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Just Right—Or Not? The Relationship Between Perfectionism and OCD

A 2009 paper by Melanie W. Moretz and Dean McKay at Fordham University examined certain components of perfectionism and the role they play in specific OCD symptoms. Perfectionism, here, is defined as: “the setting of excessively high standards for performance accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations” (Moretz and McKay). The study involved an undergraduate sample and used the following measures:

  1. The Vancouver Obsessive-Compulsive Inventory (VOCI) to measure OCD symptoms;

  2. The Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (FMPS) to measure maladaptive perfectionism;

  3. And the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) to measure trait anxiety.

The subscales of the VOCI include Contamination, Checking, Obsessions, Hoarding, Just Right, and Indecisiveness. The six dimensions of the FMPS are: concerns about making mistakes, setting high personal standards, perceived parental expectations, parental criticism, doubts about actions, and tendency to be organized. Participants were asked to complete these questionnaires, along with other unrelated questionnaires as controls. The resulting data was analyzed using the LISREL model, which provided a good fit for the data. Correlations were computed among these measures (Moretz and McKay).

Results showed that the indirect effects of MEC (maladaptive evaluation concerns) perfectionism were significant on “Not Just Right” (NJR)—a specific symptom of OCD which the researchers defined as: “the feeling that a task has not been completed or that the experience did not have a positive perceptual feeling of completion” (Moretz and McKay). This indicates the mediational role that trait anxiety plays in the relationship between NJR obsessions and MEC perfectionism, and points to the role of perfectionism in contributing to OCD.

Moreover, it also seems that proximal indicators of perfectionism (part of the FMPS), such as concerns about making mistakes and doubts about actions, account for more of the variance in OCD-related cognitions than distal indicators like perceived parental expectations and parental criticism (Moretz and McKay). Hence, it is possible that these proximal indicators may be of great use in the development of treatment plans for checking and NJR symptoms. Though it is true that the generalizability of the results of this particular study is limited to a non-clinical undergraduate population, the findings of this study are incredibly promising.

Trait anxiety mediates the relationship between “Not Just Right” obsessions and maladaptive perfectionism, suggesting that perfectionism contributes to OCD.

Proximal indicators of perfectionism include worries about making mistakes and doubts about actions; these indicators appear to have a greater role in OCD than distal indicators like parental expectations and criticism.

Work Cited

  1. Moretz, Melanie and Dean McKay. “The role of perfectionism in obsessive–compulsive symptoms: ‘Not just right’ experiences and checking compulsions.” Journal of Anxiety Disorders, vol. 23, no. 5, 2009, pp. 640-644

Last Fact Checked on May 31st, 2021.


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