Impostor Syndrome

The term impostor syndrome (IS) was first described by Clance and Imes in (1978). Individuals with the Impostor syndrome practise strong feelings that their achievements are unfair and worry that they are likely to be exposed as a fraud Therefore, IP is a set of feelings of fear, doubt, nervousness and a defected cycle of post-success anxiety, which involves successful young people. This psychological deficit can be a complication to improvement and use of their hidden talents.

Firstly, the Impostor syndrome was believed to only affect professional women (Clance & Imes 1978). Though, feeling like an impostor seems to be widely experienced.  Successive research has shown Impostorism affects a wide range of people.  For example, Impostorism has been observed to affect both genders (e.g., Bussotti, 1990; Langford, 1990; Topping, 1983), and it occur in people with different careers such as college students (Bussotti, 1990; Harvey, 1981; Langford, 1990), academics (Topping, 1983), medical students (Henning et al., 1998), marketing managers (Fried-Buchalter, 1992), and physician assistants (Mattie, Gietzen, Davis & Prata, 2008; Prata & Gietzen, 2007).  

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It is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one event of this Impostor syndrome in their lives (Gravois, 2007).  Harvey (1981) declared that anyone can view themselves as an impostor if they fail to adopt their success and this experience is not limited to people who are highly successful.

Students are one of the high-risk groups for this syndrome. Students suffering from Imposter Syndrome develop feelings of self-doubt and have fear that they will be exposed by others as a person with academic fraud. As they consider themselves as less capable and smart than perceived by their classmates, teachers, families and society. These sufferers fail to prove themselves that they are knowledgeable, skill full and have accomplished the goal by quality of their abilities, which they actually own. Overall, they believe themselves to be less intelligent and competent than others perceive them to be. Imposter syndrome is associated with anxiety, low level of self-esteem, lack of confidence and a labile self-concept.

Imposter syndrome has many important consequences on medical education and training. The sufferers are usually shy to initiate a discussion or speak out or volunteer answers or define facts during a class, academic activity or even day to day candid conversations. Because of this hesitancy they develop different styles of learning and find it difficult to learn through conventional or usual teaching strategies.

Clance has recommended four main features of the family that can contribute to the development and spread of IS: 1Awareness of imposters that their talents are atypical compared with other family members, 2Family messages that carry the importance of academic abilities and that success requires little effort, 3Disagreement between feedback about impostors’ ability and success derived from family and other sources, 4Lack of positive reinforcement. A greater understanding of the factors contributing to Impostorism and its consequences may lead to effective interventions that reduce psychological distress.

This study was designed to discover the frequency of imposter syndromes among under graduate students of a North South University in Bangladesh so that special strategies may be recommended to improve the teaching and learning plans as well as the course. Three question would lead our investigation to imposter syndrome 1. Does imposter syndrome occur consistently among north south students 2. Does it occur in higher incidence in male or female students 3. What other demographic factors have relationship with its incidence.

Justification of the Study

For Impostors, accomplishment does not mean happiness, impostors continuously experience   fear, stress, self-loathing and feel uncomfortable with their successes. Impostors fears interfere with a person’s ability to accept and appreciate their capabilities and achievements, and have negative power on their psychological wellbeing. When facing an achievement-related tasks, impostors often experience overpowering anxiety due to their fear of failure. Stress   emotional exhaustion loss of intrinsic, inspiration poor achievements, include guilt and shame about success are reinforced by repetition of Imposter cycle (Chrisman et al.,1995; Clance, 1985; Clance and Imes, 1978).

Operational Definitions

Impostor syndrome: Feelings of phoniness experienced by high achievers (Clance & Imes, 1978).
Clance: Is best known as the writer of The Impostor Syndrome: Overcoming the Fear that Haunts Your Achievement.

Research Question (s)
Does Imposter syndrome occur consistently among North South Students? 
Does it occur it in Higher incidence in male or female students?
What other demographic factors have relationship with its incidence? 


Dr Pauline Clance described first the imposter syndrome by her observation in clinical setting in (Clance 1985). Individual with imposter syndrome experience intense feeling that their achievements are undeserved and worry that they are likely to be exposed as a fraud. 

Definition of Impostorism by Harvey and Katz

Harvey and Katz (1985, as mentioned in Hellman and Caselma,2004) practice the term imposter syndrome to define “a mental pattern rooted in intense, hidden feeling of fraudulence when faced with achievements tasks” (Hellman and Caselmam,2004p.161) Harvey and Katz in (1985) proposed that the imposter syndrome comprised of 3 core aspects:
1 the confidence that He/She has tricked others people, 2fear of being exposed as imposter and 3inability to attribute own accomplishment to internal talents such as ability, intelligent or skill.

As (Harvey Katz) classification, all three criteria must be met in order to consider somebody as imposter, this explanation is more detailed than Cylance’s conceptualization. 

Family dynamic and Impostorism

According to the clinical observation, imposter fear is derived from certain family conditions in early childhood and then strengthened over socialisation for achievement in adolescence. 

Clance (1985) recommended four wide-ranging characteristics of the family that contribute to the spread of imposter syndrome to her patients’ developmental histories: (1) the awareness of impostors that their talents are typical compared with family members, (2) family message that send the importance of academic abilities and the success involves little effort.,(3) difference between feedback about imposters’ abilities and success   resulting from family and other sources, (4)  lack of positive support.
Bussotti (1990) examined the family background of Imposters, focused on family environment, the relationship between family members, and family structure, via the family environmental scale (Moos and Moos, 1986). with a sample of 302 students, Bussotti found that CIPS score were negatively linked to the family unity and expressive subscale and positively associated with family conflict and family control subscale of the family environment scale.

Antecedent of Imposter

Family environment, family dynamics, and parenteral education styles can affect the achievement performance of a child and effect how the child acquires to deal with success and failure (Thompson, 004), predisposing characters trait, such as neuroticism and perfectionism, are expected to be other factors which contribute to the emergency of Impostorism. These predisposing behaviours traits are expected to be stable and may partly contribute to the development of the cognitive representation of a person.

The need to be special, to be very best.

Imposter often secretly harbour the need to be the very best related with their peers. Clance (1985) detected that imposters have often been in the top of the class throughout their school years. However, in a larger setting, such as in a university, imposters realise that there are many brilliant people and their own talents and capabilities are not typical. As a result, imposters often dismiss their own talents and conclude that they are stupid when they are not the very best.


Clance (1985) emphasised that “the need to be the very best” and “the superman/superwoman aspect” are inter-related. This characteristic of the Imposter syndrome refers to a perfectionistic tendency. Imposters expect to do everything flawlessly in in every aspect of their lives. 

They usual high and almost impossible standards as their goals and for their self-evaluation
(Imes and Clance, 1984) Imposters often feel overwhelmed, disappointed, and overgeneralise themselves as failures when they are unable to fulfil their perfectionistic goals (Clance, 1985).

Fear and guilty about success

Fear and guilty about success in imposter are related to the negative consequences of their success. E.g. when their victories are unusual in their family or their peers, imposters often feel less related and more unfriendly. They are overwhelmed by guilty about being different (Clance, 1985) and worry about being rejected by others.

Fear of failure.

Imposters experience high levels of anxiety when exposed to an achievement-related task because they fear possible failure. For imposters making mistakes and not performing at the highest standard precipitates feeling of shame and humiliation (Clance, 1985). Clance and O’Toole (1988) asserted that fear of failure is an underlying motive of most imposter. Therefore, to reduce the risk of possible failure, imposters tend to overwork to be certain that they will not fail (Clance, 1985).  

Denial of competence and discounting praise

Imposter have difficulty adopting their achievement and accepting praise as binding. Imposters attribute their success to external factors to a great degree than non-imposters (Chae et al., 1995; Harvey, 1981; Thompson et al.,1998; Topping & Kimmel, 1985).  They not only deduce positive feedback and objective evidence of achievement but also focus on evidence or develop arguments to verify that they do not earn praise credit for a certain success (Clance, 1985), the imposter syndrome is not a demonstrate of false modesty. 

Personality factors and Impostorism

A number of studies have observed how personality links with Imposter feels to legalize specific facets of imposter fears and to distinguish imposter from another psychological syndrome.

In (1983) Topping found a moderate positive relationship between imposter fears and trait anxiety, r=42, In a sample of 285 University staffs, which advised that generalized anxiety was anxiety was an important component of imposter fears. Topping as well found that imposters had a higher level of success inspiration than non-imposters Topping determined that in order to eliminate their own personal sense of self-doubt, imposters are highly motivated to prove they are talented, competent, and meaningful. The relationship between characteristics of imposters and elements of perfectionism have been supported by some experimental studies. Thompson, Davis, and Davidson (1998) found perfectionistic cognitions in subjects reporting high levels of imposter fears, such as a tendency to externalise success, holding high standards for self-evaluations, overgeneralisation of a single failure experience to their overall concept, and high level of self-criticism.  

Consequences of Impostorism

for imposters, victory does not mean happiness, imposter often practise fear, stress, self-doubt, and feel uncomfortable with their achievements, imposters fear to interfere with a person’s ability to accept and enjoy their abilities and achievements, and have a negative impact on their mental well-being. When facing an attainment interrelated tasks, imposters often experience uncontrollable anxiety due to their fear of failure. Burnout, emotional exhaustion, loss of intrinsic motivation, poor accomplishments, including guilty and shame about success are reinforced by repetitions of imposter cycle (Chrisman et al., 1995; Clance, 1985; Clance & Imes, 1978).

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