Perfectionist Concerns and Psychological Distress: The Role of Spontaneous Emotion Regulation During College Students' Experience With Failure

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Perfectionistic concerns are associated with various forms of distress, and research has shown that maladaptive emotion regulation mediates this relation. To our knowledge, this mediation process has not been studied in the lab when an individual experiences distress in the moment. This study was designed to determine (a) whether spontaneous emotion regulation mediates the relation between an experimentally induced experience of failure and distress and (b) whether perfectionistic concerns moderate this indirect effect. College students (N = 165) completed self-reports of perfectionistic concerns and past-week affect. They then completed one of the two anagram tasks that induced either a high degree of failure or a low degree of failure. Finally, spontaneous emotion regulation during the anagram task and post-task affect was measured. Spontaneous use of cognitive reappraisal mediated a positive indirect effect in the association between manipulated degree of failure and post-task negative affect at high levels of perfectionistic concerns but not at low levels. Moreover, spontaneous use of rumination mediated (a) a positive indirect effect for post-task negative affect and (b) a negative indirect effect for post-task positive affect at low levels of perfectionistic concerns but not at high levels. These findings suggest there is value in perfectionism research addressing the process of regulating emotions as it unfolds in the moment a person experiences failure. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).


This article was originally published as Woodrum, J. L., & Kahn, J. H. (2022). Perfectionistic concerns and psychological distress: The role of spontaneous emotion regulation during college students’ experience with failure. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 69(2), 246–256.