Subjective Overachievement: Individual Differences in Self-Doubt and Concern With Performance

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Abstract

We discuss the construct of doubt about one’s competence and suggest that doubt can have myriad consequences (e.g., self-handicapping, defensive pessimism). We focus on the effect of self-doubt when it is combined with a concern with performance and assert that this combination leads to the phenomenon of subjective overachievement. In two studies, we present a new 17-item Subjective Overachievement Scale (SOS), which includes two independent subscales measuring individual differences in self-doubt and concern with performance. The first study, consisting of two large samples (Ns = 2,311 and 1,703), provides evidence that the scale has high internal consistency and a clear two-factor structure. Additionally, the subscales have adequate test-retest reliability (Ns = 67 and 115). A second study reveals that the SOS has good convergent and discriminant validity. Both subscales are unrelated to social desirability but exhibit the predicted patterns of associations with other related constructs. The Concern with Performance Subscale is correlated with achievement motivation, whereas the Self-Doubt Subscale is correlated with scales assessing negative affectivity (e.g., self-esteem, social anxiety) and other self-related strategies associated with concerns about one’s competence (e.g., self-handicapping, defensive pessimism, impostor phenomenon). The SOS, which combines the two subscales, appears to tap a unique strategy that individuals may use to deal with doubts about their own competence.

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