Study finds effects of impostor syndrome on students and ways to cope

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Many people may feel like inadequate “impostors” when they enter a new environment, like starting college or a new job.

A study found that this “impostor syndrome” is a phenomenon more common than one might think.

“Sometimes the pressure to be smart and capable causes some students to feel like they’re frauds or they’re fakes,” said Jeffrey Bednar, a BYU professor and co-author of the study. 

The study was co-authored by BYU alumnus and University of Nevada Las Vegas professor Richard Gardner, BYU professors Jeffrey Bednar, Bryan Stewat and James Oldroyd, and Stanford student Joseph Moore.

“We all have a feedback loop that goes from our performance to our sense of self-confidence. When we perform well, in general that increases our sense of confidence in ourself,” Bednar said. “But for people that are struggling with impostorism, that feedback loop is damaged. It doesn’t work like it does normally.”

A study found how impostor syndrome can affect both students and professors. (BYU Photo)

This impostor syndrome can also be explained as feeling like “a small fish in a big pond.”  Bednar said some factors that can contribute to feelings of impostorism are being in a minority group or being in a situation with set expectations for behavior or knowledge.

“Students look around and see so many other qualified, capable, successful students and then they look at themselves and wonder, ‘Do I have what it really takes to be successful here?’ and maybe feel like they slipped through the admissions cracks,” Bednar said.

The study found that about 20 percent of participants say they experience impostor syndrome, and an astounding 88 percent responded ‘yes’ to feelings of impostor syndrome in a non-scientific BYU Twitter poll.

The researchers found the best way to cope with impostor syndrome is to reach out to those outside one’s work or major, like professors, family, or friends, rather than invest time in video games or other measures to get one’s mind off schoolwork.

“Be patient. You’re here for a reason. There’s something unique that you bring to the table, and you’ve already earned your place here — you don’t have to prove anything to anyone,” said BYU student Jake Wilkins.

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