Imposter Syndrome Leads to Impairment in Social Intelligence and Self-Esteem Levels

Abstract

Imposter phenomenon is characterized by a set of feeling guilty about success in which some high achievers have a sense that they cannot meet expectations of others. This situation creates post-success anxiety in which development of their latent abilities impaired. However, current literature did not investigate the role of social intelligence in the presence of imposter in which this situation remaining obscure. In our report, we aimed to investigate association of imposter with the social intelligence and self-esteem levels that may impact on imposter syndrome. Data gathered from 75 participants with 31 males and 44 females age ranging from 20 to 68 were collected using Imposter Syndrome, Tromso Social Intelligence and Rosenber Self-Esteem Scales. Our results for the first time demonstrated that imposter tendencies associated with impairment in social intelligence and its dimensions including social awareness and social skills. Imposters have lower self-esteem and working status doesn’t affect imposter tendencies. In conclusion, imposter syndrome is not influenced by only one factor, instead it has multiple facet structure in which self and social constructs are impaired. Future recommendations and implications were discussed.

Keywords: Imposter syndrome, social intelligence, self-esteem

Introduction

Imposter syndrome (IPS) is defined as a set of feeling guilty about success in which some high achievers have a sense that they cannot meet expectations of others (Clance & Imes, 1978). In addition, imposters demonstrated a fear that they will be exposed as incompetent in front of others. Moreover, IPS has been associated with lower level of self-esteem, anxiety and impairment in self-related constructs (Gibson‐Beverly & Schwartz, 2008). Although IPS is not considered a psychological disorder in DSM-V (APA, 2013), Kolligian and Sternberg (2000) named imposter syndrome as “perceived fraudulence” and suggested that it is a personality disorder since it included “self-perception” with emotional-affective and cognitive factors.

One of the risk group for the IPS syndrome are students in which they develop feelings about self-doubt and consider themselves as less intelligent and component than their society they involved. Furthermore, they feel that they are unable to present skills in order to accomplish the tasks or they perceive themselves in which they are unable to reach the goal pursuit (Villwock, Sobin, Koester, & Harris, 2016). When gendering conditions are considered, women are shown to have more IPS than males (Clance & Imes, 1978). Authors speculated that while men find more sport from their society which prevents imposter worry and occurrences of detrimental influence on their lives, women do not have such a strong support networks that related to achieve their goals. This speculation also points out IPS might have been influenced by social intelligence.

On the other hand, social intelligence (SI) is a construct in which socially intelligent individuals demonstrate to build successful relationships and navigate social environment. SI can be described as combination of abilities such as social awareness (basic understanding of people), social information process (a set of cognitive-emotional mechanisms indicating how individuals respond particular social situation) and social skills (individuals’ ability to direct social environment) (Silvera, Martinussen, & Dahl, 2001). Since IPS was appeared as a set of fear, doubt, worry, defective cycles of post-success anxiety don’t allow individuals to develop from all of their latent abilities which may indicate that social intelligence impairment in those individuals. Therefore, weakening of the self-esteem, self-image and social intelligence may be observed in individuals with IPS. On the other hand, self-esteem was defined as feelings, thoughts and evaluations of individuals which was related to their abilities in social, familial, educational and body image domains. The one component of self-esteem named as specific self-esteem was described as all the things which an individual achieve through social relations during his/her life (Bednar, Wells, & Peterson, 1989). Therefore, in spite of being indirectly, self-esteem and SI may have been connected somehow in which impairments in SI may affect self-esteem level. Indeed, impairments in self-esteem was associated with social problems among individuals indicating social importance of self-esteem (Smelser, 1989). Moreover, a previous research demonstrated a negative significant correlation between self-esteem and imposter levels in which individuals who have higher self-esteem demonstrated lower level of imposter syndrome (Sonnak & Towell, 2001). However, previously, there was a still gap in association between IPS, social intelligence and self-esteem and not any paper showed this link especially how dimensions of social intelligence such as social information processing, social skills and social awareness impaired in individuals with high tendency of IPS in comparison to low levels and its contribution in self-esteem. In our study, by putting the imposter tendencies center of this research, we aimed to investigate how different imposter tendencies (a) affects overall social intelligence and self-esteem levels?, (b) affects social intelligence subdimensions between low and high imposter group?, (c) differs in individuals with different educational background, (d) differs in individuals who currently works in a job or not?, (e) does academic achievement of the student  change in regard to different imposter levels? and (f) change among genders?

A previous report suggested that GPA was related to academic achievements in imposters (Kumar & Jagacinski, 2006). However, according to our up to date knowledge, no other research sought to an answer the influence of imposter levels on social intelligence and its dimensions. Considering the mentioned literature, we hypothesized that high imposters will be demonstrating (a) lower level of self-esteem, (b) and higher achievements. We expected to see that impairments in social intelligence and its dimensions in individuals with higher level of IPS. Finally, this research will for the first time identify the relationship with different IPS tendencies and impairments in social intelligence and its dimensions. Therefore, we will deeply understand the basic causes in IPS and may help to reduce to symptomology associated with IPS, social inteligence and self-esteem in individuals with intense imposter syndrome.

Methods

Pariticipants and Design

Our participants consisted of 75 individuals (N=75) with 31 males and 44 females age ranging from 20 to 68 (with mean age 35,01 ± 13,405). We chose our participants from different educational and working background. Student participants are chosen based on previous paper (Ewing, Richardson, James-Myers, & Russell, 1996) since students have frequently experienced IPS. In addition, we chose housewives who did not work and people who work to understand different imposter tendencies in different job groups. We further separated IPS tendencies into few IPS experience, intense IPS experience based on Clance and Imes (1978) description in their paper. We hide the purpose of experiment from individuals but their consents indicating that they voluntarily agreed on to join experiment were taken.

Experimental Procedure

Informed consent form was firstly subjected to participants which consists of ethical statement that participants voluntarily agreed on to participate experiment, could be anytime withdrawn from the experiment, and data will only be used for research purposes. Those data who gave permission is included for further analysis. Demographic information reflecting participants’ age, gender, job, CGPA was collected. Further Imposter Phenomenon Scale (IPS), Tromso Social Intelligence Scale (TSIS) and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale were subjected to participants in paper prints, respectively. Data were used to analyze further research questions using SPSS program.

Measures and Forms

Demographics Form

Demographic form reflecting participants’ age, gender, job, CGPA was collected.

Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale (IPS)

Clance Imposter Phenemenon Scale (IPS) includes 20 items which was psychometrically validated (Chrisman, Pieper, Clance, Holland, & Glickauf-Hughes, 1995). IPS has been shown to have superiority and sensitivity with other developed imposter phenomenon scales (i.e Harvery’s I-P Scale) with good internal reliability (cronbach’s α=.92) (Holmes, Kertay, Adamson, Holland, & Clance, 1993). IPS is Likert type scale scoring from 1 (not at all true) to 5 (very true) and higher scores indicated intense level of imposter levels. Total scores 40 or less indicates low imposter levels, between 41-60 indicates intermediate imposter levels whereas scores higher than 60 indicates intense imposter levels (Clance & Imes, 1978). Scale were translated to Turkish version by our project members since it does not have Turkish version.

Tromso Social Intelligence Scale (TSIS)

Tromso Social Intelligence Scale (TSIS) psychometrically validated scale which includes 21 items with 3 subdimensions which are social information processing, social awareness and  social skills (Silvera et al., 2001). TSIS is likert type scale and scoring ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) and higher scores represents higher SI levels. Turkish version of total TSIS was shown to have .51 cronbach’s α value. The cronbach’s α values for social information processing, social skills and social awareness was found as .81, .86 and .79 respectively (Dogan & Cetin, 2009). Item numbers 1, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 20 and 21 are reversed scored. We used Turkish version of TSIS since there is an availability to reach the translated scale.

Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES)

Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) psychometrically validated scale which included 10 items (Rosenberg, 1965). This 4-point Likert-type scale scored from 0 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree) in which higher scores represents higher self-esteem. Item numbers 2,5,6,8 and 9 are reverse scored. Cronbach’s α value for total RSES was found as .72 to .88 in previous studies (Robins, Hendin, & Trzesniewski, 2001). RSES was translated into Turkish language by our project members.

Statistical Analysis

Data collected from scales were entered to IBM SPSS program for further statistical analysis. Cronbach’s α values of IPS, TSIS and RSES were calculated using internal reliability analysis option in the program. Descriptive analysis and normality of data were measured. Kruskal Wallis test was used to analyze statistical significance among three IPS groups (low IPS, intermediate IPS and intense IPS) versus SI and self-esteem levels. Next, low IPS and intense IPS conditions were compared with SI levels, its subdimensions and self-esteem levels to analyze statistical significance using Mann Whitney U test. Spearman’s rho correlation analysis was used to find correlation between imposter, self-esteem, SI and cGPA scores. Graphs representing median and interquartile range were drawn using Microsoft Excel program. P value smaller than .05 was considered statistically significant at 95% confidence interval

Results

Reliability Analysis

Table 1: Comparison of cronbach’s α values between original scale and scale data (N=75) used for this research

Scale α value in validated scale Cronbach’s α Number of items
IPS  (Clance & Imes, 1978) .92 .842 20
TSES (Silvera et al., 2001) .51 .720 21
TSESsocial information processing (Silvera et al., 2001) .81 .585 7
TSESsocial skills (Silvera et al., 2001) .86 .787 7
TSESsocial awareness (Silvera et al., 2001) .79 .811 7
RSES (Rosenberg, 1965) between .72 and .88 .815 10

We analyzed cronbach’s α values belonging to IPS, TSESsocial information processing, TSESsocial awareness, TSESsocial skills and RSES to understand internal scale reliability and compared them with the α values of previously available validated scales. As shown in table 1, we have good cronbach’s α values indicating internal reliability of scales are good in relate to validated original scale. In addition, α values to conduct a research conform to a previous study (Tavakol & Dennick, 2011). Therefore, we moved using data from those scales without removal of items.

Comparison of Social Intelligence Levels Between Low and High Imposters

Next, we divided our data into three categories as mentioned in paper of IPS scale (Clance & Imes, 1978). Basically, total scores belonging to 20-item questionnaire demonstrated as 40 or less indicates low imposter levels, between 41-60 indicates intermediate imposter levels whereas scores higher than 60 indicates intense imposter levels. By taking into account this categorization, our categories included low imposters (N=15), intermediate imposters (N=43) and high imposters (N=17). After, we compared with social intelligence and self-esteem levels using Kruskal Wallis Test. According to results, both social intelligence and self-esteem levels significantly differed between three groups, according to Kruskal Wallis results (p=.002 for SI and p=.000 for SE, figure not shown, see SPSS data). After we had understood there are significant differences between three imposter groups in social intelligence and self-esteem levels, next we assessed effects of social intelligence levels between low imposters and high imposters.

Figure 1: Scores (median ± interquartile range) belonging to TSIS in individuals with low (N=15) and high (N=17) IPS characteristics.

Mann Whitney U test revealed that high imposters had significantly lower self-intelligence levels in comparison to low imposter group (p=.001) indicating social intelligence levels are impaired in individuals having high imposter (see figure 1).

Then we assessed impairments in social intelligence dimensions between imposters groups. Mann Whitney U test revealed that high imposters had significantly lower social skills (p=.000) and social awareness (p=.004) levels in comparison to low imposter group indicating social skills and awareness are impaired in individuals having high imposter characteristics (see figure 2). However, no significant differences were found in social information processing between low and high imposters (p=.865).

Figure 2: Scores (median ± interquartile range) belonging to SI subdimensions including social information processing, social skills and social awareness in individuals with low (N=15) and high (N=17) IPS characteristics. Note: n.s: non-significant.

Comparison of Self-Esteem Levels Between Low and High Imposters

We further evaluated self-esteem levels in individuals with low and high imposter characteristics. Mann Whitney U test demonstrated that individuals with high imposter levels significantly showed lower self-esteem levels (p=.000) and scored less on Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale indicating that self-esteem levels are impaired in high imposters.

Figure 3: Scores (median ± interquartile range) belonging to RSES in individuals with low (N=15) and high (N=17) IPS characteristics.

Investigation of Imposter Levels in Individuals with Different Educational Background

Furthermore, we assessed IPS levels of individuals with different educational background. Kruskal Wallis test revealed that no statistical differences in overall group comparisons (p=.121). Mann Whitney U test demonstrated that university students significantly have higher imposter levels in comparison to university graduates (p=.047) confirming that IPS have been observed in students, however, imposter levels between university students-high school graduates (p=.988) and university graduates-high school graduates (p=.058) did not significantly differ between each other (see figure 4).

Figure 4: Scores (median ± interquartile range) belonging to IPS scale in university students (N=28), university graduates (N=15) and high school graduates (N=32).

Investigation of Imposter Levels in Individuals with Different Working Background

Next, we evaluated working status of participants have any influence on their imposter levels. Kruskal Wallis test revealed that no statistical differences in overall group comparisons (p=.399). After comparison of two groups using Mann Whitney U test, no statistical differences were found between working-not working (p=.399), not working-student (p=.187) and working-student (p=.860) groupings (see figure 5) indicating that working students did not impact imposter levels.

Figure 5: Scores (median ± interquartile range) belonging to IPS scale in individuals who are working (N=25), not working (N=22) and being students (N=28). 

Investigation of Correlation Between Imposter, Social Intelligence, Self-Esteem and CGPA in University Students

To understand whether academic achievement of the student groups change in regard to different imposter levels, we conducted spearman correlation test. In addition, we also correlated SI, its dimension and self-esteem scores. Results in table 2 indicated that although CGPA did not significantly correlate with imposter levels, those who have less social intelligence and social skills scored had higher CGPA indicating that increased academic achievement levels may impair social intelligence rather than imposter characteristics (see table 2). In parallel to these results, high imposters scores are also observed in students with less social intelligence and social skills in significance levels. Moreover, those who have higher social intelligence scored significantly higher on social information processing, social skills and social awareness which is subdimension of SI. Self-esteem levels were significantly correlated with social intelligence, social skills and social awareness indicating that self-esteem is socially influenced construct (see table 2)

Table 2: Correlation Analysis Between Imposter, Social Intelligence, Self-Esteem and CGPA Scores in University Students (N=28).

Scores 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1. Imposter -0,373 -,449* 0,023 -,536** -0,313 0,187
2. Self Esteem -0,373 ,424* 0,240 ,469* ,374* -0,111
3. Social Intelligence -,449* ,424* ,620** ,903** ,561** -,434*
4. Social Information Processing 0,023 0,240 ,620** ,379* -0,027 -0,199
5. Social Skills -,536** ,469* ,903** ,379* ,532** -,482**
6. Social Awareness -0,313 ,374* ,561** -0,027 ,532** -0,094
7. GPA 0,187 -0,111 -,434* -0,199 -,482** -0,094

Note: **Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed), * Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

Investigation of Gender Impact on Imposter Levels

We further assessed gender impact on imposter levels. Mann Whitney U test showed that females significantly show higher imposter levels than females (p=.042) indicating that sex might be contributor in imposter characteristics (see figure 6).

Figure 6: Scores (median ± interquartile range) belonging to IPS scale between male (N=31) and female (N=44) participants.

Discussion

This study aimed to investigate the relationship between imposter syndrome, social intelligence and self-esteem levels and understanding the variables such as educational background, working status and academic achievement associated with imposter levels. Here for the first time we report that imposter syndrome has also social dimension that was not previously published in elsewhere. Our research questions included how different imposter tendencies (a) influenced by overall social intelligence and self-esteem levels, (b) how imposter levels differed in social intelligence subdimensions between low and high imposter group, (c) how imposter levels are dependent on educational status, working status, CGPA and gendering condition.

Data collected from 75 individuals were used to assess imposter levels and categorized into low imposter, intermediate and high imposter levels as mentioned previously mentioned (Chrisman et al., 1995; Clance & Imes, 1978). Furthermore, we performed a tandem of investigation by comparing self-esteem, social intelligence and its dimensions between low and high imposters.

First of all, we evaluated internal consistency by analyzing cronbach’s α values. α values in IPS, TSIS and RSES was shown to have close values with the validated scales indicating good internal consistency (see table 1). Imposters have been shown to have a set of fear, doubt, worry and defective cycles of post-success anxiety which don’t allow individuals to develop from all of their latent abilities (Kumar & Jagacinski, 2006). In addition, as previous reports supported the presence of lower self-esteem in imposters (Sonnak & Towell, 2001), previous reports indicated lower self-esteem was associated with social problems (Smelser, 1989). These findings strongly suggested that imposter levels may have been influenced by social intelligence levels. Therefore, we analyzed social intelligence levels between high and low imposter groups. Our findings revealed that, high imposters showed lower social intellignce levels in comparison to low imposters (see figure 1). According to our current up to date knowledge, no other research demonstrated this finding. Therefore, it is important to consider the social dimension of imposter syndrome. Next, we assessed dimensions of social intelligence between low and high imposter group to understand how social intelligence dimensions have an impact on imposter levels. Our findings demonstrated that social skills and social awareness, but not social information processing were impaired in high imposters in comparison to low imposters. Social information processing can be explained as a set of cognitive-emotional mechanisms indicating how individuals respond particular social situation. In addition, it is the ability to understand other people’s behaviors and feelings (Gini, 2006). If so, this result actually did not fit the characteristics of imposter syndrome. As imposter syndrome is defined as a set of feeling guilty about success in which some high achievers have a sense that they cannot meet expectations of others, imposters demonstrated a fear that they will be exposed as incompetent in front of others. Henceforth, since imposters have “fake belief” that they wouldn’t meet the expectations of others, it indicates that they are not really able to understand other people’s behavior and feelings. Therefore, social information processing in imposters was expected to have appeared as impairment. However, we showed that social awareness and skills are impaired in high imposters rather than social information processing. We have some speculations for this situation as well: (1) Actually, while imposters process a social information, they may realize what is going on in reality, they know that others don’t create such a feeling onto them, but their post-success anxiety may be resulting in that their fake belief about they wouldn’t meet the expectations of others rather than brain information processing impairments. Therefore, their social information processing didn’t impair. (2) Since imposters are also high achievers and successful people, they may interpret social information in an excellent way but their impaired self-esteem levels might have occur as pressure, and therefore no impairment in social information processing might have been observed, but they can be involved such a fake belief that create fake belief about others thoughts. In conclusion, post-success anxiety and lower self-esteem levels create their fake belief in which they think that they did not meet others expectations rather than impairment in social information processing. On the other hand, social skills which stresses the behavioral aspects of the construct by assessing the ability to enter new social situations and social adaptation (Gini, 2006). High imposters have lower social skills in comparison to low imposters (see figure 2) indicating that impaired social adaptation and problems occurring in the social situation. Clance and Imes (1978) speculated in their paper, while men find more sport from their society which prevents imposter worry and occurrences of detrimental influence on their lives, women do not have such a strong support networks that related to achieve their goals. Although no social intelligence research conducted this area, imposters are not able to find social support networks which may result in impairment their social skills. In addition, we also demonstrated that females have significantly higher imposters level than males (see figure 6) in our sample, this situation might arise because of this fact: Female imposters have less support from society that increase their worry and negative impact on their lives, whereas male imposters find more support. This results strongly suggest that imposter characteristics is not only appeared as a personal construct, but also social dimension of imposters should be considered. On the other hand, social awareness is basic understanding of people about the social situations (Gini, 2006; Silvera et al., 2001). High imposters are shown to have impaired social awareness (see figure 2) indicating that they are unable to understand social situations. Therefore, this impairment may also create their worries, and fear about success and may trigger their imposter levels.

In parallel to previous literature, we found that lower self-esteem was associated with high imposter characteristics (see figure 3) (Sonnak & Towell, 2001). This could be explained as individuals who don’t internalize their successes and in fact deny them which leads to a low self-esteem. Research showed that successful individuals intentionally or unintentionally may strive to create some barriers to their goals, this reduces their self-esteem (Cowman & Ferrari, 2002).

One of the risk group for the imposter phenomenon are students in which they develop feelings about self-doubt and consider themselves as less intelligent and component than their society they involved. In addition, they create feelings where they are unable to present skills in order to accomplish the tasks or they perceive themselves (Villwock et al., 2016). In parallel to this result, we also observed university students have significantly higher imposter levels than university graduates (see figure 4). This is because when someone graduated from university, the competition ends, and student imposters have higher tendency to develop feelings about self-doubt and consider themselves as less intelligent than their student counterparts. This may also indicate self and social dimension of imposter phenomenon. As we further found, working status didn’t affect imposter levels (see figure 5), which supports the idea that social environment during university education may help to increase imposters tendencies.

A previous report suggested that GPA was related to academic achievements in imposters (Kumar & Jagacinski, 2006). However, as indicated in table 2, although CGPA did not significantly correlate with imposter levels, those who have less social intelligence and social skills scored had higher CGPA indicating that increased academic achievement levels may impair social intelligence rather than imposter characteristics. In parallel to these results, high imposters scores are also observed in students with less social intelligence and social skills. Moreover, those who have higher social intelligence scored significantly higher on social information processing, social skills and social awareness which is subdimension of SI. Self-esteem levels were significantly correlated with social intelligence, social skills and social awareness indicating that self-esteem is socially influenced construct. Therefore, imposter-social intelligence-self-esteem triangle constructs were connected to each other indicating that imposter syndrome has multiple causes and was not influenced by only one contributor.

In the light of aforementioned research, we will propose some recommendations and implications for further psychology research as well. (1) Since we for the first time showed the role of social intelligence in imposter syndrome, psychologist may utilize this finding. For example, a therapist can increase social skills and social awareness of imposter individuals to alleviate its symptomology. (2) In addition, rather than focusing on self, clinical psychologist should consider imposter as multiple facet construct. For instance, they should try to increase self-esteem levels in those individuals but also recommend to imposters build strong social relationships to mask their imposter symptomology. As a result, further imposter research should focus on to confirm our findings by deeper investigation.

We have some limitations as well. First of all, high and low imposter groups were small number of sample (N=15 for low imposter and N=17 for high imposter). However, even though being such a small number of sample, we had significant results. Future research should use larger sample size to confirm our findings. Moreover, we have actually heterogeneous sample including individuals from different backgrounds. This may create a bias, more homogenous sample is required to confirm these findings.

In conclusion, here this report for the first time demonstrated that imposter tendencies associated with impairment in social intelligence and its dimensions including social awareness and social skills. Imposter syndrome is not influenced by only one factor, instead it has multiple facet structure in which self and social constructs are impaired. Imposters have lower self-esteem and working status doesn’t affect imposter tendencies.

References

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Türkiye'nin kendimce en güzel şehirlerinden birinde, Denizli'de, dünyaya geldim. Liseyi Denizli Anadolu Lisesi'nde okudum. İzmir Yüksek Teknoloji Enstitüsü (İYTE) Moleküler Biyoloji ve Genetik mezunuyum. Şu an Glasgow Üniversitesi'nde İmmunoloji ve Enflamatuvar Hastalıklar üzerine yüksek lisans yapmaktayım. Lisans hayatım boyunca Lodz Üniversitesi, Göteborg Üniversitesi ve Toronto Üniversitesi'nde araştırmalara katıldım. Bu çalışmalar sonucunda Cardiovascular Research ve Journal of Dental Research'te yayınlanan çalışmalarımız var. Öykü yazmayı seviyorum. Öykü Fanzin'de yayınlanan öyküm ve İYTE'de almış olduğum bir "birincilik" bir de "ikincilik" ödülüm var. Almanca öğreniyorum, İngilizce konuşabiliyorum, az çok keman çalabiliyorum. Amacım Türkiye okuyucusuna bilimi sevdirmek, zaman buldukça eğlencesine bilimsel haberleri paylaşmak.

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