By far it is more common to find people overestimating rather than underestimating themselves, but a minority of the time it is certainly possible for people to slip into perceptions of “impostership.” They do so mostly for the same reasons that people overestimate: Life provides no answer sheets objectively telling people how well they are doing. They have to infer it, and they can make mistakes.
We’ve seen in our research some pockets of circumstances in which people underestimate themselves. In one such instance, we were exploring how people’s pre-conceived notions of themselves influenced their performance estimates. We gave college students a pop quiz on science, and found that women underestimated their performance relative to the men even though they were actually doing just as well. Why? The women walked into our quiz with a pre-conceived notion that they weren’t scientifically talented, relative to what the men thought of themselves, and we were able to trace their performance underestimates that day in the quiz room to these pre-conceived notions.
In another instance, one aspect of the Dunning-Kruger effect is that top performers often miss just how special or unique their performances are. They “get” how they are doing objectively, but they think the task is easy for everyone and so think of themselves as nothing special. Aspects of this sound like the imposter syndrome, in that everyone is telling the imposter they are so good yet the imposter believes it comes easy to everyone else, too. What the imposter may not know is just how much everyone else is struggling.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com