1954: Impostor Syndrome

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Impostor Syndrome
It's actually worst in people who study the Dunning–Kruger effect. We tried to organize a conference on it, but the only people who would agree to give the keynote were random undergrads.
Title text: It's actually worst in people who study the Dunning–Kruger effect. We tried to organize a conference on it, but the only people who would agree to give the keynote were random undergrads.


Impostor syndrome is a common psychological phenomenon where successful individuals are unable to internalize their success and fear being exposed as a "fraud" or "impostor." Events and accomplishments that would seem to be evidence of competence, skill, intelligence, and so forth, are instead viewed (by the person) as luck, timing, and the ability to appear more confident/competent than they actually are.

Ponytail, representing Dr. Adams, is introduced by Megan as "the world's top expert on impostor syndrome." Dr. Adams then demonstrates that she herself (like a relatively large number of women according to some reports) is afflicted by this syndrome. She realizes this after she reacts to the flattering introduction by starting about "other scholars" whom she deems to be superior to her.

The Dunning–Kruger effect, mentioned in the title text, is a cognitive bias wherein people who possess comparatively little direct expertise in a given field may unrealistically inflate their estimation of their own level of expertise in that field; while those who actually are highly competent (and especially experts on the topic at hand) are likely to downplay their level of expertise. This cognitive bias arises when people of low relevant ability lack the practical knowledge to validly assess their competence: The criteria for good or poor performance in a given field may not be weighed accurately by someone lacking direct expertise and formal training in that specific field. For instance, a commuter experienced in filtering through traffic quickly may consider themselves to be excellent at driving, while a professional evaluating driving habits may observe adherence to regulations and best practices for safety to be the primary criteria for being a "good" driver.

Conversely, people with extensive knowledge of a given field may develop an acute awareness of the necessarily limited scope of their (or any one person's) expertise. While this effect primarily refers to cognitive ability, it is also sometimes used to refer to people who are competent in one area (and thus not lacking metacognitive skills) believing that their abilities grant them unusually-high aptitude in a different but seemingly related area.

In practice, more expertise still largely correlates to higher confidence in one's expertise (that is to say that competence remains positively correlated with an individual's perception of their own competence), but a lack of the appropriate cognitive skills can result in that perception of competence starting at a high level yet increasing at a slower rate. However, in popular usage, the Dunning–Kruger effect is used to claim that a negative correlation exists, and that non-experts will claim expertise and confidence at a higher overall level than actual experts.

In the title text, a conference for the Dunning–Kruger effect was having trouble, presumably because the actual researchers were downplaying their knowledge and expertise to the point where they refused to be the keynote speaker, while the random undergrads (who lack experience in the topic) felt sufficiently confident in their knowledge of it to give the keynote. This more closely matches both the secondary usage (as undergrads are unlikely to lack metacognitive skills, but may inflate their understanding) and the popular usage (as the confidence is inverse to the actual competence) than the primary and in-practice observance made in the original research.


[Megan points at Ponytail and introduces her to Cueball.]
Megan: This is Dr. Adams. She's a social psychologist and the world's top expert on impostor syndrome.
Dr. Adams: Haha, don't be silly! There are lots of scholars who have made more significant…
Dr. Adams: …Oh my God.

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I mean, what's to explain here? Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect and then re-read the comic, if you didn't get it on the first try... I guess these two phenomenons also bar me from actually creating the wiki page :D 14:30, 12 February 2018 (UTC)

One could easily assume that virtually everyone who edits this page would be suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect; after all, how many experts in psychological diagnosis could there be in this community. (UNLESS they're feeling too insecure about their accomplishments to muster the confidence needed to post their thoughts ...?)Mr. I (talk) 15:20, 12 February 2018 (UTC)

I think this assumption would be wrong - or at least very inaccurate. I would assume that most part (if not all) of this community is very able to see that they are no experts on psychology (except, of course, of those who actually are). That said, I'd think Randall isn't, either. However this would not stop neither him from making jokes about the concepts nor "us" from trying to explain it - if only by copying the text from wikipedia and/or building upon the explanation given there. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 15:33, 12 February 2018 (UTC)

I think the current text misunderstands the role of general intelligence and domain-specific skills in the D-K effect. Nothing I've read suggests that intellectual capacity has much to do with one's ability to accurately estimate performance levels; instead, it seems to be largely based on unfamiliarity with what good and bad performance looks like in whatever domain is being measured. In other words, it's not stupid people who think they're better drivers than they actually are; it's people who are actually bad drivers. The D-K effect is EXACTLY that non-experts will claim high-level expertise, while genuine experts will disclaim it. (See figures 1-4 of the original paper: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= 20:56, 12 February 2018 (UTC)

That sounds correct to me. I'm no expert, but aren't psychologists generally very careful to speak only in terms of domain-specific "specialized" intelligence? The current explanation of the Title-Text sounds wrong. I think the key phrase above, which should probably be used in the explanation is "unfamiliarity with what good & bad performance looks like in whatever domain is being measured". Overall lack of meta-cognitive ability is definitely not a prerequisite for overestimating your ability in a specialized field; More often, quite intelligent people may appear to overestimate their understanding of a related, but comparatively unfamiliar field. And as the old adage goes (something like) "the wise man knows he is a fool". ProphetZarquon (talk) 21:38, 13 February 2018 (UTC)

So who is the world expert of Imposter Syndrome? Pauline R. Clance or Suzanne A. Imes? Capncanuck (talk) 01:09, 13 February 2018 (UTC)

Can I just say this is the biggest "me" comic I've ever seen? 14:00, 13 February 2018 (UTC)

It is refreshing to see that we have a avoided a nasty edit/flame war, considering the current political climate. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 17:34, 20 February 2018 (UTC)

When the social psychologist is sus!😳 16:19, 16 February 2021 (UTC)

Does the title text actually make sense? As far as I understand, highly skilled people still tend to rate themselves fairly high, even if that rating tends to be slightly lower than their actual scores. Given this, it shouldn't be a problem getting highly skilled people to agree to present, as long as you can filter out the masses of random undergrads. -- 11:03, 1 May 2023 (UTC)