How many Americans display signs of impostor syndrome?

Oana DumitruSurvey Data Journalism Intern
July 08, 2022, 6:49 PM GMT+0

How many Americans experience the common signs of impostor syndrome, and how does it manifest? A June poll from YouGov found that about half of Americans report each of the following characteristic behaviors: criticizing themselves more than others criticize them, finding it difficult to accept praise, and choosing struggle over asking for help.

While these signs of impostor syndrome are pervasive in the U.S., a similar YouGov poll conducted in the U.K. in March found higher rates of several indicators.

People with the psychological phenomenon of impostor syndrome doubt their own abilities, think that others see them as more competent than they truly are, and frequently fear being discovered as frauds. For people with impostor syndrome, feelings of inadequacy persist despite their accomplishments, as they tend to attribute any success to luck or chance. 

Downplaying achievements 

One key characteristic that people with impostor syndrome display is the tendency to downplay their achievements – in other words, to deem and describe their achievements as unimpressive, or less impressive than others do. 

More than one-third (38%) of Americans say that they tend to downplay their achievements when talking to others, while only 10% say they tend to exaggerate their achievements. More men than women say they downplay their achievements (42% vs. 35%). 

However, more men than women also say they exaggerate their achievements (14% vs. 6%), with 50% of women saying that they neither downplay nor exaggerate their achievements. 

Self-criticism  

Impostor syndrome can also manifest through a high degree of self-criticism. 

About half of Americans (53%) say that they criticize themselves more than other people criticize them, while 12% say the opposite: that others criticize them more than they criticize themselves.

Slightly more women (57%) than men (49%) say that they criticize themselves more than others criticize them. 

Do others see you as more capable than you are? 

When asked about others’ perceptions of how capable they are, 30% of Americans say that others perceive them as more capable than they really are, while 20% say the opposite: that they are more capable than others perceive them to be. 

This facet of impostor syndrome showed only a small gender divide, with 32% of women and 29% of men saying that others perceive them as more capable than they really are.  

Accepting compliments  

About half (48%) of Americans say that they find it somewhat difficult or very difficult to accept compliments, with only small differences between women (50%) and men (47%).  

Impostor syndrome archetypes

We also asked respondents to indicate whether five statements, corresponding to five common impostor syndrome archetypes, apply to them or not.  

Almost half (46%) of Americans say they would prefer to struggle alone rather than ask for help, a feeling that is characteristic of a soloist, or someone who thinks asking for help is a sign of weakness or failure. 

About 40% of Americans say they feel stressed when they are not succeeding in every aspect of their lives, a characteristic of the superman archetype. 

Fewer Americans identify with the other archetypes, with 26% saying that they would not speak up and ask questions for fear of looking unintelligent (expert archetype), 23% saying that they feel like they are not good enough if they have to work hard to accomplish something (natural genius archetype), and 22% saying that they still feel like a failure even if they meet 99% of their goals (perfectionist archetype).   

Two-thirds of Americans say that at least a few of their achievements have been a result of luck or chance 

About two-thirds (68%) of Americans say that at least a few of their successes have been a result of luck or chance.

More men (27%) than women (16%) say that all or most of their achievements were due to luck or chance.

Regardless of age, most Americans say that at least a few of their achievements were due to luck or chance. One-quarter of people 65 and older say that none of their successes were due to luck, while only 9% of adults under 30 say the same.   

Related: How many Britons display signs of impostor syndrome?

This poll was conducted on June 7 - 10, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash