Final Major Project: Research – Cooley and the Looking Glass Self
“The concept of the looking glass-self theory constitutes the cornerstone of the sociological theory of socialization. The idea is that people in our close environment serve as the “mirrors” that reflect images of ourselves. According to Cooley, this process has three steps. First, we imagine how we appear to another person. Sometimes this imagination is correct, but may also be wrong since it is merely based on our assumptions. Second, we imagine what judgments people make of us based on our appearance. Lastly, we imagine how the person feels about us, based on the judgments made of us. The ultimate result is that we often change our behavior based on how we feel people perceive us.”
– (The Looking Glass Self: How Our Self-image is Shaped by Society 2018)
American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929) coined the term the ‘Looking Glass Self’. His theory is that our self or identity is determined by our interactions with other people and what we believe they think of us. We view ourselves from another’s point of view; impressions of how they perceive us and what we believe they think are our personal qualities. He proposed that how we view ourselves and our identity is not something that comes from within us but instead comes from how we believe others see us. From this, we form our self-identity to reflect these opinions.
All of us have a desire to be liked and appreciated, so this is what drives us to conform to the views of others. For some people, the opinion of others is more important than their own opinions. Subconsciously, we try to meet these expectations by adjusting our identity when we interact with others.
This is not just a passing phase. We will do this all our lives. The ubiquitous nature of online social media intensifies the need to conform.
Whether or not you agree with Cooley, the rising levels of anxiety and mental health issues could suggest that this pressure to meet expectations of others is a factor. Do we all construct an imagined identity? Do we assume different personas dependent on who we are interacting with and where? Food for thought as I work on my final project.
Cooley, C. H. and Schubert, H. 1998. On Self and Social Organization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
The Looking Glass Self: How Our Self-image is Shaped by Society. 2018. POPULAR SOCIAL SCIENCE [online]. Available at: http://www.popularsocialscience.com/2013/05/27/the-looking-glass-self-how-our-self-image-is-shaped-by-society/ [accessed 2 February 2018].