Those who purchase luxury goods often feel inauthentic and less confident when sporting their buys


Purchasing luxury goods can affirm buyers’ sense of status and enjoyment of items like fancy cars or fine jewelry.

However, for many consumers, luxury purchases can fail to ring true, sparking feelings of inauthenticity that fuel what researchers have labeled the “impostor syndrome” among luxury consumers.

“Luxury can be a double-edged sword,” write Boston College Carroll School of Management Associate Professor of Marketing Nailya Ordabayeva and her co-authors, Harvard Business School doctoral student Dafna Goor, Boston University professor Anat Keinan, and Hult International Business School professor Sandrine Crener.

“While luxury consumption holds the promise of elevated status, it can backfire and make consumers feel inauthentic, producing what we call the ‘impostor syndrome from luxury consumption.’”

That’s how Ordabayeva and co-authors explain the crux of the projects’ findings, published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The team draw their conclusions based on nine studies, encompassing surveys and observations of patrons of the Metropolitan Opera and shoppers at Louis Vuitton in New York City, vacationers on Martha’s Vineyard, and other luxury consumers.

The team draw their conclusions based on nine studies, encompassing surveys and observations of patrons of the Metropolitan Opera and shoppers at Louis Vuitton in New York City, vacationers on Martha’s Vineyard, and other luxury consumers.

In contrast to previous studies in this area, “we find that many consumers perceive luxury products as a privilege which is undue and undeserved,” according to Ordabayeva and her co-authors.

As a result, consumers feel inauthentic while wearing or using these products, and they actually act less confident than if they were sporting non-luxury items.

For example, “one participant said she felt very shy when she wore a gold necklace with diamonds that she owned because it is not in her character to wear luxurious jewelry,” even though she could afford it.

This effect is mitigated among consumers who have an inherently high sense of entitlement, and also among non-entitled-feeling consumers on occasions that make them feel special, such as their birthday.

“Luxury marketers and shoppers need to be aware of this psychological cost of luxury, as impostor feelings resulting from purchases reduce consumer enjoyment and happiness,” said Ordabayeva.

“But boosting consumers’ feelings of deservingness through sales tactics and marketing messages can help.

Ultimately, in today’s age that prioritizes authenticity and authentic living, creating experiences and narratives that boost people’s personal connection with products and possessions can yield lasting benefits for consumers and marketers alike.”


Impostor phenomenon, also known as impostor syndrome, is the inability to internalize accomplishments while experiencing the fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Previous work has examined impostor phenomenon among academic college and research librarians, but health sciences librarians, who are often asked to be experts in medical subject areas with minimal training or education in these areas, have not yet been studied. The aim of this study was to measure impostor phenomenon among health sciences librarians.


A survey of 2,125 eligible Medical Library Association (MLA) members was taken from October to December 2017. The online survey featuring the Harvey Impostor Phenomenon scale, a validated measure of impostor phenomenon, was administered, and one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to examine relationships between impostor phenomenon scores and demographic variables.


A total of 703 participants completed the survey (33% response rate), and 14.5% of participants scored ≥42 on the Harvey scale, indicating possible impostor feelings. Gender, race, and library setting showed no associations, but having an educational background in the health sciences was associated with lower impostor scores. Age and years of experience were inversely correlated with impostor phenomenon, with younger and newer librarians demonstrating higher scores.


One out of seven health sciences librarians in this study experienced impostor phenomenon, similar to previous findings for academic librarians. Librarians, managers, and MLA can work to recognize and address this issue by raising awareness, using early prevention methods, and supporting librarians who are younger and/or new to the profession.


Impostor phenomenon, also known as impostor syndrome or impostor experience, is defined as an internal feeling of not deserving personal success that has been rightfully achieved [1].

Despite external evidence of their achievements, those with impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are frauds and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.

It is estimated that 70% of the population has experienced some form of this phenomenon [2]. Impostor phenomenon can have serious adverse effects including anxiety, depression, lack of confidence, decreased job satisfaction and performance, and inability to achieve in the face of self-imposed unattainable goals, which can lead to burnout [3].

Although this phenomenon has been studied among the academic workforce, there is little research focusing on librarians. The goal of this study was to measure impostor phenomenon among health sciences librarians and provide recommendations to address this issue.

What is impostor phenomenon?

Impostor phenomenon was first studied by Clance and Imes in 1978 in a population of business executives using the Clance Impostor Phenomenon scale [1].

Researchers have identified three factors that define the impostor phenomenon:

(1) believing that one has fooled others into overestimating one’s own abilities;

(2) attributing personal success to factors other than one’s ability or intelligence, such as luck, extra work, charisma, or an evaluator’s misjudgment; and

(3) fearing exposure as an impostor [4].

Those who experience impostor phenomenon feel that they are not good enough to keep their jobs, that others will discover their shortcomings, or that they might be fired at any moment despite evidence that they are high-performing employees.

Those who experience impostor phenomenon may have an inability to acknowledge their own role in their accomplishments and, therefore, attribute their success to luck [1].

Who experiences impostor phenomenon?

Impostor phenomenon has been studied in a range of professional fields such as accounting, marketing, and secondary education [3].

While this phenomenon has not previously been studied among health sciences librarians, it has been researched in the fields of health sciences and academia.

In the health sciences, most impostor phenomenon research focuses on students and residents, with studies showing that 30%–44% of medical students and residents [56] and 38%–70% of nursing students [79] experience impostor phenomenon.

Among medical students and residents, some evidence points to associations between impostor phenomenon and burnout [1011]. Among physician assistants—the only population of clinical practitioners to be extensively studied—impostor phenomenon was found to correlate with the presence of depression, with declining impostor scores associated with more years of practice [1213].

In academic settings, previous research supports the claim that the culture of academia and its hallmarks of “scholarly isolation, aggressive competitiveness, disciplinary nationalism, a lack of mentoring and the valuation of product over process” [14] can foster feelings of impostor phenomenon [3414].

Academic faculty members report feelings of impostor phenomenon when they evaluate their scholarly productivity, when they engage in comparisons with faculty colleagues, and when their expertise is questioned [14].

In one study, teaching faculty and graduate teaching assistants who reported higher impostor scores received lower student evaluations of their teaching performance, were less likely to encourage questions and ideas in class, and had fewer academic advisees [15].

Although impostor phenomenon occurs in both men and women [3], some research in the academic and health sciences fields suggests that it is more prevalent among women. Studies of graduate and professional students in physics and family medicine report significant gender differences in impostor scores, with women exhibiting higher scores [616].

Several researchers have considered how race intersects with impostor phenomenon in academia, including how students and administrators of color might experience higher impostor scores as a result of structural racism and individual racial discrimination [1720].

Recent studies on the links between racial identity and impostor phenomenon show strong relationships between depression, perceived discrimination, and impostor feelings among Black undergraduate students [18].

Librarian reports of impostor phenomenon

In the only existing study to measure impostor phenomenon among librarians, Clark et al. used the Harvey Impostor Phenomenon scale to measure the phenomenon among 352 academic librarians in the United States [4].

They found that 1 in 8 librarians reported above-average impostor scores. No differences in impostor scores were found by race, gender, or employment classification; however, younger librarians and those with less experience reported higher rates of impostor phenomenon [4]. Despite the lack of scholarly publications on the topic, the importance of impostor phenomenon in librarianship is reflected by many opinion pieces, blog posts, and conference presentations written by librarians in a variety of roles [2127]. In these personal reflections, librarians share observations of self-doubt, minimization of their accomplishments, and the importance of recognizing impostor phenomenon.

Study objective

The present study replicated the methods of Clark et al. [4] to measure impostor phenomenon among health sciences librarians and compare results to the population of academic college and research librarians in that study.

Many health sciences librarians do not have educational backgrounds in the health sciences or work experience as clinicians, yet they are expected to be experts in these fields; therefore, the authors hypothesized that impostor phenomenon would be more prevalent among health sciences librarians than among academic college and research librarians, who often have educational backgrounds and advanced degrees in their subject areas.

Among health sciences librarians, we predicted differences in impostor phenomenon prevalence based on the type of library setting. Because it is rare for librarians to hold a clinical degree or have experience as practitioners, we hypothesized that hospital librarians would have higher impostor scores than those working in academic health sciences libraries. The underlying assumption for these hypotheses was that having a lack of formal expertise in the subject area in which one specializes would increase the likelihood of impostor phenomenon.

Boston College
Media Contacts:
Ed Hayward – Boston College
Image Source:
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Original Research: Closed access
“The Impostor Syndrome from Luxury Consumption”. Dafna Goor, Nailya Ordabayeva, Anat Keinan, Sandrine Crener.
Journal of Consumer Research doi:10.1093/jcr/ucz044.


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