Selective attention in perfectionism: Dissociating valence from perfectionism-relevance

J.A. Howell, P.M. Mcevoy, Ben Grafton, Colin Macleod, R.T. Kane, R.A. Anderson, S.J. Egan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Background and objectives Maladaptive perfectionism has been identified as a predisposing and perpetuating factor for a range of disorders, including eating, anxiety, and mood disorders. An influential model of perfectionism, put forward by Shafran, Cooper, and Fairburn (2002), proposes that high perfectionism reflects an attentional bias that operates to afford greater attention to negative information than to positive information, when this information is perfectionism-relevant. The present study is the first to experimentally test this hypothesis. Method The present study assessed the type of stimuli that high perfectionists (n = 31) preferentially attend to compared to low perfectionists (n = 25) within a non-clinical population. Using an attentional probe task, we compared high and low perfectionist attentional responding to stimulus words that differed in terms of their emotional valence (positive vs. negative) and perfectionism-relevance (perfectionism-relevant vs. -irrelevant). Results Analysis revealed that, unlike low perfectionists, high perfectionists displayed greater attentional preference to negative than to positive information, but only for perfectionism-relevant stimuli. Limitations The implications must be considered within the limitations of the present study. The present study did not assess clinical participants, as such conclusions cannot be made regarding attentional bias that characterize clinical disorders in which perfectionism is identified as a predisposing and perpetuating factor. Conclusions Theoretically, the attentional dot-probe task lends weight to the cognitive-behavioral model of clinical perfectionism, which proposed a biased attentional processing of negative perfectionism relevant stimuli within perfectionism. This conclusion was previously based on clinical impressions, whereas the present study used an objective performance measure. Clinically, therapists should take this attentional bias into account when planning treatments that involve targeting perfectionism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-108
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Early online date12 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


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