Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Impostor Tendencies and Academic Dishonesty: Do They Cheat Their Way to Success?

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Impostor Tendencies and Academic Dishonesty: Do They Cheat Their Way to Success?

Article excerpt

College students (N = 124) completed self-reported measures of impostor tendencies and academic dishonesty (tendency to engage in plagiarism in written assignments and cheating in examinations), as well as social desirability. Based on extreme scores on the impostor measure and independent of social desirability responding, nonimpostors (20 women, 11 men) reported a greater tendency to engage in plagiarism in papers and cheating in examinations, compared to impostors (22 women, 10 men). Results indicated that students who report impostor tendencies claim lower rates of cheating and plagiarism to obtain academic success than do nonimpostors.

The impostor phenomenon refers to feelings of intellectual phoniness experienced by high achieving individuals (Glance & Imes, 1978), despite objective evidence to the contrary. These individuals report doubts about their abilities that they believe to be overestimated by others and, as a consequence, fear that they will be found out. That is, impostors believe others will discover that they are not truly intelligent, but are in fact, "impostors" (Glance, 1985). Glance observes that repeat successes fail to weaken impostors' feelings of fraudulence or to strengthen a belief in their ability. Impostors react either by extreme overpreparation, or by initial procrastination followed by frenzied preparation (Chrisman, Pieper, Glance, Holland, & Glickauf-Hughes, 1995; Glance & Imes, 1978). If the task is successful, a sense of accomplishment and relief is experienced. However, once a new achievement task is encountered, feelings of anxiety and self-doubt recur and the cycle of self-doubt continues (Glance, Dingman, Reviere, & Stober, 1995; Leary, 1995).

Because a perception that success earned through hard work cannot truly reflect ability, impostors fail to recognize their achievements as the outcome of ability or talent (Covington & Omelich, 1985). Instead, they are likely to attribute their successful achievement to factors such as effort, believing that they must work harder than others, or to luck, convinced that their success is due to factors temporarily stacked in their favor. Either way they forfeit the affirmation of a job well done (Topping & Kimmel, 1985). As a consequence, impostors experience guilt or shame about their successes, believing that eventually it will be apparent to others that they lack strong intellectual abilities (Cowman & Ferrari, 2002; Thompson & Richardson, 2001). Impostors report symptoms that include generalized anxiety, depression, lack of self-confidence, frustration, low self-esteem, and also a tendency to report concern over mistakes, and to reject objective evidence of their successes (Chrisman et al., 1995; Glance & Imes, 1978; Imes & Glance, 1984; Thompson, Foreman, & Martin, 2000). In short, impostors negate all external evidence of their ability, discrediting positive affirmations from others about their successful outcomes while overgeneralizing the implications of poor performance to their self-concept (Glance & O'Toole, 1988).

Cowman and Ferrari (2002) found that shame-proneness and self-handicapping best predicted impostor fears among students. Consistent with this outcome, Ferrari, and Thompson (2004) found that impostor scores by students correlated positively with favorable impression management strategies, and that impostors were more likely than were nonimpostors to engage actively in self-handicapping acts in order to reduce the likelihood of unexpected performance success. Together, these studies suggest that impostors may sabotage their task performances, perhaps to demonstrate that they do not deserve their obtained successes - to show they are, in fact, frauds. Within a college context, the opportunity to engage in destructive behaviors may include cheating in assignments and examinations, or plagiarizing written works. These dishonest academic behaviors may result in high grades or "success," but the student would demonstrate that he or she was a "fraud" and not deserving of the high performance s/he obtained if caught. …

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