Home Education & Learning Study Finds Imposter Syndrome Fuels Student Self-Sabotage

Study Finds Imposter Syndrome Fuels Student Self-Sabotage

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A recent study published in the Journal of American College Health has revealed that imposter syndrome and academic self-handicapping (ASH) significantly impact students’ academic goal orientations. The research delves into the intricate relationships between these psychological factors and their effects on student performance, shedding light on how these dynamics differ across genders and underrepresented student groups.

Despite obvious success, imposter syndrome, also known as the imposter phenomenon, is characterised by persistent feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Individuals experiencing imposterism frequently attribute their achievements to external factors such as luck or timing, fearing they will be exposed as frauds. In contrast, academic self-handicapping involves behaviours that provide excuses for potential failures, such as procrastination or lack of preparation. Both imposterism and ASH are linked to negative academic outcomes.

The primary aim of the study was to examine whether ASH mediates the relationship between imposterism and various types of academic goal orientation. Additionally, the researchers sought to explore whether these relationships vary by gender and underrepresented student status. The study surveyed 852 undergraduate students from predominantly white institutions (PWIs) in the Midwest, gathering data on imposterism, ASH, and academic goal orientations through self-report scales.

The findings indicate that ASH partially mediates the relationship between imposterism and both mastery and performance-approach academic goal orientations. Mastery orientation involves a desire to learn and master new skills, while performance-approach orientation focuses on demonstrating competence to others. High levels of imposterism were directly related to a high performance-avoidance orientation, where students aim to avoid appearing incompetent.

Interestingly, the mediation model demonstrated gender invariance, suggesting that the relationships between imposterism, ASH, and academic goal orientations were consistent across men and women. However, the model did not hold true for underrepresented students (URS), with first-generation student status playing a significant role in these discrepancies.

While women reported higher levels of imposterism, mastery orientation, and performance-avoidance orientation compared to men, the overall relationships among the study variables remained consistent across genders. This consistency implies that interventions designed to address imposterism and ASH can be applied broadly across male and female students.

For URS, the study revealed a different pattern. Non-URS reported higher levels of imposterism and both performance-approach and performance-avoidance orientations. The lack of invariance among URS could be attributed to the higher percentage of first-generation students within this group. First-generation students often face unique challenges, including a lack of familiarity with academic culture and lower self-efficacy, which could exacerbate feelings of imposterism and reliance on ASH strategies.

The study’s findings underscore the need for targeted interventions to reduce imposterism and ASH among college students. Such interventions could include creating supportive learning environments, developing mentorship and support networks, and implementing direct interventions to address imposterism and ASH.

Instructors can foster classroom cultures that reduce competitive pressures and promote collaborative learning, emphasising mastery and personal growth over performance comparisons. Establishing strong faculty-student mentoring relationships and providing social support systems can enhance students’ sense of belonging and self-efficacy, which is particularly important for first-generation and underrepresented students who may feel isolated or out of place in academic settings.

Workshops and programmes designed to address imposter syndrome and self-handicapping can provide students with tools to manage their fears and improve their academic strategies. Normalising imposter feelings and teaching coping mechanisms can help students build resilience and confidence. Given the significant impact of first-generation status on imposterism and academic outcomes, universities should consider specialised support services for these students, such as orientation programmes, peer mentoring, and academic skills workshops tailored to their unique needs.

This study highlights the intricate connections between imposterism, academic self-handicapping, and goal orientation, offering valuable insights for educators and administrators. By understanding these relationships and addressing the specific needs of different student groups, institutions can enhance student success and well-being.

© Copyright 2014–2034 Psychreg Ltd