe perfectionism as a “killer of creativity”. Despite this
widespread claim, research on the relationship between perfectionism and creativity has
been rare and yielded inconsistent findings. There are reasons to believe that
perfectionism could either impede or facilitate creativity. On the one hand, the flexibility,
openness to experience, and tolerance of mistakes needed to be creative are lacking from
perfectionists (e.g., Somov, 2010). On the other hand, producing novel and useful
creative work is neither easy nor effortless. Creative achievement requires commitment
and perseverance (e.g., Amabile, 2001) which are well characterized in perfectionists.
Creative people are often hard-working individuals and their aiming and striving toward
high standards is considered a key factor in their creative success (Simonton, 2014).
In the current research, we proposed that a differentiation between the pursuit of
perfectionistic standards and the pursuit of excellence is needed to clarify whether
perfectionism is harmful or beneficial to the creative process. Based on a recently
developed theory the Model of Excellencism and Perfectionism (MEP; Gaudreau, 2019)
our primary goal was to clarify whether excellencism is sufficient or if perfectionistic
standards offers incremental benefits in the production of creative ideas. We assessed an
academic perfectionism and excellencism in Study 1 and a dispositional trait of
perfectionism and excellencism in Study 2. This stand in contrast to a measurement of
perfectionism and excellencism tailored to a creative pursuit (e.g., perfectionism in arts).
Our choice was motivated by our interest for academic and dispositional variables (e.g.,
academic perfectionism) in relation to creative indicators relevant to academia (e.g.,
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 3
intellectual or semantic creativity). Across two studies, relying on different but
complementary methods, we investigated whether academic and dispositional
perfectionism were a killer of creative abilities.
The Model of Excellencism and Perfectionism
Perfectionism is generally defined as “a personality disposition characterized by
striving for flawlessness and setting exceedingly high standards of performance
accompanied by overly critical evaluations of one’s behavior” (Stoeber et al., 2015, p.
171; see also Frost et al., 1990; Hewitt & Flett, 1991). This definition, which is largely
accepted by researchers, entails that perfectionism is a multidimensional construct with
two broad dimensions: perfectionistic standards (also called personal standards
perfectionism or perfectionistic strivings) and perfectionistic concerns (also called
evaluative concerns or self-critical perfectionism). The former dimension, perfectionistic
standards, captures the aiming and striving toward extremely high and strict standards
the relentless pursuit of flawlessness. The latter dimension, perfectionistic concerns,
captures the tendency to evaluate oneself according to those standards (i.e., self-worth
contingencies), responsible for the many doubts, worries over mistakes, and perceived
social pressure attached to perfectionism.
Perfectionistic standards and perfectionistic concerns are differentially related to
numerous personality, behavioral and emotional factors (Hill & Curran, 2016; Smith et
al., 2016, 2018). First, effects of perfectionistic standards are usually mixed and
ambiguous. For example, this dimension has a medium-size positive effect with academic
achievement (Madigan, 2019) but also much weaker yet clinically meaningful positive
effects with psychopathologies (Limburg et al., 2017), bulimic symptoms (Kehayes et al.,
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 4
2019) , and suicidal ideations (Smith, Sherry, et al., 2018). This pattern of findings
explains why the perfectionistic standards dimension has often been described as a
double-edge sword (Stoeber, 2014). Mixed findings might be in part attributable to a
loose definition of perfectionistic standards; one that conflates the pursuit of perfection
with the pursuit of excellence (Gaudreau, 2019; Osenk et al., 2020). Second, the effects
of perfectionistic concerns are clearer, indicating an unhealthy pattern of associations.
Meta-analytic results indicated that perfectionistic concerns have significant medium-size
positive associations with employees’ workaholism, burnout, stress, anxiety, depression,
and reduced engagement (Harari et al., 2018).
Measures of perfectionistic standards have not clearly differentiated high
standards from perfectionistic standards (e.g., Blasberg et al., 2016). This premise has
inspired the development of the Model of Excellencism and Perfectionism (MEP) in
which Gaudreau (2019) formalized the difference between the pursuit of excellence (i.e.,
excellence standards) and the pursuit of perfection (i.e., perfectionistic standards).
Gaudreau argued that excellencism and perfectionistic standards are related but different
constructs. Although both characterize individuals with high need for achievement, their
goal setting and goal striving sharply differ. Excellence can be attained without reaching
perfection. In contrast, perfection inexorably goes beyond excellence. Said otherwise, in
excellencism, reaching excellence is largely satisfying, whereas in perfectionism,
satisfaction comes only after perfection has been reached over and above the attainment
of excellence. Words such as very good, competent, accomplished, successful, great, and
capable are prototypical expressions closely tied to the pursuit of excellence. Based on
these assertions, the MEP defines excellencism as a tendency to aim and strive toward
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 5
very high yet attainable standards in an effortful, engaged, and determined yet flexible
manner” (Gaudreau, 2019, p. 200). An example item measuring excellencism would be
“my goal is to produce high quality work”. Perfectionism is more grueling and involves a
form of aiming and striving that goes beyond excellence. Many words such as
disproportionate, extreme, needless, too much, unreasonable, flawlessness, faultlessness,
and exactness are part of the additional and exaggerated characteristics that separate
perfectionism from excellencism. Therefore, the MEP defines perfectionism as a
“tendency to aim and strive toward idealized, flawless, and excessively high standards in
a relentless manner” (Gaudreau, 2019, p. 200). An example item measuring
perfectionism would be “my goal is to produce error-free work”. Excellencism and
perfectionistic standards are defined as distinct but correlated constructs because those
who pursue excellence only pursue excellence whereas those who pursue perfection have
to pursue excellence in their quest toward perfection. Furthermore, only perfection
strivers are expected to experience the many doubts about their actions and evaluative
concerns that generally accompany the pursuit of perfectionistic standards. As such, the
MEP reiterates that perfectionism is a multidimensional construct as perfection strivers
should often experience the many cognitive (e.g., doubts, concerns), socio-cognitive (e.g.,
perceived pressure), and socio-behavioral expressions (e.g., showing perfection to others)
that are often accompanying the pursuit of perfection (Gaudreau, 2021).
The distinction between the pursuit of excellence and the pursuit of perfection has
been discussed many times (e.g., Greenspon, 2000; Missildine, 1963) but never
integrated in a model of perfectionism. Consequently, the effects of excellencism have
potentially contaminated the effect sizes toward healthy outcomes known to be associated
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 6
with perfectionism (Osenk et al., 2020). This situation has recently been found to occur
with academic achievement (see BLINDED), where the commonly found positive
association between perfectionistic standards and academic achievement disappeared
once excellencism was statistically accounted for. Overall, the MEP proposes that
excellencism is a more precise point of reference to evaluate the effects associated with
perfectionism. If perfectionism standards are beneficial, they should relate to positive
outcomes over and above the effect of excellencism. Only in this case we can assert that
perfectionism is a healthy pursuit.
Perfectionism and Creativity
Studies on the associations between perfectionism and creativity are scant
considering the extensive literature dedicated to perfectionism and creativity separately
(e.g., Fletcher & Speirs Neumeister, 2017; Starley, 2019). Reviewing the literature on
perfectionism and subjective or objective measurement of creativity reveals that
perfectionistic standards is often positively associated with creative indicators, whereas
perfectionistic concerns is mostly uncorrelated with creative indicators.
We searched in the literature for studies examining the relation between
perfectionism and creativity and listed 15 studies in 12 articles that we report in Table 1.
This is not a systematic literature review but we searched databases (e.g., PsycInfo,
Googles) using the truncated keywords *creativity and *perfectionism between 1990 and
2020, and we also perused the reference sections of retrieved articles to complement our
review. We kept the articles published in English that reported a bivariate correlation
between perfectionism and subjective or objective criteria of creativity. Rather than
writing a narrative review (the most frequent approach in an empirical article), we closely
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 7
examined the correlations in order to detect trends across studies. These studies reported
a total of 35 correlations, across 12 samples, between indicators of perfectionistic
concerns and creativity. Of this number, 21 correlations (60%) were in the range of -.10
to +.10. Among the remaining 14 correlations, an equal amount of positive (above .10)
and negative (below .10) correlations were observed. Overall, the relationship between
perfectionistic concerns is also largely heterogeneous and more often null.
1
Reviewing a total of 21 correlations, across 12 samples, between indicators of
perfectionistic standards and creativity revealed that eight correlations (36%) were
negligible (i.e., in the range of ‒.10 and +.10). Among the remaining 13 correlations,
negative effects (below ‒.10) were found in three cases (14%) whereas positive effects
(beyond .10) were found in 10 cases (48%). Note that some studies had multiple
measures of creativity and therefore contributed more than once to these summary
estimates. Overall, the relationship between perfectionistic standards can more aptly be
considered heterogeneous across samples rather than positive, even if it is more
frequently positive than negative.
2
1
When we average the correlations per sample, we find five samples with a negligible mean correlation
(between -.10 and +.10), five with a negative mean correlation, and two with a positive mean correlation.
The meta-analytical estimates were heterogeneous. Fixed effect: r = -.010, 95% CI = [-.044, .023],
heterogeneity Q (11) = 54.499, p < .001, I square = 79.816. Random effect: r = -.037, 95% CI = [-.122,
.048).
2
When we average the correlations per sample, we find three samples with a negligible mean correlation
(between -.10 and +.10), three with a negative mean correlation, and six with a positive mean correlation.
The meta-analytical estimates showed a null correlation. Fixed: r = -.009, 95% CI = [-.040, .023],
heterogeneity Q (11) = 77.925, p < .001, I square = 79.816. Random effect: r = -.047, 95% CI = [-.130,
.036]. After removing the four samples that focused on attitudinal flexibility, the correlation turned
positive. Fixed: r = .156, 95% CI = [.122, .191], heterogeneity Q (7) = 39.199, p < .001, I square = 82.142.
Random effect: r = .181, 95% CI = [.088, .271].
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 8
The Current Studies
Past studies yielded inconsistent findings regarding the association between
perfectionism and creativity. In the current research, we addressed this point by
differentiating perfectionism from excellencism. We conducted the first two empirical
studies to investigate whether perfectionistic standards has a beneficial, insignificant, or
harmful association with creative abilities over and above excellencism. Both studies
relied on tests of divergent thinking to capture participant’s potential in generating
creative ideas. Tests of divergent thinking are far from being perfect indicators of creative
potential. Notably, the low inter-correlations between various tests of divergent thinking
(Runco et al., 2016) and the various coding procedures that exist (Reiter-Palmon et al.,
2019) have contributed to a skepticism regarding those tests. Despite evidence for their
predictive and discriminant validity (Cramond et al., 2016; Runco & Acar, 2012; Zeng et
al., 2011), and improvement regarding the coding methods (Reiter-Palmon et al., 2019),
the ecological and conceptual validity of those tests are still disputed on the basis that
they seldom assess the appropriateness of ideas generated, a necessary criterion for
creative ideas. Moreover, these tasks usually mitigate the influence of expertise,
motivation, and other components of the creative process on the scores (Zeng et al.,
2011). Researchers have stressed the fact that divergent thinking tests are estimates of a
creative thinking potential, and are not synonymous with creative thinking per se. Under
this premise, divergent thinking tests are considered valid estimate of creative thinking
potential (Runco & Acar, 2012).
Study 2 took a complementary approach and included two non-creative tasks of
associative abilities requiring the generation of words unrelated to each other. Moreover,
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 9
Study 2 included self-reported indicators of creativity to further test the role of
excellencism and perfectionism on creative potential (Guilford, 1967). Self-reported
indicators of creativity can inform researchers about a participant’s creative potential due
to the influence of self-beliefs on subsequent motivation, interest, and effort investment
(Karwowski & Barbot, 2016).
Study 1
In Study 1, we measured academic perfectionism and excellencism. The data
presented here is part of a larger study that examined the associations between academic
motivation and divergent thinking (BLINDED). Perfectionism has previously been
studied at both the domain-specific and dispositional levels of analysis and the results
have typically been highly similar across those two levels (e.g., Franche & Gaudreau,
2016; Madigan, 2019). In Study 1, we explored the performance of excellence and
perfection strivers on three divergent thinking tasks. The tasks required participants to
generate creative uses for a brick, a journal, and to name things that make noise (Wallach
& Kogan, 1965). The personality trait openness to experience was included as a potential
way to discriminate between excellence and perfection strivers. Openness to experience
is a robust predictor of various creativity indicators, including divergent thinking (e.g.,
Carson et al., 2005; da Costa et al., 2015; Feist, 1998). Open individuals are characterized
by their intellectual and sensorial curiosity, non-conformity, and sensitivity. We expected
excellence strivers to perform better on divergent thinking tasks than perfection strivers
and concurrently to manifest higher openness toward experience.
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 10
Method
Participants
We used Bosco et al. (2015) correlational effect size benchmark of .160 (50th
percentile of the distribution of 147,328 correlations published between 1980 and 2010 in
two leading applied psychology journals) with the G*Power software to estimate the
required sample size given statistical power (1- > .80), two-tailed significance test ( <
.05), and effect size (r = .160; f2 = .026) in a multiple regression with two predictors. In
light of this estimation, we aimed to recruit 300 participants.
The final sample was composed of 279 (72.7% female) undergraduate students
from a Canadian university in the province of Ontario. From the initial 297 participants,
17 were excluded due to large amount of missing data (>40%) and another was removed
because this participant provided the same answer to multiple questions in a row. No
multivariate outlier was detected after Mahalanobis inspection (p > .001, df = 5).
Participants’ age ranged from 17 to 54 years old (M = 20.0; SD = 4.5). They identified as
White (56.6%), Asian (12.2%), Arabic (7.2%), Black (11.1%), Aboriginal (1.4%),
Hispanic (2.2%), or other or mixed ethnicity (9%). Academic faculties represented
included social sciences (45.3%), natural sciences (21.9%), health sciences (20.9%), arts
(5%), management (4%), engineering (1.4%), and other (0.4%). They received one point
toward their introductory psychology course.
Procedures and Measures
Participants answered socio-demographic questions and completed online
questionnaires and tasks which assessed their personality, degree of academic
perfectionism and excellencism, and divergent thinking abilities. Four additional
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 11
questionnaires (academic motivation, stress management, a scale of creative domains,
and electronic devices use), unrelated to the purpose of the current study, were also part
of the questionnaire completed by participants. The whole procedure took about 40
minutes to complete.
Excellencism and Perfectionism. The constructs of excellencism and
perfectionism as defined in the MEP (Gaudreau, 2019) were assessed using the
SCOPE scale (22 items, Gaudreau & Schellenberg, 2018). Excellencism refers to the
pursuit of excellence, whereas perfectionism refers to the pursuit of perfectionistic
standards. In this study, participants referred to their goals as university students. Items
were preceded with the stem “My goal at school is…”. Examples items for excellencism
are “…to perform very well and “…to be very productive”. Examples items for
perfectionism are “…to perform perfectly and “…to be exceptionally productive all the
time”. Participants rated their answer on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (totally).
Average scores of excellencism and perfectionism were computed from their respective
eleven items. The two-factor structure of the SCOPE, as well as its convergent and
divergent validity, and internal reliability were demonstrated in a recent validation study
across seven samples (BLINDED). Internal consistency of the scores of excellencism (
= .98) and perfectionism ( = .98) was high in our sample. The internal consistency of a
shorter version of this scale having half the number of items (10 items in total) has been
reported to be = .84 for excellencism and = .94 for perfectionism in a study by Cheek
and Goebel (2020), thus suggesting good reliability of the constructs even with fewer
items.
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 12
Divergent Thinking (DT). Participants were instructed to come up with as many
creative answers as they could to the following three items: 1) Tell us all the different
ways you could use a newspaper, 2) Tell us all the different ways you could use a
brick, and 3) Name all the things you can think of that make noise (Wallach & Kogan,
1965). Participants were allotted five minutes per item. The originality of answers was
evaluated by two judges based on the subjective scoring guidelines of Silvia and
colleagues (2008). Answers were ranked in alphabetic order prior to being judged by two
graduate students. The judges were asked to give a score from 1 (not creative at all) to 5
(highly creative) to the best two answers (according to the judges) of each participant.
The two scores were then averaged into a single score and further averaged across both
judges which provided a global score of originality. Answers that were uncommon,
remote or clever were given a higher score of originality A global score of fluency was
also computed by counting the number of answers provided (quantitatively) and
averaging these counts across the three items. The inter-rater reliability (intraclass
coefficients) for the originality scores ranged from .80 to .83. The correlations between
DT items ranged from .42 to .54 for the originality scores (α = .73) and from .59 to .73
for the fluency scores (α = .72).
Openness to Experience. Openness to experience was assessed using the IPIP-
NEO inventory (24 items; Goldberg, 1999). This questionnaire measures openness to
experience from six sub-domains: imagination, artistic interests, emotionality,
adventurousness, intellect, and liberalism. The factorial structure of this scale has been
found to be acceptable through principal components analyses (Johnson, 2014). Relevant
to the current study, only one sub-domain, namely emotionality, did not load primarily on
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 13
its expected component in this validation study, but rather on neuroticism. We computed
a global score by averaging all the items. An example item for the artistic-interest sub-
domain is I believe in the importance of art”. An example item for the intellect sub-
domain is “I love to read challenging materials. Participants responded on a scale from 1
(very inaccurate) to 5 (very accurate). Internal reliability for this scale was acceptable (α
= .77) and similar to the findings of Johnson (2014; α = .83).
Plan of Analyses
In the preliminary analyses, we examined the descriptive statistics and simple
correlations. The main analyses report a multivariate multiple regression model whereby
the continuous score (from 1 to 7) of perfectionism and excellencism simultaneously
predict the three dependant variables originality, fluency, and openness to experience (for
a total of 20 parameters). Analyses were performed in Mplus 7 with Full Information
Maximum Likelihood (FIML) estimator. The model, allowing for covariances between
the three dependent variables, is fully saturated (all links estimated as in a traditional
regression-like model) and rely on manifest variables. The two predictors were centered
to facilitate calculation of predicted values for three subtypes of strivers.
For each dependent variable, we used the coefficients from the regression (i.e.,
intercept and unstandardized beta) to calculate the predicted values for subtypes of
strivers with the methodological guidelines of the MEP (Gaudreau, 2012, 2019). As
defined and operationalized in the MEP, the subtypes represent individuals characterized
by their high or low levels of excellencism and perfectionism, namely perfection strivers
(+1 SD above the mean on both perfectionism and excellencism), excellence strivers (1
SD below the mean of perfectionism and +1 SD above the mean of excellencism), and
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 14
non-perfection/non-excellence strivers (1 SD below the mean of perfectionism and
excellencism). This approach, which has been frequently used in the perfectionism
literature (Hill & Madigan, 2017), is advantageous because predicted values are obtained
and compared within the confines of the multiple regression, rather than by artificially
dividing participants in subgroups (as in a median-split approach). This maintains
statistical power while avoiding artificial dichotomization of the predictors in ways that
often create spurious effects that fail to replicate across samples (e.g., Bissonnette et al.,
1990; Streiner, 2002). We computed 95% difference-adjusted confidence intervals from
the standard errors of the regression coefficients (Cousineau, 2017; Cumming & Finch,
2005; Goldstein & Healy, 1995). Moreover, a standardized difference effect size was
obtained from the subtraction of two predicted values divided by the standard deviation
of the dependent variable (e.g., d = [pred. value perfection strivers pred. value
excellence strivers] / SD of the dependent variable; Gaudreau, 2012). We computed 95%
confidence intervals for the Cohen’s d effect sizes via bias-corrected bootstrap
procedures with 10,000 resampling (Efron & Tibshirani, 1993).
Results
Preliminary Analyses
The percentage of missing values ranged from 0% to 1.8% (for the originality
score). The missing values on originality were participants who either provided no
answer or non-serious answers according to the judges. Missing values were missing
completely at random (Little's MCAR test: χ2 (11) = 5.74, p = .89). FIML estimator
handled missing values in Mplus using all available information to estimate the model.
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 15
The descriptive statistics and correlation coefficients for the main variables are
reported in Table 2. We see that fluency is strongly non-normally distributed with large
skewness. This is expected as this measure has no upper limit. Excellencism and
perfectionism were substantially correlated with one another (r = .51, p < .001), which is
consistent with the idea that they are empirically related but conceptually distinct
pursuits. Similarly, the scores of originality and fluency from the divergent thinking tasks
were correlated (r = .62, p < .001). This is also expected because original answers tend to
come later in the sequence of answers (Forthmann et al., 2020; Osborn, 1963).
Main Analyses
The results of the multivariate multiple regression with excellencism and
perfectionism predicting originality, fluency, and openness to experience revealed a
consistent picture. Excellencism was a significant positive predictor, whereas
perfectionism was a significant negative predictor of all three dependent variables. More
specifically, excellencism significantly predicted higher originality (standardized
regression coefficients β = .15, p = .026), fluency (β = .17, p = .008), and openness to
experience (β = .17, p = .013). Perfectionism significantly predicted lower originality (β =
.22, p = .001), fluency (β = .25, p < .001), and openness to experience (β = .22, p =
.002).
Excellencism and perfectionism together explained 3.6% (F (2, 279) = 5.02, p =
.007), 4.8% (F (2, 279) = 6.94, p = .001), and 4.1% (F (2, 279) = 5.73, p = .004) of the
variance in originality, fluency, and openness to experience, respectively. More crucially,
the contributions of excellencism and perfectionism were always of opposite signs, with
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 16
excellencism being positively associated with indicators of creativity and perfectionism
negatively associated with them.
Predicted Values for Subtypes of Strivers
Combinations of high and low levels of excellencism and perfectionism were
investigated via predicted values for three subtypes of strivers obtained from regression
coefficients.
3
The results are shown in Figure 1.
As seen in Figure 1, excellence strivers (i.e., individuals high on excellencism but
low on perfectionism) were significantly higher on originality, fluency, and openness to
experience, with standardized differences relative to perfection strivers reaching
respectively d = 0.43 [0.15, 0.71], p = .002, d = 0.50 [0.20, 0.79], p =.001, and d = 0.44
[0.16, 0.73], p = .002 (here and below, square brackets denote 95% confidence intervals).
Additionally, the difference between excellence strivers and non-strivers were
respectively: d = 0.30 [0.03, 0.57], p = .028, d = 0.34 [0.08, 0.60], p = .009, and d = 0.34
[0.07, 0.62], p = .014, for originality, fluency, and openness to experience. Lastly, the
differences between perfection strivers and non-strivers were all negative but not
significantly different from a null difference: originality (d = 0.13 [0.41, 0.15], p =
.35), fluency (d = 0.15 [0.45, 0.14], p =.30), and openness to experience (d = 0.10 [
0.35, 0.15], p = .44).
3
Strivers are not directly observable groups or categories of people. As noted in the method, intercept and
beta coefficients of the regression are used to calculate predicted values of each subtype of strivers.
Knowing the mean and standard deviation of perfectionism and excellencism, the average levels of
perfectionism and excellencism for each type of strivers can be easily computed. For example, the subtype
of perfection strivers represents individuals who strongly to very strongly agreed to the items of the
perfectionism subscale (sample 1: 4.18 + 1.82 = 6.00 out of 7, sample 2: 3.87 + 1.61 = 5.48 out of 7).
Strong to very strong endorsement of these items is a needed and sufficient conditions for these individuals
to be defined and interpreted as perfection strivers.
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 17
Brief Discussion
The results of Study 1 provided the first evidence for the hypothesis that
excellencism and perfectionism are distinctively associated with divergent thinking
abilities. Effect size were moderate and comparable to the average correlations observed
in the personality literature (e.g., Bosco et al., 2015). Excellence strivers compared to
perfection strivers performed 0.43 and 0.50 standard deviations better on the
originality and fluency scores of DT tasks. Excellence strivers also outperformed non-
strivers by 0.30 and 0.34 standard deviation on those variables. By contrast, perfection
strivers had comparable predicted values than non-strivers. Similar findings were found
for openness to experience.
These results suggest that strivings toward high goals can be conducive of
creative thinking if pursued in a flexible manner. Aiming for perfection and evaluating
oneself accordingly might be triggering unnecessary tensions within individuals which is
inhibiting creativity. This might be avoided by aiming for excellence.
Study 2
The aim of Study 2 was to replicate the findings of Study 1 and extend them in
three different ways. First, considering that perfectionism can be studied at the domain-
specific and dispositional level (e.g., Franche & Gaudreau, 2016), one goal of Study 2
was to replicate what we observed with academic perfectionism and excellencism at the
dispositional level with a measure of everyday perfectionism.
Second, based on the results of Study 1, we were interested in the concept of
associative abilities (Beaty et al., 2014; Benedek et al., 2012). Associative abilities are
processes behind the fluent generation of ideas, be them creative or not. Word-
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 18
associations tasks are often used to assess associative abilities (e.g., Benedek et al., 2012;
Benedek & Fink, 2019). In Study 2, we included two associative tasks requiring the
generation of unrelated words or words related only to the previous word (Benedek et al.,
2012). These tasks are “non-creative” because original answers are weighted the same as
unoriginal ones. High scores on associative tasks represent the capacity to produce a
stream of related or unrelated ideas, concepts, or thoughts in an uninterrupted manner.
Associative abilities assessed through semantic material in particular have been linked to
flexible semantic memory structures as well as efficient search mechanisms within
semantic spaces (Hass, 2017; He et al., 2020). Based on the result of Study 1, we
expected perfectionism to be associated with poorer associative abilities and excellencism
to be associated with better associative abilities.
Third, we wanted to extend the findings of Study 1 by furthering our exploration
of the nomological network of creativity. In addition to replicate our findings with
openness to experience, we also examined general self-efficacy, creative self-efficacy,
and creative personal identity. The former corresponds to a belief that one has the
capacity to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to
meet the demands of a wide variety of achievement situations (Wood & Bandura, 1989).
Because general self-efficacy encompasses all achievement situations, it also includes
situations where creativity is required. By comparison, creative self-efficacy focuses
exclusively on situations which call for creative thoughts (Tierney & Farmer, 2002).
Robust predictors of self-efficacy judgements comprise past successes and failures, and
the feedback that accompanies them (Tierney & Farmer, 2002). For this reason, the
additional discrepancy set by standards of perfection compared to standards of
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 19
excellence may have negative impacts on self-efficacy judgments. This would stem
from repeated failures to meet one’s standards. Despite this, perfection strivers could still
be associated with high general self-efficacy, because perfectionistic standards are
expected to relate to rigid and relentless effort and perseverance (Ljubin-Golub et al.,
2018; Stoeber et al., 2010). In other words, perfection strivers could probably not
maintain their extreme and idealized standards if their self-efficacy was low (see also
Osenk et al., 2020). As such, overestimating their likelihood of success may be needed to
protect their sense of self against recurrent anxiety associated with their fear of failure.
Therefore, we expected both excellence and perfection strivers to be associated with high
levels of general self-efficacy.
In Study 2, based on the results of Study 1 with openness to experience, we
proposed that although perfection strivers may feel confident in their capacity to meet the
demands of various difficult tasks (including creative tasks), they may not consider
creativity as an aspect important to themselves. To examine self-beliefs specific to
creativity, we assessed creative self-efficacy and creative personal identity. The latter
corresponds to beliefs that creativity is an important aspect of oneself (Karwowski,
2012). However, we note that the substantial correlation between the two constructs in a
validation study (r = .82; Karwowski, 2012) could suggest a unique factor corresponding
to a creative self-concept (see also Judge et al., 2002). Nonetheless, we hypothesised that
perfection strivers would have high levels of general and creative self-efficacy, but lower
levels of creative personal identity compared to excellence strivers. Creative tasks are
demanding and less structured and the criteria of success are often ambiguous and
unclearly defined. Given that perfection strivers prefer certainty and tasks with higher
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 20
likelihood of success (i.e., fear of failure), we hypothesized that they are less likely to
identify with creative domains. Note that this hypothesis could be different in contexts in
which creativity would be a more defining characteristic of the population (e.g.,
performance artists). We recruited a sample of students in social, natural and health
sciences programs rather than students in programs in which creativity is more salient
(e.g., music, arts, dance). Perhaps perfection strivers in artistic domains would be more
likely to identify with the concept of creativity. However, our hypothesis is based on the
idea that the average perfection strivers in the general population are less likely to
identify with the concept of creativity.
Method
Participants
We aimed to recruit a larger sample than Study 1 because associative tasks have
yet to be used in the perfectionism literature and the expected effect size was unknown. A
sample of 401 (72.4% female) undergraduate students from a public Canadian university
in the province of Ontario was retained for analyses. From the initial 470 participants, 64
were excluded due to large amount of missing data (>60%), four were identified as
duplicates and were excluded, one univariate outlier (5 SD on the excellencism scale)
was also removed. This participant gave the same answer to multiple questions in a row.
No multivariate outlier was identified after Mahalanobis inspection (p > .001, df = 10).
Participants age ranged from 16 to 42 years old (Mean = 19.3, SD = 3.2) and described
themselves as White (53.1%), Asian (16.5%), Arabic (12.7%), Black (8.2%), Aboriginal
(0.7%), Hispanic (1.5%), or other/mixed ethnicity (7%). Academic faculties included
social sciences (45.1%), natural sciences (26%), health sciences (17.5%), arts (4.8%),
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 21
management (1%), engineering (1%), and other (4.6%). Participants received one point
towards their introductory psychology course.
Procedures and Measures
Participants completed online questionnaires and tasks which assessed their
degree of dispositional perfectionism and excellencism, their divergent and associative
abilities, openness to experience, general self-efficacy, creative self-efficacy, and creative
personal identity. Additional questionnaires (aberrant salience, need for structure, need
for cognition, and mental boundaries) were part of the study for exploratory purposes and
were excluded from the analyses. The whole procedure took about 45 minutes to
complete.
Excellencism and Perfectionism. The SCOPE can be used at the domain-specific
(as per Study 1) or the dispositional levels using the same pool of items (i.e., 22 items)
with different instructions (Gaudreau & Schellenberg, 2018). In Study 2, we used the
dispositional version. Items were preceded with the stem “As a person, my general goal
in life is to…”. Examples of items measuring excellencism and perfectionism are “…
attain difficult but realistic goals” and “… attain perfection”, respectively. Average
scores were computed for excellencism and perfectionism. Internal consistency for
excellencism (
= .94) and perfectionism (
= .97) were high and comparable to those
obtained in Study 1.
Divergent Thinking (DT). Participants were instructed to come up with as many
creative answers as they could using the same three items as Study 1. They were allotted
three minutes per questions (instead of five). This reduction of the time to complete the
tasks allowed us to include the additional measurements of associative abilities without
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 22
increasing the length of the study while also avoiding cognitive fatigue. The originality
and fluency scores were obtained in the same way as Study 1. Answers were judged by a
trained graduate student and a trained undergraduate student. Inter-rater agreement (Intra
Class Coefficients, ICC) for the originality scores ranged from .82 to .86. Inter-items
correlations ranged from r = .31 to .42 (α = .63) for the originality scores and from r =
.54 to .70 (α = .78) for the fluency scores. Unfortunately, due to a programming error,
participants could not enter more than 29 answers and thus, the maximum score of
fluency was set to 29. This ceiling has been reached by five participants for item 1, two
participants for item 2, and 44 participants for item 3 (i.e., things which make noise).
Openness to Experience. The openness to experience factor was assessed via the
Big Five Aspect scale (20 items; DeYoung et al., 2007). The choice of a different scale
than Study 1 was motivated by a desire to conceptually replicate the findings with
openness to experience. This scale divides the factor Openness to experience into two
facets named “Openness” and “Intellect”. An example item for the intellect facet is “I am
quick to understand things”. An example item of the openness facet is “I believe in the
importance of art”. Participants answered on a 5-points scale ranging from 1 (very
inaccurate) to 5 (very accurate). The factor structure of the scale, involving two facets,
has been supported in the study of DeYoung et al. (2007). They further demonstrated that
social desirability did not account for the scores on the scale. We computed a composite
variable by averaging all the items (α = .78; which was similar to the findings of
DeYoung et al. (2007) who reported an average α = .82 across their samples).
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 23
Associative Abilities. Two associative tasks were employed in which participants
were required to generate chains of unrelated words. The tasks were taken from Benedek
et al. (2012).
Association task. This association task required participants to generate a chain of
words starting with a given word, whereby each response must relate only to its previous
response (e.g., starting with the word "summer", a possible chain could be: “beach, sand,
castle, knight, horse, race, ...”; Benedek et al., 2012). Thus, the task becomes more and
more difficult as more answers are generated. Participants completed two trials of one
minute each. The starting concepts were: “Sickness” and “Man.” To validate that
participants correctly performed the task, each answer was evaluated by two independent
judges. The judges validated the answers according to the following rules: 1) an answer is
marked as incorrect whenever it is related to a preceding one whereas it should not be.
However, only the answer that came later in the sequence was marked as incorrect. 2)
Incorrect answers were colored in red and the judges continued their marking while
pretending the incorrect answer never existed in the list (hence, later words were not
penalized if they related to the incorrect word). 3) Judgments of relationships should not
be too strict. Among the answers not supposed to be associated, those that were "weakly"
related were permitted, whereas those "moderately" or "strongly" related were marked as
incorrect. The total number of words generated minus the total number of incorrect
answers on a given trial yielded a score of association for that trial. Inter-rater agreement
was ICC = .95 and .92 for item 1 and 2 respectively.
Dissociation task. This task is similar to the association task described above, but
this time all responses must be unrelated to all other responses, including the presented
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 24
concept (e.g., starting with the word "summer", a possible chain could be: “computer,
banana, bicycle, ...”). Therefore, this task is slightly more difficult than the association
task. Participants completed two trials of one minute each. The starting concepts were:
“Deep” and “Book.” Validation of the answers was done in the exact same way as the
association task with two independent judges. Inter-rater agreement was ICC = .94 for
both items.
General Self-Efficacy. General self-efficacy was assessed using the questionnaire
of Chen, Gully, and Eden (2001; 8 items). An example item includes “I will be able to
achieve most of the goals that I have set for myself.” The content validity,
unidimensional structure, discriminant validity against self-esteem, and internal reliability
(α = .85 and test-retest r = .86) of the scale was examined by Chen et al., (2001) across
three studies. A composite score was obtained by averaging the items of the scale (α =
.90). Participants answered on a 5-points scale ranging from 1 (very inaccurate) to 5
(very accurate).
Creative Self-Efficacy and Creative Personal Identity. The Short Scale of
Creative Self (11 items; Karwowski, 2012) was employed to assess creative self-efficacy
(six items; α = .82) and creative personal identity (five items; α = .91). An example item
of creative self-efficacy includes “I trust my creative abilities.” An example item of
creative self-identity includes “My creativity is important to who I am.” Participants
answered on a 5-points scale ranging from 1 (very inaccurate) to 5 (very accurate). The
two-factors structure of the scale and its convergent, divergent, and predictive validity
have been demonstrated in a validation study across five samples (Karwowski et al.,
2018).
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 25
Plan of Analyses
As per Study 1, we used a multivariate multiple regression model with
perfectionism and excellencism simultaneously predicting the eight dependant variables:
originality, fluency, association, dissociation, openness to experience, general self-
efficacy, creative self-efficacy and creative personal identity.
Results
Preliminary Analyses
Percentage of missing values ranged from 0% to 9.4% (for the dissociation score).
The missing values were participants who either provided no answer or did not properly
understand the task according to the judges. Because these later participants properly
answered the other tasks, we kept them in our analyses. The missing values were not
missing completely at random (Little's MCAR test: χ2 (54) = 95.68, p < .001). Missing
data was handled via Full Information Maximum Likelihood (FIML) estimator.
The descriptive statistics and correlations for the main variables are reported in
Table 3. We see that all variables have acceptable degrees of skewness. We note that
excellencism and perfectionism are correlated with one another (r = .35, p < .001).
Similar correlations were observed between originality and fluency (r = .34, p < .001)
and between association and dissociation (r = .46, p < .001).
Main Analyses
The results of the multivariate multiple regression (see Table 4) for originality,
fluency, and openness to experience successfully replicated Study 1. That is,
excellencism was a significant positive predictor of originality (β = .15, p = .003),
fluency (β = .22, p < .001), and openness to experience (β = .39, p < .001), whereas
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 26
perfectionism was a significant negative predictor of originality (β = -.18, p = .001),
fluency (β = -.13, p = .012), and openness to experience (β = -.21, p < .001). As shown in
Table 4, the predictors together explained 3.9%, 4.7% and 14% of the variance in the
dependant variables, respectively.
The results for association and dissociation suggested similar conclusions.
Excellencism was a significant positive predictor of association (β = .16, p = .007) and
dissociation (β = .15, p = .005), whereas perfectionism was a significant negative
predictor of association (β = -.20, p < .001) and dissociation (β = -.21, p < .001).
Together, the two predictors explained 4.4% and 4.7% of the variance in those variables,
respectively.
Finally, the results for general self-efficacy, creative self-efficacy, and creative
personal identity were different from those of openness to experience. We observed that
excellencism was a significant and substantial positive predictor of all three, whereas
perfectionism was not significantly related to these dependent variables. Specifically,
excellencism was a positive predictor of general self-efficacy (β = .50, p < .001), creative
self-efficacy (β = .40, p < .001), and creative personal identity (β = .29, p < .001).
Perfectionism was non-significantly related to general self-efficacy (β = .03, p = .47),
creative self-efficacy (β = -.09, p = .06), and creative personal identity (β = - .09, p = .09).
The two predictors explained 26%, 14% and 7.4% of the variance in those personality
variables, respectively.
Predicted Values for Subtypes of Strivers
Predicted values from the regression model are presented for the three subtypes of
strivers (see Figure 2 panel A-H). It can be seen that excellence strivers have significantly
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 27
higher predicted values in comparison to perfection strivers and non-strivers on all
dependent variables except for general self-efficacy, creative self-efficacy, and creative
personal identity (excellence strivers and perfection strivers were not significantly
different on these three variables). More specifically, the standardized differences
between excellence and perfection strivers were significant with respect to originality (d
= 0.37 [0.14, 0.59], p = .001), fluency (d = 0.27 [0.06, 0.48], p = .011), openness to
experience (d = 0.42 [0.23, 0.61], p < .001), association (d = 0.40 [0.19, 0.62], p < .001),
and dissociation (d = 0.43 [0.23, 0.63], p < .001). As mentioned, this difference did not
reach statistical significance for general self-efficacy (d = 0.07 [0.27, 0.12], p = .47),
creative self-efficacy (d = 0.18 [0.02, 0.38], p = .07), and creative personal identity (d =
0.17 [0.03, 0.38], p =.09).
Excellence strivers were significantly higher than non-strivers on all eight
dependent variables, namely originality (d = 0.31 [0.10, 0.53], p = .004), fluency (d =
0.44 [0.24, 0.65], p < .001), openness to experience (d = 0.79 [0.60, 0.97], p < .001),
association (d = 0.31 [0.08, 0.55], p = .007), dissociation (d = 0.30 [0.08, 0.51], p = .006),
general self-efficacy (d = 0.99 [0.82, 1.17], p < .001), creative self-efficacy (d = 0.80
[0.63, 0.98], p < .001), and creative personal identity (d = 0.57 [0.41, 0.74], p < .001).
Lastly, the difference between perfection strivers and non-strivers did not reach
statistical significance with respect to originality (d = 0.06 [0.29, 0.18], p = .64) and
fluency (d = 0.17 [0.08, 0.43], p = .18), but perfection strivers were significantly higher
on openness to experience (d = 0.37 [0.15, 0.59], p = .001). Moreover, both strivers were
not significantly different on association (d = 0.09 [0.35, 0.17], p = .50) and
dissociation (d = 0.13 [0.37, 0.11], p = .29), but perfection strivers were significantly
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 28
higher on general self-efficacy (d = 1.07 [0.85, 1.29], p < .001), creative self-efficacy (d
= 0.62 [0.39, 0.85], p < .001) and creative personal identity (d = 0.40 [0.16, 0.64], p =
.001).
Brief Discussion
Study 2 successfully replicated the findings of Study 1. Notably, in both studies,
excellencism was a positive predictor of divergent thinking (originality and fluency) and
openness to experience, whereas perfectionism was a negative predictor of these
variables. In addition, Study 2 showed that this pattern generalized to tasks of associative
abilities, in which excellence strivers were more fluent in generating chains of unrelated
words compared to perfection strivers. Excellence strivers were found to be 0.27 (for
fluency) to 0.43 (for dissociation) standard deviation above perfection strivers on
divergent thinking and associative abilities indicators. The effect sizes were moderate and
comparable to the average correlational effect size found in personality research (Bosco
et al., 2015). Perfection strivers relative to non-strivers were not significantly different on
these indicators. These results supported the view that perfectionism over and above
excellencism is detrimental with respect to indicators of creativity. Overall, these findings
replicate and extend those of Study 1, while being consistent across measurements of
perfectionism and excellencism at the domain-specific and dispositional levels.
Our additional personality measurements suggested a nuanced position. The
picture depicted by individual differences on self-reported measures revealed that
perfectionism, over and above excellencism, has a neutral effect with respect to general
self-efficacy, creative self-efficacy, and creative personal identity. In other words,
perfection and excellence strivers were not significantly different on those variables.
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 29
Taken together, these findings suggest that perfection and excellence strivers are both
associated with high levels of general and creative self-efficacy beliefs and a creative
identity. Surprisingly, among the four self-reported measures, only openness to
experience was able to differentiate excellence strivers from perfection strivers. This
latter finding is consistent with the results of Study 1.
General Discussion
Perfectionists are often portrayed as expressing a cognitive, attitudinal or
behavioral rigidity (Egan et al., 2007; Ferrari & Mautz, 1997; Hollender, 1965).
Nevertheless, their extremely high standards are sometimes thought to contribute to
greater achievements and perseverance in competitive and challenging environments. The
recent operationalization of excellencism as a characteristic that involves high standards
without perfectionistic attitudes offers a more nuanced approach to the question of
whether perfectionistic standards are beneficial, deleterious or neutral in relation to
creative thinking potential and subjective indicators of creativity (e.g., Gaudreau, 2019).
Consequently, we conducted two studies to investigate this question. We found that
perfectionistic standards over and above excellencism were deleterious with respect to
divergent thinking, associative abilities, and openness to experience, but neutral with
respect to general self-efficacy, creative self-efficacy, and creative personal identity.
Across both studies, the effect sizes replicated for the divergent thinking scores
but it can be noticed that excellencism was more highly related to Openness to experience
in Study 2 (β = .39) compared to Study 1 (β = .17). One account for this difference is the
use of two different scales to measure openness to experience in Study 1 and Study 2. In
Study 1, the IPIP-NEO scale possessed more questions referring to emotionality (e.g., I
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 30
experience my emotions intensely), liberalism (e.g., I believe that there is no absolute
right or wrong), and adventurousness (e.g., I like to visit new places.). Whereas the scale
of Study 2 (Big Five Aspect Scales) focusses more on Intellect (e.g., I like to solve
complex problems) and Openness (e.g., I believe in the importance of arts). Excellencism
could be associated with Intellect which captures an interest for intellectual
challenges more so than the other facets of the overarching trait Openness to
experience. A scale that gives more weight to Intellect would thus strengthen the
correlation with excellencism. For instance, post-hoc partial correlations with the data of
Study 2 suggest that excellencism correlates more strongly with Intellect (r = .40) than
with the subfactor Openness (r = .23) of the Big Five Aspect Scale, while controlling for
perfectionism. The relationship between the Intellect dimension and excellencism could
be investigated in future studies.
Divergent Thinking and Associative Abilities
Divergent thinking is a mode of thinking concerned with the generation of
variations (Guilford, 1950). Being able to keep finding variations without running out of
idea is the essence of divergent thinking abilities. In the current study, participants had to
generate many original utilities for simple objects such as a brick. The best-two answers
of participants were used to estimate their maximal level of creative potential, while this
coding method also limited the confounding effect of the number of answers on their
scores. Likewise, the associative tasks introduced in Study 2 required participants to
constantly switch between semantic categories in order to generate new words unrelated
to previous ones.
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 31
Both tasks call for an efficient search within a space of remote and weakly
connected concepts. For instance, Gilhooly et al. (2007) identified effective cognitive
strategies associated with higher scores of originality on divergent thinking tasks. These
strategies such as considering the target item against a broad category are effective
because they allow to focus on some properties of the target item, which then have their
own links with other concepts (e.g., could the target item be used as a transportation
vehicle?). In another vein, He and colleagues (2020), relying on network science
methodologies, demonstrated that verbal divergent thinking but not figural divergent
thinking was associated with higher connectivity and shorter distances between
concepts in participants' memory structure. Interestingly, a study by Christensen and
colleagues (2018) showed that individuals higher on openness to experience also had
more flexible and interconnected semantic memory structures, as well as more efficient
retrieval abilities of associated concepts. Taken together, these findings suggest that
differences in strategies and/or in memory structures could account for the better
performance of excellence strivers on both divergent and associative tasks compared to
perfection strivers and non-strivers.
At least three different but related processes could explain the creativity gap that
we observed with perfection strivers. First, perfection strivers may focus too much on the
need to rapidly achieve a perfect outcome. Goal setting theory suggests that performance
goals foster motivation and effort, but may reduce performance on novel and difficult
tasks by emphasising the execution of acquired strategies rather than looking for new and
adaptive ones (Locke & Latham, 2002). Exploring novel and uncertain strategies could
be perceived as incompatible with perfect performances right from the start. As such,
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 32
perfection strivers may feel an urge to stick to conventional strategy in order to handle
their intolerance for uncertainty (Cheek & Goebel, 2020) and to satisfy their desire to
avoid failure (Gaudreau et al., 2021). If so, they may end up being stuck in a suboptimal
strategy which would minimize their capacity to think in a divergent manner. Second,
perfection strivers may fail to immerse themselves deeply into the process of letting
original ideas naturally emerge in a free-flowing manner. People with high levels of
perfectionistic standards tend to be overly analytical, judgmental, or critical of their
answers (Flett, Hewitt, Nepon & Besser, 2018), which could easily disrupt their flow of
associative and original thinking. Third, perfectionistic standards have recently been
proposed to be the core definitional feature of perfectionism that activates and gives fuel
to the enactment of cognitive, socio-cognitive, and socio-behavioral expressions of
perfectionism (Gaudreau, 2021). For example, perfection strivers are more likely to
experience doubts about their actions and evaluative concerns in ways that could disrupt
their task engagement, concentration, and creativity. Together or in isolation, these
tendencies could easily explain why perfection strivers were less fluent while performing
the task and why they produced a significantly lower number of original answers and
associations.
Perfectionism and Creativity: A Problem of Compatibility?
Despite perfectionistic standards being univocally detrimental to objective
indicators of divergent and associative thinking, the portrait with subjective variables was
mixed. We found that perfectionistic standards were associated with reduced openness to
experience. However, perfection strivers and excellence strivers had similar scores of
general self-efficacy, creative self-efficacy, and creative personal identity. Thus, both
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 33
strivers were generally confident in their ability to succeed, confident in their ability to
produce creative ideas, and considered creativity as an important aspect of themselves.
Yet, only excellence strivers actually exhibited greater divergent thinking and associative
abilities.
What may explain this disconnect between the performance of perfection strivers
and their self-evaluations? One possibility is a bias in self-reported responses due to
social desirability. Another possibility involves protective mechanisms of one’s self-
esteem and self-efficacy. A recent study showed that perfection strivers have highly
paradoxical personalities (BLINDED). Results showed that they were more likely to be
over-involved and impatient (i.e., type A behaviors) while being less likely to improve
their performance over time and reach the highest possible levels of achievement. While
doubting and being concerned about their actions, they also expressed an exaggerated
positive view of themselves (i.e., narcissistic perfectionism). They simultaneously
considered themselves as competent while feeling eternally unsatisfied about their
achievement; for them, it is never good enough (Flett & Hewitt, 2002; Hill & Curran,
2016). In this study, we found that perfection strivers seem to consider creativity as an
important aspect of their identity, yet they were less open to experience. Arguably, being
open to experience is an essential part of the creative process and the creative identity
(Feist, 1998; Jauk, 2019; Rhodes, 1961). It is possible that perfection strivers
misunderstand what the process of creativity really entails. Perhaps perfection strivers are
equating the concept of creativity with their perceived proficiency in handling complex
and difficult problems. However, divergent and associative thinking are not
fundamentally complex nor difficult problems to handle. The challenge of these tasks
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 34
stems from a necessity to be autonomous while searching for alternatives. In short,
perfection strivers might be more narrowly creative than they are aware of. In other
words, their perceived creativity could stem from them being creative only within their
field of expertise, at the expense of low adaptability to remote problems and situations.
This would account for why perfection strivers perceived themselves as creative despite
having lower scores on divergent thinking and associative tasks.
Another interpretation involves the dimension of perfectionistic concerns, which
we did not assess in this study. The many doubts and concerns captured by this
dimension often accompanies perfectionistic standards and might deprive one’s working
memory capacity while performing creativity tasks (Besser et al., 2004; Flett et al., 2002;
Whitmer & Gotlib, 2013). The MEP assumes that perfectionistic standards set the wheel
in motion for the enactment of the many cognitive (e.g., doubts), socio-cognitive (e.g.,
perceived social pressure), and socio-behavioral (e.g., showcasing an image of perfection
to others) likely to prevent individuals from fully immersing themselves into a task
(Gaudreau, 2021). The saturation of working memory by intrusive thoughts and
evaluative concerns could account for the inferior performance of perfection strivers on
cognitive tasks (Eum & Rice, 2011). This suggests that worries, concerns, negative self-
talk, ruminative thoughts, and even self-presentation concerns could mediate the relation
between perfectionistic standards and reduced performances on cognitive tasks. Overall,
the MEP reiterates that perfectionism is multidimensional with evaluative concerns being
one of the signature expressions closely associated with increased risk of psychological
malfunctioning (Gaudreau, 2021).
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 35
In addition, the time constraint on our tasks may have exacerbated the negative
effect for perfection strivers. Time limits can be seen as threatening and distracting,
especially for people who tend to overinvest their time and energy in order to succeed at
their desired level. Past studies with time constraints reported a negative effect of
perfectionistic standards (e.g., Eum & Rice, 2010; Stoeber et al., 2008) that contrasts with
the small but positive effect reported in a recent meta-analytical review (Madigan, 2019).
“Perfectionism is the enemy of done” because perfection strivers often prefer to take
additional time on task in the hope of delivering a perfect product. Future studies could
examine perfectionistic standards in relation to creative indicators under timed and non-
timed conditions.
Limitations and Future Research
In this study, we relied on a correlational design and the effects that we observed
cannot be interpreted as causal effects on creativity. However, perfectionistic standards
and excellencism are a blueprint that shapes the beliefs, emotions, and actions of
individuals across many areas of their lives. As such, it is highly unlikely that creativity
biased or influenced the measurement of perfectionism and excellencism inasmuch as our
creativity tasks were performed after participants completed the self-reported measures.
Nonetheless, future research using an experimental design could try to temporarily induce
perfectionistic standards and excellencism (Boone & Soenens, 2015) by changing the
instructions given at the start of the creativity task. Alternatively, researchers could
reassess the creativity of participants after an intervention to determine if reducing one’s
perfectionism (Lloyd et al., 2015) result in positive change only in participants
randomized in the experimental condition. Excellencism and perfectionism are
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 36
moderately correlated. This correlation is theoretically expected because people who
pursue perfection incidentally pursue excellence in their quest toward perfection
(Gaudreau, 2019). However, some of the correlation could also be attributable to shared
method variance because they both are measured with the same method in the same
questionnaire. Future studies should try to measure perfectionistic standards and
excellencism using both self-report and informant reports. Best friends, lovers, and
family members are potentially capable of assessing excellencism and perfectionism of
close others (Flett et al., 2005), but this assumption remains an open question for future
research.
Another limit of this study comes from the small number of associative tasks and
the narrow conceptual reach of our divergent thinking items, which may have hindered
the generalizability or ecological validity of our results. However, the replication of the
divergent thinking results across two samples as well as the comparable size of the effect
among the divergent and associative tasks contribute to the robustness of our findings.
Future research should nonetheless expend and diversify the creativity tasks in order to
determine the extent to which the effects observed in this study are applicable across the
whole spectrum of creativity performances in the lab and in real life settings.
This study exclusively focused on the direct associations of excellencism and
perfectionistic standards with creative indicators. Future research should examine the
mechanisms that potentially contribute to these effects. Immediately after each trial,
participants could be asked to evaluate their thoughts, feelings, and cognitive strategies
while they were doing the divergent and associative thinking tasks. Alternatively,
physiological markers of threat and challenge (Blascovich, 2008) could be captured to
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 37
evaluate the extent to which avoidance and approach motivational states are differentially
activated by perfectionistic standards and excellencism, in ways that could mediate the
effects that we observed in our study.
Finally, the rigidity of perfectionistic standards as well as the socio-cognitive
and behavioral correlates which accompanies those standards might differ
considerably in different environments. For example, standards of perfection in dance,
especially in classical ballet, have an history of being stringent (Nordin-Bates et al.,
2011). The culture and the implicit norms of an environment could accentuate the
disadvantage of being a perfection striver on creative thinking. Indicators of creativity
can have increasing degrees of domain specificity while perfectionistic standards in one
domain (e.g., school) may fail to predict creativity across all domains of creativity. In our
study, the measurement of perfectionism and excellencism (i.e., school and dispositional)
did not match the specificity of the creativity measures (i.e., semantic). Therefore, it
would be interesting to examine if the effects of perfectionistic standards and
excellencism generalize across various domains of creativity. In particular, future
research could try to measure perfectionistic standards and excellencism for creative
domains to determine if performing artists have elevated perfectionistic standards in
artistic domains compared to their general lives.
Conclusion
The extant literature on perfectionism remained unclear about whether
perfectionism is killing or facilitating creativity. Across two studies, we found
supportive evidence for the idea that perfectionistic standards are negatively associated
with creative performance, once we separate the effects of excellencism from those of
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 38
perfectionism. Striving for perfection over and above excellence is likely to limit
experimentation, spontaneity, and openness. Relaxing the perfection constraint means
changing the narrative so that it becomes “okay if it isn’t always perfect” (Nordin-Bates,
2020, p. 31). As such, our findings suggest that excellencism could be a suitable
alternative to the pursuit of perfectionistic standards.
Overall, these findings illustrate the usefulness of the Model of Excellencism and
Perfectionism (Gaudreau, 2019). Future research should carefully investigate if the
effects of perfectionistic standards, over and above excellencism, are similar when it
comes to predict real-life outcomes such as the life-long productivity and best-ever
creative production of individuals who are frequently creative (e.g., musicians, dancers,
writers, scientists).
Acknowledgements:
We would like to thank Caroline Ankermann, Isabelle Charbonneau, and
Emmanuelle Person for their help with the coding of the various cognitive tasks; as well
as Marc-André Goulet and Rose-Marie Gibeau for their comments on an earlier version
of this text. This research was supported by scholarships from the Conseil de recherches
en sciences naturelles et en génie du Canada (CRSNG) awarded to the first author.
Patrick Gaudreau was supported by research grant 435-2015-0649 from the Conseil de
recherches en sciences humaines and a teaching release awarded by the Faculty of Social
Sciences from the University of Ottawa. Denis Cousineau was supported by a research
grant 2016-03906 from the Conseil de recherches en sciences naturelles et en génie du
Canada.
PERFECTIONISTIC STANDARDS AND CREATIVE THINKING 39
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CREATIVE THINKING AND STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE 53
Table 1
Summary of the Correlations found between measures of Perfectionism and Creativity
Study
Sample
Measure of
Perfectionism
Measure of Creativity
Correlation with perfectionism
dimension
Miller et al. (2012)
323 honors’ undergraduates
Hewitt & Flett MPS
SCAB SR
SPP = .05, SOP = .02
Gallucci et al. (2000)
78 gifted adolescents
Frost MPS
WKOPAY SR
SAM SR
CM = .23, DAA = .51**, PS = .08
CM = .07, DAA = .07, PS = .31**
Wigert et al. (2012; Study 1)
1336 undergraduates
Frost MPS
SAC SR
Bell curve SR
CBI SR
CDQR SR
BICB SR
Photo caption DT
CM = .01, DAA = .02, PS = .18**
CM = .08*, DAA = .11**, PS = .11**
CM = .02, DAA = .01, PS = .08**
CM = .03, DAA = .01, PS = .23**
CM = .04, DAA = .03, PS = .10**
CM = .05, DAA = .03, PS = .07*
Wigert et al. (2012, Study 2)
364 undergraduates
Frost MPS
Quality of solution DT
Originality of solution DT
CM = .02, DAA = .03, PS = .08*
CM = .06, DAA = .004, PS = .02
Kim et al. (2017)
131 employees
Hewitt & Flett MPS
Rated by supervisor
SPP = .16**, SOP = .20*
Chang et al. (2016)
437 employees
APSR
Innovative behavior SR
DISC = .03, PS = .30**
CREATIVE THINKING AND STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE 54
Table 1 Continued
Study
Sample
Measure of
Perfectionism
Measure of Creativity
Correlation with perfectionism
dimension
Chou et al. (2019)
226 collegiate dancers
Frost MPS
Verbal DT
Figural DT
CM = .30**, DAA = .27**, PS = .36**
CM = .26**, DAA = .30**, PS = .30**
Vasasova & Lipkova (2014)
150 high school students
Frost MPS
Verbal DT
FiguralDT
CM = .38**, DAA = .18*, PS = .41**
CM = .14, DAA = .10, PS = .21*
Ferrari & Mautz (1997)
108 undergraduates
Hewitt & Flett MPS
Attitudinal flexibility SR
SPP = .19*, SOP = .43**
Egan et al. (2007)
40 clinical
PANPS
Attitudinal flexibility SR
NP = .07, PP = .01
Egan et al. (2007)
111 athletes
PANPS
Attitudinal flexibility SR
NP = .26**, PP = .32**
Egan et al. (2007)
101 undergraduates
PANPS
Attitudinal flexibility SR
NP = .28**, PP = .38**
Ahmetoglu et al. (2015)
210 employees
Frost MPS
CAQ Arts & Science SR
Entrepreneurial Creativity
SR
Perfect = .05
Perfect = .09
Xavier et al. (2017)
200 high school students
Frost MPS
KDOCS SR
Perfect = .11
Joy & Hicks (2004)
63 undergraduates
Unidimensional Cattell
Need to be different SR
Perfect = .52**
Note. *p < .05, **p < .01. Abbreviations in the last column refer to subscales of perfectionism. Indicators of perfectionistic concerns
are: concerns over mistakes (CM), doubts about action (DAA), socially prescribed perfectionism (SPP), discrepancy (DISC), and
negative perfectionism (NP). Indicators of perfectionistic standards are: personal standards (PS), self-oriented perfectionism (SOP),
and positive perfectionism (PP). SR: measures of self-reported creativity. DT: measures of creativity based on divergent thinking
CREATIVE THINKING AND STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE 55
tasks. We excluded from further considerations the last four correlations in Table 1 because they were obtained with a unidimensional
score of perfectionism.
CREATIVE THINKING AND STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE 56
Table 2
Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Correlations of Study 1
Variable
Mean
SD
Skew
1
2
3
4
1.Excellencism (on 7)
5.66 [5.52, 5.80]
1.22 [1.12, 1.33]
–0.85 [–1.13, –0.56]
---
2.Perfectionism (on 7)
4.18 [3.96, 4.39]
1.82 [1.68, 1.98]
–0.11 [–0.39, 0.17]
.51**
---
3. Originality (on 5)
2.05 [2.00, 2.09]
0.40 [0.37, 0.44]
0.67 [0.38, 0.95]
.04
.14*
---
4. Fluencya
10.81 [10.01, 11.60]
6.75 [6.23, 7.36]
1.57 [1.28, 1.85]
.04
.16*
.62**
---
5.Openness to experience (on 5)
3.35 [3.29, 3.40]
0.47 [0.43, 0.51]
0.18 [0.10, 0.46]
.06
.14*
.25**
.15*
Note. aFluency scores are not bounded and ranged from 3 to 40. 95% confidence intervals for the correlations are within ± .11 from the
point estimate. N = 279. ** p < .01. * p < .05
CREATIVE THINKING AND STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE 57
Table 3
Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Correlations between the Main Variables of Study 2
Variable
Mean
SD
Skew
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
1. Excellencism (on 7)
5.80
0.95
–0.82
---
2. Perfectionism (on 7)
3.87
1.61
0.05
.35**
---
3. Originality (on 5)
1.99
0.42
0.44
.12*
–.11*
---
4. Fluencya
12.60
4.9
0.47
.18**
–.05
.34**
---
5. Openness to experience (on 5)
3.55
0.47
0.03
.34**
–.06
.27**
.13*
---
6. Associationb
7.98
3.46
0.59
.11*
-.12*
.38**
.44**
.13*
---
7. Dissociationc
8.21
3.28
0.05
.09
-.15*
.27**
.37**
.20**
.46**
---
8. General self-efficacy (on 5)
3.74
0.66
–0.55
.54**
.22*
.03
.13*
.39**
.07
.05
---
9. Creative self-efficacy (on 5)
3.74
0.70
–0.62
.40**
.06
.13**
.19**
.56**
.12*
.07
.51**
---
10. Creative personal identity (on 5)
3.73
0.97
–0.65
.28**
.02
.22
.13*
.53**
.08
.09
.29**
.76**
Note: a Fluency ranged from 1.5 to 29; b Association ranged from 1 to 21; c Dissociation ranged from 1 to 17.25. 95% confidence
intervals of the correlations are within +/ .10 from the point estimate. *p < .05, **p < .01. N = 401.
CREATIVE THINKING AND STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE 58
Table 4
Standardized Coefficients from the Multiple Multivariate Regression for Study 2
Predictors
Cognitive variables
Personality variables
Originality
Fluency
Association
Dissociation
Openness
GSE
CSE
CPI
Excellencism
.15**
.22***
.16**
.15**
.40***
.50***
.40***
.29***
Perfectionism
.18**
.13*
.20***
.21***
.21***
.04
.09
.09
R2
3.9%
4.7%*
4.4%*
4.7%*
14%***
26%***
14%***
7.4%**
R2adj
3.4%
4.2%*
3.9%
4.2%*
14%***
26%***
14%***
7%**
Note. GSE: General Self-Efficacy. CSE: Creative Self-Efficacy. CPI: Creative Personal Identity. †p = .051, *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p
< .001. N = 401
CREATIVE THINKING AND STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE 59
Figure 1
Predicted Values of Originality, Fluency and Openness to experience in Study 1 with 95% Difference-Adjusted Confidence Intervals
[Note: non-overlapping confidence intervals represent statistically significant difference at p < .05. Y-Axis values are arbitrarily
fixed]
2.08
2.2
2.02
1.8
1.85
1.9
1.95
2
2.05
2.1
2.15
2.2
2.25
2.3
Non Excellence Perfection
A
Originality
11.34
13.66
10.29
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
Non Excellence Perfection
B
Fluency
3.37
3.54
3.33
3
3.1
3.2
3.3
3.4
3.5
3.6
3.7
3.8
3.9
4
Non Excellence Perfection
C
Openness to Experience
CREATIVE THINKING AND STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE 60
Figure 2
Predicted Values for the Dependent Variables of Study 2 with 95% Difference-Adjusted Confidence Intervals [Note: non-overlapping
confidence intervals represent statistically significant difference at p < .05. Y-Axis values are arbitrarily fixed]
2
2.13
1.98
1.8
1.9
2
2.1
2.2
2.3
Non Excel Perf
A
Originality
12.2
14.32
13.04
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
Non Excel Perf
B
Fluency
3.47
3.84
3.64
3
3.2
3.4
3.6
3.8
4
Non Excel Perf
C
Openness to Experience
8.08
9.17
7.77
6
6.5
7
7.5
8
8.5
9
9.5
10
Non Excel Perf
D
Association
8.34
9.32
7.92
6
6.5
7
7.5
8
8.5
9
9.5
10
Non Excel Perf
E
Dissociation
3.4
4.05
4.09
3.2
3.4
3.6
3.8
4
4.2
4.4
Non Excel Perf
F
General Self-Efficacy
3.54
4.09 3.963
3.2
3.4
3.6
3.8
4
4.2
4.4
Non Excel Perf
G
Creative Self-Efficacy
3.55
4.11 3.94
3.2
3.4
3.6
3.8
4
4.2
4.4
Non Excel Perf
H
Creative Personal Identity
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