Through the Ups and Downs: The Influence of Attributional Patterns and Achievement Goal Orientations on Impostor Phenomenon among Undergraduate Students



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Background: The psychological pattern known as impostor phenomenon (IP) is defined by a persistent self-perception of intellectual inauthenticity and an irrational fear of public exposure for perceived fraudulence. Theory contends that IP is perpetuated, in part, by certain attributional patterns used to interpret and explain personal achievement-related outcomes. Purpose: The overarching goal of this research was to expand the knowledge of IP by investigating the attributional patterns and the relating achievement goal orientations that contribute to reports of IP among undergraduate students. The main aim in Manuscript 1 was to test for the presence of latent impostor profiles characterized by heterogeneous effort and luck attributional response patterns for personal academic success. The main aim in Manuscript 2 was to explore IP as an outcome of performance goal orientation and a low-ability attributional pattern for personal academic failure (i.e., helpless response pattern). Methods: In Manuscript 1, I integrated variable-centered and person-centered analytical approaches. First, I conducted a simultaneous multiple regression analysis to determine if effort attribution and luck attribution for success predicted IP scores among the entire sample (N = 372). Next, I conducted a latent profile analysis (LPA) that investigated attributional response patterns exhibited by participants identified with high IP (n = 176). To specifically test whether effort-based and luck-based attributional response patterns constituted two distinct latent impostor profiles, I examined the fit of a two-profile LPA solution to the data. Finally, I explored the association between gender and latent profile membership. In Manuscript 2, I examined the underlying mechanisms through which performance goal orientation influenced reports of IP, via low-ability attribution for failure. To provide a more nuanced understanding of the relations among the variables of interest, I further applied the avoidance-approach distinction to the construct of performance goal orientation. Altogether, I conducted a latent variable mediation analysis specifying performance-avoidance and performance-approach as dual predictors of IP, each mediated by low-ability attribution for failure. Results: The results from Manuscript 1 indicated that luck attribution for success predicted IP scores among the entire sample, while effort attribution did not. The results further revealed the presence of two heterogeneous latent impostor profiles among the participants with high IP. The predominate latent impostor profile exhibited relatively high luck and low effort attributions for success. In contrast, the alternate impostor profile exhibited relatively high effort and low luck attributions for success. The results also indicated that gender was not associated with latent profile membership. The results from Manuscript 2 indicated that the examined mediation model adequately fit the data. The results further revealed that low-ability attribution for failure fully mediated the relation between performance-avoidance and IP. In contrast, performance-approach did not have a direct or indirect effect on IP. Conclusion: I concluded in Manuscript 1 that those with high IP do not exhibit a homogeneous attributional response pattern used to discount personal academic success. I concluded in Manuscript 2 that low-ability attribution for personal academic failure is an important intermediary mechanism that explains much of the relation between performance-avoidance and IP.



impostor phenomenon, attributions, performance goal orientation, latent profile analysis, mediation analysis