Where does such perfectionism come from? Experts have long blamed parents who overemphasized achievement or made their love conditional on meeting certain goals. But recent research suggests that the genes that parents pass along may play an ever bigger role.
Researchers at the Michigan State University Twin Registry have been examining aspects of perfectionism in female twins, ages 12 to 22. Identical twins share 100% of their genetic makeup; fraternal twins share 50%; all the twin-pairs in the registry shared the same upbringing. In one study of 292 twins, published in January in the journal Depression and Anxiety, the identical twins had much more similar scores on measures of perfectionism and anxiety then the fraternal twins did, suggesting that their genetics had a stronger influence than their environment.
A second study of 340 twins published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders this month, found that the identical twins were also more alike than the fraternal twins in the degree to which they idolized the bodies of models and celebrities. Even when the researchers adjusted the findings for differences in body weight, the identical twins were still more alike in body-image issues than twins who only shared the same upbringing.
In both studies, the environmental influences the twins didn’t share, such as having different activities and groups of friends, had a greater influence on their attitudes than the home environment they did share. In short, perfectionism “appears to be greatly due to genetic risk factors as well as the unique experiences people have outside the home,” says Jason Moser, as assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State and lead investigator of the anxiety study.