The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept, created by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 (McIntyre 2006), stating that a person’s self grows out of society’s interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. The term refers to people shaping their self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perceive them. Cooley clarified that society is an interweaving and inter-working of mental selves. The term “looking glass self” was first used by Cooley in his work, Human Nature and the Social Order in 1902.
The looking-glass self has three major components and is unique to humans (Shaffer 2005). According to Lisa McIntyre’s The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in Sociology, in the looking-glass self a person views himself or herself through others’ perceptions in society and in turn gains identity. Identity, or self, is the result of the concept in which we learn to see ourselves as others do (Yeung & Martin 2003). The looking-glass self begins at an early age and continues throughout the entirety of a person’s life as one will never stop modifying their self unless all social interactions are ceased.Some sociologists believe that the concept wanes over time.Others note that only a few studies have been conducted with a large number of subjects in natural settings.
There are three main components of the looking-glass self (Yeung, et al. 2003).
- We imagine how we must appear to others.
- We imagine and react to what we feel their judgment of that appearance must be.
- We develop our self through the judgments of others.
The term “looking-glass self” was coined by Cooley after extensive psychological testing in 1902, although more recent studies have been published. In 1976 Arthur L Beaman, Edward Diener, and Soren Svanum (1979) performed an experiment on the Looking-Glass Self’s effect on children. Another study in the Journal of Family Psychology in 1998, measured the validity of the looking glass self and symbolic interaction in the context of familial relationships.
It has been argued that the looking glass self conceptualization of the social self is critically incomplete in that it overlooks the divergent roles of ingroups and outgroups in self-definition. That is, it has been demonstrated that while individuals will converge upon the attitudes and behaviours of ingroup members, they will also diverge from the attitudes and behaviours of outgroup members. The neglect of the latter scenario is attributed to the looking glass approaches’ implicit focus on ingroup member appraisals. This alternative perspective is derived from the self-categorization theory analysis of social influence. Indeed, it is further argued that the looking glass self metaphor fails to reflect the fact that influence derives from the self-categorization of other individuals as part of the self.In other words, people are not shaped by the reflections from ‘others’, but rather are shaped by the creation of a collective social identity that contrasts ‘us’ against relevant ‘others’.
- McGraw Hill Ryerson “Challenge and Change: Patterns, Trends and Shifts in Society” New York: 2012 pp. 130 ISBN 0-07-094157-2 for quote “”In Cooley’s words, “I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think you think I am.” “”
- Cooley, Charles H. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribner’s, 1902. Confer pp. 183–184 for first use of the term “looking glass self”.
- Cooley, Charles H. On Self and Social Organization. Ed. Schubert Hans-Joachim. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. ISBN 0-226-11509-7. (pp. 20–22)
- Cook, William L., and Douglas, Emily M. “The Looking Glass Self in Family Context: A Social Relations Analysis.” Journal of Family Psychology 12, no. 3 (1998): 299–309.
- Coser, Lewis A., Masters of Sociological Thought : Ideas in Historical and Social Context, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. ISBN 0-15-555128-0. He has a chapter on Cooley and the Looking Glass Self.
- Hensley, Wayne. “A Theory of the Valenced Other: The Intersection of the Looking-Glass-Self and Social Penetration.” Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal 24, no. 3 (1996): 293–308.
- McIntyre, Lisa. The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in Sociology. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006. ISBN 0-07-288524-6.
- Shaffer, Leigh. “From Mirror Self-Recognition to the Looking-Glass Self: Exploring the Justification Hypothesis.” Journal of Clinical Psychology 61 (January 2005): 47–65.
- Starks, Rodney. Sociology. 10th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007. ISBN 0-495-09344-0. (pp. 73–75)
- Yeung, King-To, and Martin, John Levi. “The Looking Glass Self: An Empirical Test and Elaboration.” Social Forces 81, no. 3 (2003): 843–879.