Impostor Syndrome May Be Fairly Common Among College Students

Impostor syndrome, a condition in which people feel like frauds even when they are capable and well-qualified, may be quite common among college students, according to a new study from Brigham Young University (BYU).

The findings, published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, also reveal specific coping mechanisms that students can use to overcome these feelings.

For the study, the researchers conducted interviews with students in an elite academic program and found that 20% of the participants in their sample suffered from very strong feelings of impostorism.

Based on the interviews, students who sought social support from those outside their academic program seemed to fare much better. For example, when students “reached in” to other students within their major, they felt worse more often than they felt better. However, if the student “reached out” to family, friends outside of their major, or even professors, perceptions of impostorism were reduced.

“Those outside the social group seem to be able to help students see the big picture and recalibrate their reference groups,” said Jeff Bednar, a BYU management professor and co-author on the study. “After reaching outside their social group for support, students are able to understand themselves more holistically rather than being so focused on what they felt they lacked in just one area.”

The study also uncovered negative ways students coped with impostorism. For example, some tried to get their mind off of school work through escapes such as video games but ended up spending more time gaming than studying.

Other participants tried to hide how they really felt around their classmates, pretending they were confident and excited about their performance when deep down they questioned if they actually belonged.

In a second study, the researchers surveyed 213 students and uncovered an additional finding that perceptions of impostorism are not necessarily related to performance. This means that individuals who suffer with impostor syndrome are still capable of doing their jobs well — they just don’t believe in themselves.

Researchers also explain that social-related factors impact impostorism more than an individual’s actual ability or competence.

“The root of impostorism is thinking that people don’t see you as you really are,” said Bryan Stewart, an accounting professor at BYU and co-author on the study. “We think people like us for something that isn’t real and that they won’t like us if they find out who we really are.”

Outside the classroom, researchers believe that implications from this study can and should be applied in the workplace as well.

“It’s important to create cultures where people talk about failure and mistakes,” Bednar said. “When we create those cultures, someone who is feeling strong feelings of impostorism will be more likely to get the help they need within the organization.”

Source: Brigham Young University

Study Touts Psychotherapy As First-Line Treatment for Youth With Depression

Young people seeking help for depression should be offered psychotherapy as the first line of treatment, and medication should be a secondary option, according to a clinical trial by researchers at Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia.

The findings, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, show that patients (ages 15 to 25) who received psychotherapy alone did just as well as those who received both psychotherapy and an antidepressant medication. However, the researchers found some evidence suggesting that if antidepressants do play a role, it would be in those at the older end of that age range.

“The results suggest that we should really be focusing on providing good quality psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to young people and keeping medication as the second line of treatment,” said Associate Professor Christopher Davey, head of mood disorder research at Orygen.

Psychotherapy refers to a range of psychological therapies given by a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often recommended for treating depression in young people.

The randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial involved 153 young people, ages 15 to 25, who had been diagnosed with depression and were being treated at youth mental health services in north-west Melbourne, Australia.

All trial participants received cognitive behavioral therapy for 12 weeks coupled with either the common antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) or a placebo medication.

According to the findings, there were no significant differences in symptom improvement between the two groups, suggesting that the addition of fluoxetine did not affect the participants’ mental health outcomes.

However, this does not suggest that antidepressants should not be used in treating depression.

“Antidepressants can be very useful for some people,” Davey said. “Anyone considering the role of antidepressants in their treatment should discuss this with their doctor or clinician.”

“Our study found some evidence to suggest that if antidepressants have a role, they have more of a role in people at the older end of our age range.”

Depression affects around 20 percent of teens by the time they become adults. Symptoms of depression in young people may include withdrawing from school and activities, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, anger, overreaction to criticism, poor self-esteem, guilt, and many others.

Overall, the research highlights the importance of a multi-faceted approach to treating depression in young people.

“The take-home message from the study is that the first-line treatment for young people with depression should be psychotherapy,” said Davey.

Source: Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health



Easing Fears About Shift to Middle School Can Pay Off in Behavior, Grades

New sixth grade students who participate in a social intervention designed to relieve their transition-related fears are more likely to have better grades and attendance and fewer behavioral problems throughout middle school, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The interventions, taught in the form of reading and writing exercises, are targeted to ease sixth graders’ fears about “fitting in” at their new schools with a message that the angst they’re feeling is “both temporary and normal,” and that help is available from school staff.

The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that students experienced a boost in attitude and well-being after only two brief classroom interventions.

“It’s saying, ‘There’s not something unusual or different about you, but this is just an issue that is difficult for a lot of kids when they make the transition to middle school,’” said lead author Dr. Geoffrey D. Borman.

“And that there’s support available, both academically and socially. You’ll make new friends, you’ll discover that you fit in, and teachers and other adults in the building are there to help you.”

Previous research has shown that the transition to middle school is a high stakes one, Borman notes. When new middle schoolers get a rocky start it can lead to a marked and lasting decline in their academic performance.

The study involved 1,304 sixth graders at 11 middle schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District, a diverse, K-12 system in Wisconsin.

The overall findings show that, compared to a control group of sixth graders that received a neutral reading and writing activity, students in the treatment group experienced post-intervention effects that:

  • reduced disciplinary incidents by 34 percent;
  • increased attendance by 12 percent;
  • reduced the number of failing grades by 18 percent.

“The kids internalized this message, they worried about tests less, they trusted their teachers more and sought help from adults,” Borman says.

“They also felt like they belonged in the school more, and because they felt more comfortable, they didn’t act out as often and they showed up more. All of those things explain how this intervention (finally) affects kids’ grades.”

Borman and his team developed the intervention based on previous work by social psychologists. They brainstormed how sixth graders feel about fitting in socially and succeeding academically in middle school. The team then tested the wording and presentation of their proposed messaging with student focus groups.

Educators know that the upheavals of moving to a new school don’t mix well with the high self-awareness, greater sensitivity to social acceptance and other physical and psychological changes that young teens already are experiencing.

Surprisingly, though, few interventions have been developed to address it, Borman says.

“This is a near-universal experience of young adolescents,” he notes. “They’re forced to make this transition from the more comfortable and familiar neighborhood elementary school, where they were under the care of mainly one teacher, to this much larger school with a larger number of teachers with whom they have to interact and new classmates from around the city.”

Furthermore, the intervention is cost-effective and can be easily replicated throughout the district.

“Rather than wholesale changes, or closing down all the middle schools, this intervention is a productive, targeted way to help kids more effectively and productively negotiate this transition, and for only a couple of dollars per kid,” said Borman, who is currently working on replication studies in two other districts. “Schools could easily replicate this kind of intervention across the country.”

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

How to Be Depressed by Facebook

A new study has found that people who use social networks passively — they don’t post updates, but tend to compare themselves with others — are in danger of developing symptoms of depression.

For the study, researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) in Germany carried out one experiment and two questionnaire studies.

In the first study, researchers had two groups of test subjects spend five minutes writing information about the first five people they saw either on their Facebook wall or on the staff website of the Faculty of Catholic Theological at RUB. A third group skipped this task. All three groups then completed a questionnaire that provided information about their self-esteem.

“It was shown that being confronted by social information on the Internet — which is selective and only positive and favorable, whether on Facebook and on employee websites — leads to lower self-esteem,” reported Dr. Phillip Ozimek, who led the research.

As low self-esteem is closely related to depressive symptoms, researchers said they consider even this short-term effect to be a potential source of danger.

The researchers then investigated long-term effects using questionnaire studies. They interviewed more than 800 people about their use of Facebook, their tendency to compare themselves with others, their self-esteem, and the occurrence of depressive symptoms.

They found a positive correlation between passive Facebook use, in particular, and depressive symptoms when subjects have an increased need to make social comparisons of their abilities.

“So, when I have a strong need to compare and keep seeing in my newsfeed that other people are having great holidays, making great deals, and buying great, expensive things while everything I see out of my office window is grey and overcast, it lowers my self-esteem,” Ozimek said. “And if I experience this day after day, over and over again, this can promote greater depressive tendencies over the long term.”

In a third study, the researchers used questionnaires to discover whether their findings could also be transferred to other networks. As professional networks work somewhat differently, they chose Xing.

“Although people’s profiles on there have still been candy-coated, they keep themselves grounded in order to appear as genuine, yet positive, as possible,” said Ozimek.

The results of the evaluation were very similar to those of the Facebook study, he added.

“Overall, we were able to show that it is not the use of social networks that generally and directly leads to or is related to depression, but that certain preconditions and a particular type of use increase the risk of depressive tendencies,” he said.

Private and professional social networks can promote higher levels of depression if users mainly use them passively, compare themselves with others socially, and these comparisons have a negative impact on self-esteem.

“It is important that this impression that everyone else is better off can be an absolute fallacy,” he said. “In fact, very few people post on social media about negative experiences. However, the fact that we are flooded with these positive experiences on the Internet gives us a completely different impression.”

The study was published in the journal Behaviour & Information Technology.

Source: Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Photo: Dr. Phillip Ozimek (left) and Prof. Hans-Werner Bierhoff. Credit: RUB, Kramer.

Self-Criticism About Weight May Originate With Others

Some overweight and obese individuals are more likely to engage in “self-stigmatization,” in which they internalize their weight stigma experiences and begin to blame and devalue themselves.

In a new study of more than 18,000 adults, researchers from Penn Medicine and the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity wanted to better understand who is at greater risk for this type of behavior, which has been associated with poor mental and physical health.

Their findings show that participants who reported experiencing weight stigma from others — particularly from people they know such as family, friends and coworkers —  had higher levels of internalized weight bias than those who reported no experiences of weight stigma.

The study is published in the journal Obesity Science and Practice.

In addition, those who internalized weight bias the most tended to be younger, female, have a higher body mass index (BMI), and have an earlier onset of their weight struggle. Participants who were black or had a romantic partner had lower levels of internalization.

“We don’t yet know why some people who struggle with their weight internalize society’s stigma and others do not,” said the study’s lead author, Rebecca Pearl, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“These findings represent a first step toward helping us identify, among people trying to manage their weight, who may be most likely to self-stigmatize. People who are trying to lose weight may be among the most vulnerable to weight self-stigma, but this issue is rarely discussed in treatment settings.”

In this study, the researchers surveyed surveyed more than 18,000 adults enrolled in the commercial weight management program WW International (formerly Weight Watchers Inc.) in order to identify the key characteristics and experiences of people who internalize weight bias. The study is the largest investigation of weight self-stigma to date.

The participants recalled when they had experienced weight stigma from other people during their lifetime, how frequent and how upsetting the experiences were, and who it was that called them names, rejected them, or denied them an opportunity simply because of their weight.

The results show that nearly two-thirds of the participants reported experiencing weight stigma at least once in their life, and almost half reported experiencing these events when they were children or teens. The researchers looked at the relationships between these experiences and levels of self-directed stigma.

Participants who reported experiencing weight stigma from others had higher levels of internalized weight bias than those who reported no experiences of weight stigma.

This link was even stronger among participants who had weight-stigmatizing experiences early in life and who continued to have these upsetting experiences as adults. Those who experienced weight stigma from family members or friends, or from those in their workplace, community, or health care setting, also had greater evidence of weight self-stigma compared to participants who did not encounter weight stigma from those sources.

“Our findings can inform ways to support people who are experiencing or internalizing weight stigma, including opportunities to address weight stigma as part of weight management and healthy lifestyle programs,” said principal investigator Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., a professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Connecticut.

The study sample represented only a small percentage of WW members, so the findings may not generalize to all members or to adults trying to lose weight in other ways. Some previous research has suggested that people who internalize weight bias may have worse long-term weight loss outcomes, but more research on this topic is needed.

The research team is developing a psychological intervention for weight self-stigma that can be incorporated into weight management.

Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Preterm Babies Less Likely to Have Romantic Relationships in Adulthood

A new study has found that adults who were born pre-term — under 37 weeks gestation — are less likely to form romantic relationships, have sexual relations, or experience parenthood than those who were born full term.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK suggests it’s partly due to pre-term birth being associated with being withdrawn, shy, socially excluded, and less likely to take risks in adolescence.

A meta-analysis by the researchers of data from 4.4 million adults showed that those born preterm are 28 percent less likely to ever be in a romantic relationship and 22 percent less likely to become parents.

Those studies that looked at sexual relations of pre-term children also found that they were 2.3 times less likely to ever have a sexual partner, according to researchers.

Adults who were born very (<32 weeks gestation) or extremely preterm <28 weeks gestation) had even lower chances of experiencing sexual relationships, finding a romantic partner, or having children at the same age as those born full term, with the extremely pre-term born adults being 3.2 times less likely to ever have sexual relations, according to the study’s findings.

Close and intimate relationships have been shown to increase happiness and well-being both physically and mentally. However, studies also show that forming those relationships is harder for pre-term born adults, as they are usually timid, socially withdrawn, and low in risk-taking and fun seeking.

Despite having fewer close relationships, the meta-analysis also revealed that when preterm born adults had friends or a partner, the quality of these relationships was at least as good as those in full term born adults.

“The finding that adults who were born pre-term are less likely to have a partner, to have sex, and become parents does not appear to be explained by a higher rate of disability,” said Dr. Marina Goulart de Mendonça from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick and first author of the paper. “Rather preterm born children have been previously found to have poorer social interactions in childhood that make it harder for them to master social transitions, such as finding a partner, which in turn is proven to boost your wellbeing.”

“Those caring for preterm children, including parents, health professionals, and teachers, should be more aware of the important role of social development and social integration for pre-term children,” added Professor Dieter Wolke, also of the University of Warwick and senior author. “As preterm children tend to be more timid and shy, supporting them making friends and be integrated in their peer group will help them to find romantic partners, have sexual relationships and to become parents — all of which enhances wellbeing.”

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Source: University of Warwick