Perfectionism: Genetic?

From WSJ:

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.

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  • Kyle F

    Twins model each other in ways dramatically different from how other siblings typically do. Accounting for this type of observation observationally (ie separated twins) is critical to any argument about the robustness of genetics for this or any other behavior.

  • Kyle F

    And to further clarify: monozygotic twins are always the same sex but dizygotic twins not so much — a discrepancy that when interacting with sex-specific familial and cultural pressures could further shift behavior and temperament modeling enough to account for most of the data.

  • NateW

    As someone who has felt “off” my entire life and, have only recently been diagnosed with ADD and perfectionistic anxiety I have no doubt that this is true. My grandma was genuinely OCD an my dad has battled OCD anxiety and depression his whole life. However, he was able to recognize this and I was raised free knowing very well that I was loved unconditionally. I have a healthy self image, but I am seein more and more that my own anxieties are related to a need for perfection in the things I do, even as I am scattered, disorganized, and messy.

  • Actually, let me clarify (SEE?!), perfectionism itself isn’t genetic, but I believe that certain naturally occuring proportions of amino acids are. We each have our own specific coctail of brain chemicals and I see no reason that this wouldn’t be largely affected by genetics.

    I was born with a brain that tends to swerve towards perfectionism like a cart with a bad wheel, and it probably always will, but that is no excuse for obsessive behavior that hurts my loved ones. I try to see my brain as a tool, not as my ‘self’. It might be hard to steer as it careens along, but man can it do some cool stuff when I hit what I’m aiming for. : )

    In the end, just another opportunity to die to my own brains desires.

  • I’m also a perfectionist, and it had negatively impacted my work by keeping me from publishing as much as I could or should (I’m a scientist), because I often just can’t let it go and don’t know when to say it’s “good enough”. I also have difficulty focusing on one problem at a time. My parents were always encouraging if my goals and praised my good school work, etc. They never made my performance a condition if live or attention or anything else. My perfectionism and other work-related anxieties have always seemed to come from someplace within. Recently I’ve gotten a lot better at managing these issues, but I still have a long way to go.