Imposter syndrome describes the unfounded belief that one is unworthy of his or her accomplishments, and according to new research, first-generation college students are more likely to suffer from it.

Elizabeth Canning.

The study by Elizabeth Canning, assistant professor of psychology at WSU, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, focused on a group of 818 freshmen and sophomore students pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The students completed surveys, which included questions surrounding imposter syndrome, immediately after their STEM classes for a two-week period and at the end of the semester.

In classes that students considered highly competitive, first-generation students were more likely to agree with statements such as, “In class, I felt like people might find out that I am not as capable as they think I am.”

However, in classes that students didn’t perceive as competitive, there was no difference in the levels of self-reported imposter syndrome between first- and continuing-generation students.

“We found that when students think their class is competitive, they feel more like an imposter on a day-to-day basis and this is most problematic for first-generation college students,” Canning said.

Find out more