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Do i deserve this? Imposter syndrome characterized by pathological self-doubt


Women and men affected react differently to criticism

Top performance at school or university, praise and promotion at work - what gives others a reason to celebrate and celebrate is more of a cause for embarrassment for people with imposter syndrome. "Did I deserve this?" This question is always asked by those affected. Because people who suffer from Hochstapel syndrome think that all achievements are not due to their performance. A new study shows that this can actually lead to poorer performance - at least for men.

If you secretly consider yourself an impostor and think that your achievements are based on luck, chance and other people, you can actually worsen your achievements. Especially when negative feedback is added. This was demonstrated by a team from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich (LMU) in a psychological study project that recently appeared in the specialist journal "Personality and Individual Differences".

Hypocrite syndrome was once declared a female problem

In the so-called impostor syndrome, sufferers believe that they have not earned their success and achievements and that they are overestimated by other people. This phenomenon has been known since the 1970s and was first described by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. At first, it was thought that mainly women are affected by this syndrome. It is now known that men also suffer and that particularly successful people tend to have such feelings.

Gender differences in self-proclaimed imposters

In their current study, the team led by Brooke Gadzag and Rebecca L. Badaway showed that men and women deal differently with impostor syndrome. When men are confronted with criticism or negative feedback, there tends to be a drop in performance, whereas women tend to react with increased efforts. Here is an overview of the results of the study:

  • Men with impostor syndrome show stronger overall responses to performance than women.
  • Men under pressure to perform have more anxiety.
  • As a result of criticism, male victims performed worse than women.
  • Women with the syndrome increase their efforts after negative feedback.

Course of the study

Online questionnaires initially searched for people with this syndrome. Certain questions identified those who tended to have such thought patterns. Subjects found in this way were then to solve tasks and received negative feedback on them, regardless of their actual performance.

Men with the syndrome give up more quickly

The male test subjects with impostor syndrome generally experienced a rapid decline in performance and more stress. "Men are even more stressed and then give up faster," Gazdag explains in a press release from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. It is very different with women. They would have tried harder if they knew that someone else had seen their result or received bad feedback.

Theoretical justification of the director of studies

"Our study was designed for exploration, but the result can be theoretically justified," said Gazdag. It corresponds to the assumptions of the gender theory that men are very oriented towards competencies and performance, while women are more relationship-oriented. "It fits the female stereotype and it is obvious that women make more effort when they know that someone else is looking at their result," Gazdag sums up. (vb)

Author and source information


Video: The Imposter Syndrome Paradox. Lisa and Richard Orbe-Austin. TEDxDeerPark (August 2020).