Social Self

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Question Drawing upon the work of Cooley and Mead, discuss how the self is developed in childhood. Do you think these concepts are still relevant today? Please substantiate your answer with relevant examples drawn from both your life as well as from your research. (Word limit:1,200 words)

Cooley and Mead are symbolic interactionists whom emphasized on the importance of construction of self through social interactions and communications using symbolic tools such as language and gestures. As such, the development of self is thought to be a dynamic and interactive process (Symbolic Interactionism, 2000).

Cooley proposed that the feedback we received from others not only form a source of our self-knowledge, they can also mould our sense of self (Hayes, 1993). “Looking-glass self” embodies the concept that people serve as our “social mirrors” and self-image is constructed after imagining how others’ opinions of us, particularly responses from significant others such as parents and teachers (Smith & Mackie, 2000). There are 3 steps involved in the formation of self-idea; a conception of how we appear to others, the imagination of how one thinks others are judging him and the emotional responses to the interpretation to the imagined evaluations from others (Shaffer, 2005). One’s opinions of oneself are often affected by the internalization of positive and negative evaluations from others (Cook & Douglas, 1998). For instance, a child who is often praised by his parents as “smart” tends to experience greater self-esteem as compared to a child who is often criticized as “stupid”. Feedbacks from others were found to exert strongest effects on young children or people who lack stable self-concepts (Smith & Mackie, 2000).

Cooley argued that our self are derived from interactions with members of the society (Rahim, 2010). An individual then forms a self-idea based on the society’s viewpoint of him, exemplifying social forces at work. Cooley also discussed about the importance of primary and secondary groups to a person’s self. He defined primary groups as small social groups characterized by close, interpersonal interactions and contended that they play a critical role in the development of personal identity (Charles Horton Cooley, n.d.). Primary groups such as family and religious institutions provide the intangible components such as love and emotional support which has great bearings on the development and growth of person’s self.

SSC113: THE SOCIAL SELF: TMA submitted by student

People who are high in self-monitoring tend to monitor and adjust their social performance often to create their desired impressions (Myers, 2010). Sociologist Scheff (1988) agreed with Cooley by adding that self-monitoring is a perpetual process that encompasses the presumed assessment of others and that people are constantly in affective states depending on how they conceive others are judging them (Shaffer, 2005). People experience feelings associated with pride (e.g. joy, satisfaction) and shame (e.g. embarrassment, dissatisfaction). Cooley’s looking-glass self is applicable to impression management in today’s society. It was found that humans are motivated to make conscious efforts to create and manage impressions of themselves, often to seek some desired outcomes from others (Myers, 2010). During a job interview, an interviewee not only has to be well-attired but also give the interviewers the impression that he is expressing interest and sense of engagement in the questions asked. By doing so, this ensures higher chances of being accepted into the job (desired outcomes).

Martin & Yeung (2003) offered an alternative explanation to Cooley’s looking glass self by postulating that one’s selfperception may not necessarily be formed by internalization of others’ opinions. Studies have shown that externalization can actually influence the perceptions of others have of one if he works actively to bring others’ perceptions in line with his...
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