Theory of the Looking Glass Self

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Chamille M. Catipon
BSHRM 2-1

1. Sociology – Cooley's "The Looking Glass Self"
The looking-glass self is a popular theory within the sociological field known as symbolic interactionism. It explains a formation of self-image via reflection. Amongst prominent symbolic interaction sociologists, Charles Cooley stands out as an historic contributor to the field in the sense that he coined one of the largest theories applicable within it – the theory of "the looking glass self." What is meant by this statement is a notion that, even as infants, human beings form their very selves from the reflections and responses gained by their earliest behaviours visited upon the "other," or any participant in one's earliest socialization.

Three Main Components of The Looking Glass Self
The rudiments of Cooley's sociological theory can be reduced to three facets. One imagines how they appear to others.
One imagines the judgment that others may be making regarding that appearance. One develops a self-image via their reflection; that is, the judgments or critique of others. There are not many among the general population who do not imagine how they must look to others, how their actions must look to those observing, and finally – changing themselves or perhaps rebelling against change due to the judgments of others they interact with. A large portion of personalities are determined by the reactions to appearance, speech, beliefs, actions, and so on. The reflections, or impressions, that people gain from other people in society are formative in nature – from the look on a doting mother's face to that of a stern father when one has stolen a cookie from the jar – human beings are influenced by the exchange of symbols, and from the reactions one gains from those exchanges, from early infancy.

Understanding "The Looking Glass Self", Symbolic Interactionism The looking glass self is directly related to self-awareness; indeed, self-awareness may be said to be formed via this process popularized by Cooley. The concept is somewhat related to the psychological concept of projection; human beings interpret the reactions of others that they socialize with in regards to appearance, speech, mannerisms (all symbols) and project these interpretations unto themselves. One's self-awareness is thus heavily influenced by these social responses, and to some degree persons become reflections of what they see projected unto them by others – a summation of the symbolic interactions and exchanges between their selves and "the other." When people receive a negative or condescending response to their appearance from a variety of persons they might socialize with, they might begin to view themselves as less physically attractive or appealing. When they receive a positive or encouraging response to jokes or comedy, they become more apt to engage in these social behaviours or to take pride in their verbal skills. In this way, people are directly moulded, influenced, and in some cases entirely built up around the reflections of themselves that they see in others. The medium used to express these feelings, especially in the earliest stages of development, is the realm of symbolic interaction. Not all cues are verbal, but a simple frown, snort of disdain, or look of amusement are all symbols which bear greater social meanings.

Consider Cooley's Words and Theory, "On Self and Social Organization" In order to understand this more deeply, one might lastly consider the following statement from Cooley's On Self and Social Organization : "The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another's mind."

2. The Historical Roots of Symbolic Interactionism
Symbolic interactionism, especially the work of George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), traces its roots to two intellectual traditions: pragmatism and psychological behaviorism. Mead adopted from the...
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