The Role of Social Influence in Anxiety and the Imposter Phenomenon

Christy Fraenza


High anxiety levels have been associated with high levels of the imposter phenomenon (IP), a negative experience of feeling like a fraud. This study was designed to explore IP among graduate students and to determine whether a difference exists between online graduate students and traditional graduate students. The theoretical foundation of this study was social influence, which holds that students may feel pressured in a traditional setting because of the social cues of peers and instructors, as well as institutional norms. This quantitative study used a between-subjects design to compare 2 independent samples (115 online students & 105 traditional students). The study used a cross-sectional survey design, with 4 different measures: the Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale, the Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale, the Perfectionistic Self-Presentation Scale, and a basic demographic survey. Results indicated that traditional graduate students had significantly higher IP scores than online graduate students. Results also indicated a significant, positive relationship between IP scores and anxiety scores. Regression analysis indicated that perfectionism was the most influential predictor of IP scores, followed by anxiety and program type. Because the scale used in this study explored socially prescribed perfectionism, the results appear to suggest an underlying social component to IP.


Graduate students, online education, higher education, socially prescribed perfectionism, computer-mediated communication

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