Perfectionistic Automatic Thoughts and Psychological Distress in Adolescents: An Analysis of the Perfectionism Cognitions Inventory

  • Gordon L. Flett
  • Paul L. Hewitt
  • Aline Demerjian
  • Edward D. Sturman
  • Simon B. Sherry
  • Winnie Cheng
Original Article


The present paper examines a measure of perfectionistic automatic thoughts in terms of its psychometric properties and association with depression in adolescents. The Perfectionism Cognitions Inventory (PCI) was administered to two samples of adolescents. The first sample of adolescents (N = 250) also completed measures of trait perfectionism and depression. The second sample of adolescents (N = 105) completed these same measures as well as measures of negative automatic thoughts, positive automatic thoughts, self-criticism, and dependency. Psychometric analyses established that the PCI consists of one large factor with a high level of internal consistency. As expected, the PCI in adolescents was correlated significantly with trait measures of perfectionism, self-criticism, dependency, as well as general measures of automatic thoughts. Most importantly, a series of hierarchical regressions established that the PCI accounted for a significant degree of unique variance in depression, over and above the variance attributable to trait personality measures and negative automatic thoughts in general. Overall, the findings suggest perfectionistic automatic thoughts can be assessed in a reliable and valid manner in adolescents and that the experience of frequent, perfectionistic thoughts contributes uniquely to increased levels of psychological distress.


Perfectionism Cognitions Automatic thoughts Depression Self-criticism Dependency 


  1. Abela, J. R. Z., & Hankin, B. L. (2007). Cognitive vulnerability to depression in children and adults: A developmental psychopathology perspective. In J. R. Z. Abela & B. L. Hankin (Eds.), Handbook of depression in children and adolescents (pp. 35–78). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  2. Ambrose, B., & Rholes, W. S. (1993). Automatic cognitions and the symptoms of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents: An examination of the content-specificity hypothesis. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 17, 153–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arpin-Cribbie, C. A., Irvine, J., Ritvo, P., Cribbie, R. A., Flett, G. L., & Hewitt, P. L. (2008). Perfectionism and psychological distress: A modeling approach to understanding their therapeutic relationship. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 26, 151–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Briggs, S. R., & Cheek, J. M. (1986). The role of factor analysis in the development and evaluation of personality scales. Journal of Personality, 54, 106–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burgess, E., & Haaga, D. A. F. (1994). The positive automatic thoughts questionnaire and the automatic thoughts questionnaire—revised: Equivalent measures of positive thinking? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 18, 15–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clara, I. P., Cox, B. J., & Enns, M. W. (2007). Assessing self-critical perfectionism in clinical depression. Journal of Personality Assessment, 88, 309–316.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dobson, K. S., & Breiter, H. J. (1983). Cognitive assessment of depression: Reliability and validity of three measures. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 92, 107–109.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Enns, M. W., & Cox, B. J. (1999). Perfectionism and depressive symptom severity in major depressive disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 37, 783–794.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Enns, M. W., & Cox, B. J. (2002). The nature and assessment of perfectionism: A critical analysis. In G. L. Flett & P. L. Hewitt (Eds.), Perfectionism: Theory, research, and treatment (pp. 33–62). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Enns, M. W., Cox, B. J., & Inayatulla, M. (2003). Personality predictors of outcomes for adolescents hospitalized for suicidal ideation. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 720–727.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fehon, D. C., Grilo, C. M., & Martino, S. (2000). A comparison of dependent and self-critically depressed hospitalized adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 29, 93–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fichman, L., Koestner, R., & Zuroff, D. C. (1994). Depressive styles in adolescence: Assessment, relation to social functioning, and developmental trends. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 23, 315–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fichman, L., Koestner, R., & Zuroff, D. C. (1996). Dependency, self-criticism, and perceptions of inferiority at summer camp: I’m even worse than you think. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 25, 113–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., Blankstein, K. R., & Gray, L. (1998). Psychological distress and the frequency of perfectionistic thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1363–1381.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., Boucher, D. J., Davidson, L. A., & Munro, Y. (1997). The child-adolescent perfectionism scale: Development, validation, and association with adjustment. Unpublished manuscript, York University, Toronto.Google Scholar
  16. Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., Whelan, T., & Martin, T. R. (2007). The perfectionism cognitions inventory: Psychometric properties and associations with distress and deficits in cognitive self-management. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 25, 255–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Frost, R. O., Marten, P. A., Lahart, C., & Rosenblate, R. (1990). The dimensions of perfectionism. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 14, 449–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Garber, J., Weiss, B., & Shanley, N. (1993). Cognitions, depressive symptoms, and development in adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 47–57.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Glass, C. R., & Arnkoff, D. B. (1997). Questionnaire methods of cognitive self-statement assessment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 911–927.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hewitt, P. L., Caelian, C. F., Flett, G. L., Sherry, S. B., Collins, L., & Flynn, C. A. (2002). Perfectionism in children: Associations with depression, anxiety, and anger. Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 1049–1061.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (1991). Perfectionism in the self and social contexts: Conceptualization, assessment, and association with psychopathology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 456–470.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (1993). Dimensions of perfectionism, daily stress, and depression: A test of the specific vulnerability hypothesis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 58–65.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hewitt, P. L., & Genest, M. (1990). The ideal-self: Schematic processing of perfectionistic content in dysphoric university students. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 802–808.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hollon, S. D., & Kendall, P. C. (1980). Cognitive self-statements in depression: Development of an automatic thoughts questionnaire. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 4, 383–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ingram, R. E., Kendall, P. C., Siegle, G., Guarino, J., & McLaughlin, S. C. (1995). Psychometric properties of the positive automatic thoughts questionnaire. Psychological Assessment, 7, 495–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ingram, R. E., Slater, M. A., Atkinson, J. H., & Scott, W. (1990). Positive automatic cognition in major affective disorder. Psychological Assessment, 2, 209–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ingram, R. E., & Wisnicki, K. S. (1988). Assessment of automatic positive cognition. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 898–902.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jolly, J. B., & Dykman, R. A. (1994). Using self-report data to differentiate anxious and depressive symptoms in adolescents: Cognitive content specificity and global distress? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 18, 25–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jolly, J. B., & Wiesner, D. C. (1996). Psychometric properties of the automatic thoughts questionnaire-positive with inpatient adolescents. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 20, 481–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kaufman, N. K., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., Clarke, G. N., & Stice, E. (2005). Potential mediators of cognitive-behavioral therapy for adolescents with comorbid major depression and conduct disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 38–46.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kazdin, A. E. (1990). Evaluation of the automatic thoughts questionnaire: Negative cognitive processes and depression among children. Psychological Assessment, 2, 73–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kowalenko, N., Rapee, R. M., Simmons, J., Wignall, A., Hoge, R., Whitefield, K., et al. (2005). Short-term effectiveness of a school-based early intervention program for adolescent depression. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 10, 493–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lightsey, O. R. (1994). Positive cognitions as moderators of the negative life event-depression relationship. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 18, 353–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Marien, W. E., & Bell, D. J. (2004). Anxiety- and depression-related thoughts in children: Development and evaluation of a cognitive measure. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33, 717–730.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McWhinnie, C. M., Abela, J. R., Knauper, B., & Zhang, C. (2009). Development and validation of the revised children’s dysfunctional attitudes scale. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 48, 287–308.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Muris, P., Mayer, B., den Adel, M., Roos, T., & van Wamelen, J. (2009). Predictors of change following cognitive-behavioral treatment of children with anxiety problems: A preliminary investigation of negative automatic thoughts and anxiety control. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 40, 139–151.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nock, M. K., & Kazdin, A. E. (2002). Examination of affective, cognitive, and behavioral factors and suicide-related outcomes in children and young adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 31, 48–58.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Radloff, L. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Roberts, R. E., Andrews, J. A., Lewinsohn, P. M., & Hops, H. (1990). Assessment of depression in adolescents using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies in depression scale. Psychological Assessment, 2, 122–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ronan, K. R., & Kendall, P. C. (1997). Self-talk in distressed youth: States-of-mind and content specificity. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 26, 330–337.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schniering, C. A., & Lyneham, H. J. (2007). The children’s automatic thoughts scale in a clinical sample: Psychometric properties and clinical utility. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 1931–1940.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schniering, C. A., & Rapee, R. M. (2002). Development and validation of a measure of children’s automatic thoughts: The children’s automatic thoughts scale. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 40, 1091–1109.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schniering, C. A., & Rapee, R. M. (2004). The relationship between automatic thoughts and negative emotions in children and adolescents: A test of the cognitive content-specificity hypothesis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 113, 464–470.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Spence, S. H., Sheffield, J. K., & Donovan, C. L. (2003). Preventing adolescent depression: An evaluation of the problem solving for life program. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 3–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Spence, S. H., & Shortt, A. L. (2007). Research review: Can we justify the dissemination of universal, school-based interventions for the prevention of depression among children and adolescents? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 526–542.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon L. Flett
    • 1
  • Paul L. Hewitt
    • 2
  • Aline Demerjian
    • 1
  • Edward D. Sturman
    • 3
  • Simon B. Sherry
    • 4
  • Winnie Cheng
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.State University of New York at PlattsburghPlattsburghUSA
  4. 4.Dalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

Personalised recommendations