The importance of item wording: The distinction between measuring high standards versus measuring perfectionism and why it matters

In the current research, we illustrate the impact that item wording has on the content of personality scales and how differences in item wording influence empirical results. We present evidence indicating that items in certain scales used to measure “adaptive” perfectionism fail to capture the disabling all-or-nothing approach that is synonymous with the individual who is driven to attain perfection. Original and modified versions of two perfectionism measures of high personal standards and modified perfectionistic standards versions of these scales were administered to three samples of participants. A series of analyses established that item wording does indeed matter. In particular, our results differed for a modified version of the Almost Perfect Scale–Revised when the focus was on a conceptualization and assessment of perfectionism that is fundamentally different from conscientious striving. The current findings are discussed in terms of their implications for scale construction and item wording in general and for the measurement of perfectionism in particular. The specific implications of these findings are examined in terms of understanding dysfunctional perfectionism and the current debate about whether certain aspects of perfectionism are adaptive versus maladaptive.