Impostor phenomenon and mental health: The influence of racial discrimination and gender

J Couns Psychol. 2017 Mar;64(2):155-166. doi: 10.1037/cou0000197. Epub 2017 Feb 9.


The impostor phenomenon (IP), or feelings of intellectual incompetence, reflects a maladaptive set of cognitions, which pose a significant psychological risk for African American emerging adults. In light of recent evidence suggesting that personal and sociocultural factors may influence the association between IP and psychological adjustment, this study used 2 waves of data to examine the extent to which gender and racial discrimination moderated the association between IP and indices of mental health among 157 African American college students (69% women; mean age = 18.30) attending a predominantly White institution. Analyses revealed that young African American women reporting higher frequencies of racial discrimination and women reporting lower levels of distress resulting from racial discrimination were most vulnerable to negative mental health outcomes, particularly at higher levels of IP. These findings suggest that IP may interact with gender and racial discrimination experiences to influence mental health outcomes. We discuss how these findings can be utilized to inform treatment of African American emerging adults experiencing IP and the importance of considering how gender and discrimination may intersect to exacerbate feelings of intellectual incompetence. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Racism / ethnology*
  • Racism / psychology*
  • Self Concept*
  • Self Report
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Perception
  • Southeastern United States
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Students / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult