The Looking-Glass Self by Charles H. Cooley
I will be talking about the looking glass self, made famous by famed American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley. This concept stems from our interpersonal perception of what another individual’s impression is on us and how we form ourselves towards that initial perception. Out of all the theories that are at our disposal in sociology, this is the theory that interested me the most and here is why. To me the looking glass self is not just a concept or a theory but is a vital step in socialization because it’s an interaction we all experience. To me it has aspects of issues we go through today, the big one being conformity, because the looking-glass self is simply a form of conformity. This is evident when we look at Cooleys quote “Each to each a looking glass, Reflects the other that doth pass”[i]. This is one of the very few concepts that is unique to us as humans and the simplicity of the concept of the looking-glass self makes for an interesting analysis.
The looking glass self got its start in 1902 in The Human Nature and the Social Order, which was published work by Cooley. The work was what got the looking glass self into the minds of sociologists. This work made the looking glass self the main topic in sociology on self concept. When you look at socialization as a whole, it is a never ending process while we are alive. So each step in the process has its own level of importance and some that are vital. To me this is one of the most vital processes in life. A major contribution to socialization and our own self image comes from the interactions between everyone around us, but mainly our peers. It is a theory I think that does not taper off through life, we analyze everything and are always trying to fit into different groups and self image is what drives us into those groups.
There are three main components when dealing with the looking glass self. Component number one is “We imagine how we want to appear to others”[ii]. What I think he meant was that we as humans have a personal awareness of our self image. We take the time to make sure that we are presented in a way that is satisfactory. The second component is “We imagine that judgment of our appearance”[iii]. Cooley means by this that we read what others think of us. We as humans are the only species on earth that truly worry about what others think of us on a personal level, as well as a physical level. The final component of the looking glass self is that “We develop ourselves through the judgments of other individuals”[iv]. He meant this as we develop our “self” through what we think people think of us. This could be negative, it could be positive, either way this is how we develop our self image. These three components work together like well oiled gears, developing one step and then progressing into the next step.
The looking glass self was not a theory that was presented, became a vital step in socialization, and then went away. The looking glass self has stayed the same, but not without the help of other sociologists. There has been many experiments done over the years to help see the looking glass self in action. The big one that I researched was done in 1976, and it was performed by Arthur L Beaman, Edward Diener and Soren Svenum. Their experiment was conducted on children to look into the relationship between self awareness and transgressive behavior. They started by taking 363 kids during trick or treat and told them they could only take one piece of candy. They placed a mirror behind the candy bowl and it made kids only take one piece of candy. This is a great example of the looking glass self. The kids saw themselves taking the candy and their self image from the reflection kept them from taking more than one. The second round of subjects were not told a set amount of candy to take, and they took more than the first group.
This experiment was a great way to prove a point. Its a simple...
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