Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name



Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

exercise; perfectionism; high standards; adolescents


Exercise is generally thought to be beneficial for physical and mental health; however, when done in excess, exercise can lead to damaging physical, psychological, and social health consequences. This type of exercise is known as exercise dependency and is frequently associated with eating disorder pathology. Perfectionism (high standards and evaluative concerns) is a risk factor for eating disorders and is also associated with exercise dependency. However, no studies have examined longitudinal relationships between perfectionism and exercise dependency. The current study used a sample of adolescent females (N = 444) from a Southeastern United States high school, and participants completed measures of eating disorder symptomology, perfectionism, and exercise dependency at baseline and one-month time points, Multiple regression analysis was conducted. Cross-sectionally, both high standards, and evaluative concerns perfectionism were associated with exercise dependency. In the longitudinal model, only high standards perfectionism was a predictor of exercise dependency symptoms. The results suggest that while high standards perfectionism is widely considered adaptive, it may be a contributing factor to later development of exercise dependency. By understanding the factors contributing to exercise dependency, health and fitness professionals can screen for perfectionism in sports to identify athletes at risk for later development of exercise dependency. This relationship suggests high standards perfectionism could serve as a potential target in preventing the development of exercise dependency.

Ernst_Senior_Honors_Thesis.docx (59 kB)
Assessing Perfectionism as a Predictor of Exercise Dependency over Time

Lay Summary

Exercise is widely considered to be beneficial for an individual’s psychological and physical well-being. However, in some cases, exercise can develop into a negative pattern of behavior that leads to problems with physical, mental, and emotional health. This pattern is termed exercise dependency and shares symptoms with substance abuse and addiction. Exercise dependency is also a symptom of eating disorders.

Perfectionism is another common symptom in individuals with an eating disorder. Past research has shown that there are two dimensions: high standards (an adaptive type associated with the setting and achieving of goals) and evaluative concerns (a maladaptive type associated with self-criticism over mistakes). Perfectionism is associated with exercise dependency, but studies have been inconsistent in finding which dimension is most related. Research has yet to test the longitudinal relationship between perfectionism and exercise dependency in an adolescent sample. This study used a multiple regression analysis to look at whether evaluative concerns perfectionism or high standards perfectionism predicted exercise dependency over time while accounting for baseline exercise dependency and eating disorder symptoms.

Our results found that, at the same time point, both evaluative concerns and high standards perfectionism were associated with exercise dependency. However, at the one-month time point, only high standards perfectionism predicted exercise dependency symptoms. The results demonstrate that while many people consider high standards to be a beneficial trait, this behavior may develop into a maladaptive pattern when standards for exercise are set too high. Understanding the risk factors for exercise dependency is important and enables health and fitness professionals to screen for risk factors in adolescents, particularly those who exercise frequently or participate in sports.