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HSE University Succeeds in Measuring Impostor Syndrome

Russian scientists have adapted a methodology to help understand how confident a person is in their abilities, competences and achievements

ISTOCK

Situation: Impostor syndrome is a fairly popular topic. It is often discussed among friends, colleagues, in sessions with psychologists and in the media. Having achieved success in a particular field, many people doubt their qualifications and the validity of those qualifications. It is important here to understand how susceptible a person is to impostor syndrome and whether it prevents one from working and deriving satisfaction from their work.

In fact: Very little attention has been paid to the impostor syndrome phenomenon in Russian scientific literature. Moreover, until now, no Russian-language methodology has been tested to measure the severity of impostor syndrome. This situation has been rectified by scientists from HSE University and the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA).

In Greater Detail

Researchers from HSE University and RANEPA have tested the Russian-language version of the Pauline Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale. This tool was chosen for adaptation as one of the most reliable and researched of all currently available techniques measuring impostor syndrome.

Adapting a foreign psychometric technique involves a set of measures that includes not only translating a questionnaire created in a different sociocultural environment, but also checking its reliability and validity, and forming test norms for representatives of a particular cultural and linguistic community.

Nearly 400 university students took part in the study. The researchers obtained data showing that the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale is highly reliable. It can now be used for scientific and applied purposes, such as psychological counselling, HR and self-diagnosis. The article setting out the results of the study and the methodology itself has been published in the National Psychological Journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The work was carried out with support from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) grant: 'Perfectionism and impostor syndrome as factors of psychological well-being in a professional environment'. 

The Issue at Hand

Impostor syndrome began appearing in the scientific literature in the late 1980s. It was described by the psychologist Pauline Clance as a result of systematic observations during psychotherapy sessions. 

In a monograph published in 1985, she formulated the main characteristics of the phenomenon, which include:

 the feeling that one's own abilities and competencies are far inferior to how they are regarded by others, and the fear that the real situation will become known to everyone

 an inability to evaluate one's own performance objectively and to accept praise for it, while overestimating the achievements of others

 attributing success to external factors and failing to recognize one's own achievements

Impostor syndrome is characterized by an inner conviction that one's success depends solely on chance, external error, personal charm or hard work, but not on ability or skill.

The authors of the study, Marina Sheveleva and  Tatiana Permyakova from HSE University and Dmitry Kornienko from RANEPA, note in their article that impostor syndrome most often manifests itself in new situations, when a person accepts a new role and at the beginning of a success story. ‘It develops when people try to change their behaviour so that they are positively evaluated in a new situation or group, so this phenomenon can become a barrier to entering the environment and successfully adapting.’ 

Pauline Clance's early works showed that impostor syndrome is common in women in senior positions or who have made major academic achievements. But then it became clear that it is much more widespread. ‘It is characteristic of racial and ethnic minorities, occupational groups where success is not quantifiable, and those who are socially regarded as experts or specialists because of their age or accumulated knowledge,’ the scientists wrote.

 

From a research perspective, impostor syndrome can therefore be seen as a factor that impedes achievement in a particular area of activity and leads to the experience of negative emotional states. ‘Impostor syndrome has been shown to correlate negatively with self-esteem and self-perception; positively with anxiety, depression and fear of failure; and to be an obstacle to career development’, the authors write in the study review section. 

Since the late 1980s, more than 1,200 scientific papers on impostor syndrome have been published globally. 80% of these papers have appeared in the last 20 years. 

Preliminary analysis by researchers from HSE University and RANEPA has shown that there have been virtually no studies of impostor syndrome in Russia. There are only a limited number of works of an introductory or descriptive nature.

The Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale is a diagnostic tool that was developed by Pauline Clance to measure it. It has already been translated into Korean and German.

Three other tools are used to measure impostor syndrome:

  1. The Harvey Impostor Phenomenon Scale
  2. The Perceived Fraudulence Scale (Kolligian and Sternberg)
  3. The Leary Impostor Scale

However, as the authors note, the Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale is the most researched and reliable psychometric tool at the moment. Therefore, the aim of this study was to test its Russian-language version. The researchers contacted Pauline Clance and obtained permission to adapt the methodology.

How Was It Studied?

A total of 370 1st — 4th year students from Perm universities took part in the study; they rated the statements included in the methodology under study on a Likert scaling from 1 — never, to 5 — very often.

Overall, the scale identifies three factors of impostor syndrome: 

 Deception (example: ‘Sometimes I fear that others will discover how much knowledge and ability I really lack’)

 Impairment (example: ‘I often compare my abilities to those around me and think they may be smarter than me’)

 Luck (example: ‘At times I feel that I owe my success to a degree of luck’)

To investigate external validity, the Self-Attitude Methodology (Pantileeva S.R., Stolin V.V.) and the Short Portrait Big Five Questionnaire (Egorova M.S., Parshikova O.V.) were used. 

The self-attitude methodology diagnoses three factors or modalities of self-attitude: self-respect, autosympathy and self-deprecation. The authors note that this methodology was used because the description of the scales is meaningfully close to the characteristics of impostor syndrome as described by P. Clance.

 

The Short Portrait Big Five Questionnaire measures five basic personality traits: neuroticism, extroversion, benevolence, conscientiousness and openness to experience.

During the study, statistical data processing was carried out using SPSS 20 software. Correlation, exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis were used.

What Were the Findings?

The resulting Impostor Phenomenon Scale, consisting of 20 questions, showed high reliability indicators. The authors note that elevated values on the scale are associated with low general self-esteem — the more pronounced the impostor phenomenon, the more the individual:

 is oriented towards the motivation of social approval

 has an external locus of control

 is dissatisfied with his or her own abilities

 has low subjective value

 doubts his or her own qualities and ability to gain the respect of others

 is rigid in self-concept and lacks confidence in self-development, with dissatisfaction of self, leading to internal conflict and self-blame

The results cited by other studies, as noted by the authors, also show that high values on the Impostor Phenomenon Scale are associated with low or negative self-esteem and low levels of self-confidence. The study also revealed a degree of correlation with personality traits. High values on the Impostor Phenomenon Scale were associated with introversion, low self-awareness and self-control, negative attitudes towards others and an aversion to new things, with emotional instability.

‘This probably reflects a component of external social evaluation in the impostor phenomenon, i.e., the orientation that others are likely to assess a person's achievements negatively,’ the researchers note.

Why Is It Needed?

Impostor syndrome has received little attention in national scientific literature. Marina Sheveleva attributes this to the gap between scientific and practical psychology. ‘While abroad, research psychologists are simultaneously engaged in counselling practice, in our country these spheres are clearly separated and have little overlap, which in itself is defined as one of the key problems of modern psychology. The notion of “impostor phenomenon” is a prime example of the interconnectedness of scientific and practical psychology,’ she believes.

Data is not yet available to facilitate a comparison between Russia and other countries in terms of the prevalence of impostor syndrome. Researchers see this issue as one of a number of future research possibilities. Nevertheless, the problem, in their view, is very relevant in the domestic context.

 

‘At present, a number of factors can be observed in Russia with a high probability of leading to impostor syndrome,’ comments Marina Sheveleva. First, as the researcher explains, more and more women (and it is women who show high levels of impostor syndrome) are succeeding in business and politics, while there is still a tendency for gender stereotyping in society. Second, Russia is a multinational state. Foreign studies have shown that impostor syndrome is more prevalent in racial and ethnic minorities. Third, the geographical mobility of young people has increased due to the introduction of the Unified State Exam (USE), which provides an opportunity to obtain higher education in the capital and other major cities.

Impostor syndrome can interfere with the process of adapting to higher education and increase the risk of dropping out, the study’s authors note.

The resulting Impostor Phenomenon Scale, as the scientists point out, can be used for a variety of purposes —educational, management and counselling – throughout the Russian-speaking world. It can be used in scientific research, in psychological counselling, and for self-diagnostics.

IQ

 

Study Authors:
Marina Sheveleva, Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (Perm) / School of Foreign Languages, HSE Campus in Perm
Dmitry Kornienko, Professor, General Psychology Department, Institute of Social Sciences, RANEPA
Tatyana Permyakova, Professor, School of Foreign Languages, HSE Campus in Perm
Author: Marina Selina, May 25