Transitioning to university may be especially difficult for students who expect perfection from themselves. Self-critical perfectionism has consistently been linked to poor mental health. The current study compares a diathesis-stress and a downward-spiral model to determine why self-critical perfectionism is detrimental for mental health during this transition. First-year students (N = 658) were recruited before beginning university in August and contacted again in October, January, and April. Participants completed measures on perfectionism, stress, and depressive symptoms. Evidence was found for a downward-spiral model with self-critical perfectionism but not a diathesis-stress model. Students higher in self-critical perfectionism were more likely to experience increased stress and depressive symptoms in a circular and additive manner. Conversely, students higher in personal-standards perfectionism experienced less stress and subsequent depressive symptoms. This research provides a theoretical model for why self-critical perfectionism is related to poor mental-health outcomes that become sustained over time.

diathesis-stress, downward spiral, mental health, open materials, perfectionism, stress
Clinical Psychological Science
Department of Psychology

Levine, S.L. (Shelby L.), Milyavskaya, M, & Zuroff, D.C. (David C.). (2019). Perfectionism in the Transition to University: Comparing Diathesis-Stress and Downward Spiral Models of Depressive Symptoms. Clinical Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/2167702619865966