Exploring The Impostor Phenomenon Affective Cognitive And Social Correlates Of Perceived Fraudulence

Date of Graduation

Summer 2004


Master of Science in Psychology



Committee Chair

Brooke Whisenhunt


The impostor phenomenon is an intense feeling of intellectual fraudulence experienced by many high-achieving individuals. These individuals want to appear competent and intelligent to those around them, but they fear that they will be unable to maintain the success that they have experienced in the past. Impostor fears have been linked with many different problems including general anxiety, social anxiety, depression, procrastination, perfectionistic concern over mistakes, excessive doubts about actions, and socially prescribed perfectionism. In the current study, participants were screened and classified as "impostors" or "non-impostors." They were randomly assigned to read 1 of 4 vignettes about an interview for admittance into graduate school that manipulated the level of expectation and anticipated level of future interaction that the impostor and interviewer would have. Participants answered questions related to the vignettes (Impostor Outcome Scale; IOS) and completed other self-report instruments assessing constructs related to the impostor phenomenon. Analyses revealed a strong main effect for impostor status, such that regardless of experimental condition, impostors reported more negative affect and cognitions about the interview than non-impostors. There was also a significant main effect for vignette version on the affective items of the IOS, indicating that high expectations in combination with high future interactions leads to more negative affect and anxiety than low expectation and low future interaction regardless of impostorism. There were no interactions between impostor status and vignette version. The impostor phenomenon correlated significantly with many other constructs, including general and social anxiety, and many dimensions of perfectionism. Regression analyses revealed that socially prescribed perfectionism and social anxiety were meaningful predictors of impostor fears.


impostor phenomenon, perfectionism, social anxiety, socially prescribed perfectionism, perceived fraudulence

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© Layla R. Stanek