The looking glass self-theory by Charles Horton Cooley (1922) is one of the most influential concepts in symbolic interactionism. It can be defined as a person’s mental representation of their personality. It is derived from the way a person thinks that others perceive them. The looking glass self-theory is an example of self-concept theory.
How the Looking Glass Self Theory Works
According to the looking glass self-theory, a person’s view of their personality is determined by how society sees them. Society is an important concept in symbolic interactionism. Society can be defined as a group of people living together simultaneously and in the same place.
Also, a group of people sharing common social institutions is a community that can be defined as a society. Since we are social beings, we tend to be influenced by other people’s opinions of us. We are also likely to observe their behaviors and imitate them. So we can say that our attitudes and behaviors are socially constructed.
According to Cooley Charles, a person’s view of themselves is shaped by the way they believe that other people see them. A person can understand their personality in relation to others, and this is called a looking glass self.
The concept of the looking glass self-theory also judges our perceptions of others’ personalities because of how we think other people perceive us. We are likely to develop behaviors and attitudes that reflect what we observe in socialization.
Assumptions of the Looking Glass Self Theory
The concept of the looking-glass self is based on several assumptions, as stated by Cooley Charles.
- The looking-glass self is not the real, but only a superficial self.
- People tend to think that their looks and attractiveness are important to their happiness.
- People learn how to behave based on the social interaction they experience while growing up (between the ages of 0-12).
- People’s behavior is governed by society and the judgments of others.
- The image that we have of other people’s attitudes and behavior is reflected by our own.
- People are highly concerned with their image as it affects their self-esteem, self-identity, and happiness.
- An individual’s attitude will be affected by the way they imagine other people regard them.
- The looking-glass self-theory states that people are self-consistent.
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What Role Does Social Media Play in The Looking Glass Self Theory?
Social media is an important concept in looking glass self-theory. Social media can be defined as social networking sites to interact with people or advertise products. It is commonly used for entertainment purposes, such as playing games or watching videos. People are also likely to stay in touch with friends and family on social media to promote a feeling of connectedness.
Most people are concerned with their image when they use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. They are likely to be worried about the way they appear in other people’s eyes. People might use social networking sites as a source of validation for their behavior.
The way people interact on social media sites also reflects the looking glass self-theory. For example, when people share photos on sites such as Facebook, they are concerned with their image and the reactions of other people.
Social media is a reflection of the looking glass self-theory through various interactions that occur between people. For example, a person tweeting about their appearance could cause others to respond negatively.
Another example is a person who might receive an unexpected friend request on social media sites, which causes them to react favorably or negatively.
Another possibility is a person changing their status to inform other people about changes in life such as marriage, divorce, etc.
Examples of the Looking Glass Self Theory
Some examples of the looking glass self-theory include:
- Human beings want to make a good impression on others. A person’s identity is based on other people’s opinions, and an individual will do their best to be accepted by others.
- People might tend to be more concerned with their appearance and attractiveness than other things. The perception that many people have about the way they look is a major factor in their self-esteem.
- A person might change their behavior on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote a positive self-image.
- People might be concerned with the changes in their looks as they grow older, which can affect their behavior.
- Parents might be concerned with their physical appearance in the eyes of their children. This self-consciousness might affect the way they feel about themselves.
- A person might react favorably or negatively to unexpected friend requests on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It all depends on whether they think that these requests will reflect well on their self-image.
- Most people judge others or treat them in a particular manner based on their appearance. They forget that nobody created themselves hence the need to give equal chances to all.
- Attractive or popular people might be placed on a pedestal in a social setting, whereas less attractive people might not be given the same treatment. Being attractive or otherwise is defined by those around us, but the definitions are relative.
- People pay more attention to their physical appearance rather than other things such as intelligence or skills in a social setting. Attractive students might be treated differently in class than those who are not.
- Good-looking people often benefit more from social networking sites. For example, they may receive more friend requests or promotions on social media sites than other users depending on their appearance and popularity.
- Attractive people are given a greater chance in the world than their less attractive counterparts. These biases affect the way people act in their lives and careers.
- People who are overweight might receive less attention than others during a job interview or on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
- Human beings want to be accepted by others in their social settings, and these approval ratings are reflected in how a person views themselves.
- If you are not happy with whatever you are, you might try to change your appearance and behavior to become a better person. The changes you make will be determined by what you believe other people like to see in you.
- People might be concerned with how they look and how other people treat them in a social setting. The perceptions of others determine how an individual socializes.
- Many young people believe that their value and sense of worth are based on their physical appearance.
- People can be too dependent on themselves and how other people treat them in a social setting. This might cause them to lose other things such as their values and so on.
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Development of the Looking Glass Self Theory
Over the years, The Looking Glass Self Theory has been developed by various people. It started with George H. Mead at the beginning of the 20th century. He believed that all human beings are social creatures and that they thrive on interactions with others.
Mead stated that we spend the majority of our time in social settings. We are constantly concerned with how we appear to others and how they treat us during interactions.
Later in the 20th century, Mead’s theories were expanded by Charles Horton Cooley. He added that people tend to imitate others and model their behavior after them in a social setting. Furthermore, he stated that we tend to have a positive opinion about ourselves, which might be the way we see ourselves in the eyes of others.
It is possible to influence other people’s views about ourselves through various interactions in a social setting, particularly on social media sites. For example, a person who is not happy with whatever they look like might post a picture of themselves on Facebook or Twitter. This picture causes other people to react positively or negatively.
Cooley’s theories have inspired various researchers over the years to come up with various examples of the looking glass self-theory. The examples have given the theory more credibility and has led to its popularity among human beings.
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Looking Glass Self and Symbolic Interaction
Looking glass self theory and symbolic interaction are very similar. For instance, they both deal with the way people behave in a social setting. They look at how people represent themselves to other people and the way they react to one another.
Through symbolic interaction, human beings can communicate with other people through various symbols. They can communicate their thoughts, values, and emotions without talking face to face.
A person can present himself in a particular manner by putting up a picture of himself on social media and then waiting for others to react. However, this might not be the real person who is behind the various photographs or messages. The reality and truth might be hidden to impress or please other people, leading to a false sense of worth.
Cooley’s looking glass self-theory also talks about people looking in the mirror and seeing themselves based on how other people have reacted to them. It is a natural tendency among human beings to forget about others’ opinions and concentrate on their own emotions.
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They say that we can’t truly know ourselves until someone shows us how they see us. Thanks to psychology and social sciences, there is an emerging “looking glass self” theory. It suggests that other people influence our sense of identity by reflecting to us what they think about who we are.
This phenomenon was first studied in children when it became clear that a child will change their behavior based on feedback from parents or peers (i.e., if you behave like this, I might love you). The looking glass self has also been observed in adults. Research shows that individuals feel better about themselves after being praised for something done or worn.