COLUMBUS, Ohio -- People who achieve a lot in life but still doubt their abilities find that success often doesn't bring happiness.
Researchers at Ohio State University have found that these overachievers don't like their work and are unable to enjoy their accomplishments.
Overachievers are different from high achievers, who are confident of their talents and are able to enjoy their hard work and the success it brings, said Robert Arkin, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
"Overachievers have a tremendous feeling of self-doubt about their abilities coupled with a strong need to prove themselves," Arkin said.
Kathryn Oleson, a post-doctoral researcher at Ohio State, said overachievers believe they need to work especially hard to overcome their inadequacies and achieve success. "But when they reach their goal it seems as though they're faced with the
prospect of having to prove themselves all over again."
Arkin, Oleson and their colleagues have conducted a series of studies examining overachievers. Some of their work was presented this month in New York City at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society.
In one study involving 101 college students, researchers compared overachievers -- identified through a scale developed by Arkin and his collaborators -- with others. Results showed that overachievers, in addition to feeling self-doubt and a need for success, also felt more depressed and stupid after a failure than did others. They were anxious and apprehensive about others' opinions of them.
Overachievers don't put forth extra effort in everything they do, the research showed, but only on projects that they believe could lead to success. "They avoid putting forth effort when they feel there's a possibility of failure," Arkin said.
Another study suggests that overachievers, through hard work, often find the success they crave. Arkin's research team had 87 college students -- half of them overachievers -- keep a diary over two weeks detailing their study habits. Researchers also examined the students' scores on the ACT college entrance exam and their college GPAs.
Results showed that overachievers had higher GPAs than would be predicted based on their ACT scores. They also reported studying more than did other students. "Overachievers did get the higher grades that they wanted," Oleson said. "But we argue that this success comes with a high psychological cost.
"It seems that our overachievers desperately want to see themselves as talented, but have resigned themselves to feeling uncertain about their ability. So they put forth huge amounts of effort to reach their goals," Oleson said.
Oleson, who will be an assistant professor of psychology at Reed College in Portland, Ore. beginning this fall, had her research at Ohio State funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Other members of the research team included Kirsten Poehlmann, a psychology graduate student at Ohio State; and John Yost, an assistant professor of psychology at John Carroll University.
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Contact: Robert Arkin, (614) 292-9184
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457