Social psychologists have studied what they call the impostor phenomenon since at least the 1970s, when a pair of therapists at Georgia State University used the phrase to describe the internal experience of a group of high-achieving women who had a secret sense they were not as capable as others thought. Since then researchers have documented such fears in adults of all ages, as well as adolescents.
Their findings have veered well away from the original conception of impostorism as a reflection of an anxious personality or a cultural stereotype. Feelings of phoniness appear to alter people’s goals in unexpected ways and may also protect them against subconscious self-delusions.
Questionnaires measuring impostor fears ask people how much they agree with statements like these: “At times, I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck.” “I can give the impression that I’m more competent than I really am.” “If I’m to receive a promotion of some kind, I hesitate to tell others until it’s an accomplished fact.”