How can Imposter Syndrome be differentiated from actually possessing its symptoms? For example, one of the symptoms is the feeling that the person does not possesses extra intelligence, but that they have tricked their peers into such false perceptions.

Perhaps either one is true, either they posses special skills in scamming the public, so to say. Or they have imposter syndrome, but how can one truly know? Especially after coming across the fact that descriptions of such states exist.

In short, how do we differentiate imposter syndrome from [one who feels like] an actual imposter?

Please comment for clarifications

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    $\begingroup$ No welcome to Psychology.SE? $\endgroup$
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Oct 9, 2018 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ Hi @Shmuel, and welcome. :-) I am unsure as to what you are looking for that isn't covered in the article that you referenced: "Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds ..." - ie, the way to differentiate the feeling of being a fraud from an actual fraud is through independent evidence. Can you clarify the question? $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Oct 10, 2018 at 1:22

1 Answer 1


It sounds like two measurements are needed:

1) Perception of competence. This could be measured using self-report for large studies, or semi-structured interviews for individuals or small samples. For example, individuals could use semantic differential scales to rate global or specific aspects of quality at characteristics or tasks that are key to that activity.

2) Objective measurement of competence. This will be specific to the domain. I work in science, and there are increasing (although flawed) metrics to measure quality such as the H-index for publishing impact. One could also use a basket of other measures, and they could include subjective input like peer ratings. Similar studies have been run in personality psychology.

In an individual, it would be difficult to know whether an observed difference between 1) and 2) is meaningful (e.g., not due to chance). This would be easier in populations, where two distributions could be compared using a method like correlation.

On a less methodological note, many beliefs about the self are not strictly accurate. A general summary is that most beliefs about the self are MORE positive than they should be: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_superiority However, people seem to underrate their abilities for rare tasks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worse-than-average_effect

The original post mentioned scamming others into a belief. Keep in mind that some qualities don't have precise scientific content, or are defined in a huge amount of conflicting ways (e.g., "leadership"), and so it would be difficult to objectively verify. That is, the imposter syndrome will be easier to verify for specific, concrete tasks and well-studied abilities (including intelligence).


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