Does incompetence make people feel like imposters?

Does incompetence make people feel like imposters? By George Francis.

Imposter syndrome is a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their competency and fears that this could make them an ‘imposter’ that others could discover. …

It is typically discussed in the context of women and ethnic minorities in academia. …

To me the best explanation for Imposter syndrome is the most obvious one, some people really are imposters. If someone says they are worried about being incompetent then maybe they are, after all, people are generally rational. If in a survey you ask people if they are overweight and some say yes, your first response should not be to assume they have body dysmorphia or an eating disorder. Your first response should be to believe them. …

Contrary to the popular ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’ people are quite accurate in estimating their ability. Their estimates of percentile on intelligence tests are linearly related to their actual centile and correlate well (r = 0.54). …

Exactly in line with the theory that imposter syndrome is caused by incompetence, [this study found] low course grades, low attendance, low course engagement (lack of curiosity) and classroom competition (the perception of others working harder than you) predict feelings of being an imposter. People have imposter syndrome because they are incompetent people pretending to be something they are not — a good student. …

Denial or just failure to even consider our obvious explanation for imposter syndrome seems to be incredibly prevalent. I can’t find any study that provides a hypothesis for why low relative ability could cause imposter syndrome. In fact, the only time I have seen anyone else consider the obvious explanation was Richard Hanania in this tweet. Responses to the tweet were in denial and can be characterised by the internet jargon ‘seethe and cope’. …

So what on earth is going on? …

I suspect there’s an implicit political agenda to these denials. You see the original study on imposter syndrome claimed women were more likely to suffer from it because they had internalised a stereotype of women being incompetent. Thus imposter syndrome was a sad symptom of the sexist nature of our culture. Thus the concept is politically useful. This is incredibly ironic on two fronts.

First, stereotypes are actually very accurate, there is a globally held stereotype that men are more competent than women and women really do worse in academia and worse in pay more generally. If there really were higher levels of imposter syndrome in women that would indicate that they are more likely to struggle in academia.

Secondly, it is far from clear that women are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. There was no correlation between gender and feelings of imposter syndrome in this study of 818 students nor do men and women differ in imposter feelings in the study of 491 students. … Nonetheless, I’d speculate that women are slightly more predisposed to imposter syndrome because they generally have higher levels of anxiety/neuroticism. …

There’s also, apparently, an ethnic angle to imposter syndrome. Some studies claim and imply that imposter syndrome is a big issue for ethnic minorities. … And yet despite all these studies and claims, I can’t find any evidence to suggest minorities are especially at risk of imposter syndrome. …

We found the imposters:

More broadly, I suspect we have fertile grounds for imposter syndrome because of the expansion of further education. As more and more people enter further education, the lower the IQ of the students.

In Denmark, PhD enrollees more than doubled from 1995 to 2010 and so their IQ dropped from about 114.3 to 111.1. And the declines in the USA may have been even more precipitous. People with undergraduate degrees may have just average IQs.

If anything, I wonder why there is not more talk about feeling like an imposter in the academic world. Most people at the universities really are imposters.

Mediocre students make great woke bureaucrats.