Cooley and the Locking glass Self
Just how does a person arrive at'"a notion of the kind of person he or she is? This concept self is developed through a dual and complicated process which. continues throughout life. The concept is an image that one builds only with the help of others. suppose girl is told by her parents and relates how pretty she looks. If this is repeated often enough, consistently enough, and by .enough different people, she eventually comes to feel and act like a beautiful person. There is convincing research evidence that beautiful people actually are treated more indulgently and are seen as more intelligent, altruistic, and admirable than other people [Berscheid and Walster, 1974; Wilson and Nias, 1976; Cash and Sa1zbach, 1978;Murphy, 1981]. The beautiful people often appear to he more poised and self-assured than ugly ducklings, for they are judged and treated differently [Schweppes and Schwebbe, 1982]. But even a pretty girl will never really believe that she is pretty if, beginning early in life, her parents act disappointed and apologetic over her and treat her as unattractive. A person's self-image need bear no relation to, tile objective facts. A very ordinary child whose efforts are appreciated and rewarded will develop a feeling of acceptance and self confidence, while a truly brilliant child whose efforts are frequently defined as failures may become obsessed with feelings of incompetence, and its abilities can be practically paralyzed. It is through the responses of others that a child decides whether it is intelligent or stupid, attractive or homely, lovable or unlovable, righteous or sinful, worthy or worthless. A recent guidebook [Samuels, 1977] tells in detail how a child should be treated if it is to develop a confident self-image
This "self/which is discovered through the reactions of others has been labeled the "looking glass self" by Cooley [1902, pp:102-1031, who carefully analyzed this aspect of self discovery. He may, perhaps, have been inspired by the words in Thackeray's. Vanity Fair: "The world is a looking glass and gives' back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown on it and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly, kind companion." . There are three steps in the process of building the looking-glass serf: (1) our perception of how we look to others, (2) our perception of their judgment of how we look, and (3) our feelings about these judgments. Thus, we are constantly revising our perception of how we look. Suppose that whenever you enter a room small knot of people, they promptly stop talking and melt away. Would this experience, repeated many times, affect your feelings about yourself? Of if whenever you appear, a conversational group quickly forms around you, how does this attention affect your self-feelings? Wallflowers are people who came to believe early in life that they could not make conversation. How did this happen? Just as the picture in the mirror gives an image of the physical self, so the perception of the reactions of others gives an image of the social self. We "know," for instance, that we are talented in some respects and less . talented in others. The knowledge came to us from the reactions of other persons. The little child whose first crude artistic efforts are sharply criticized soon concludes that it lacks artistic talent, while the child whose efforts win praise from parents comes to believe in its abilities. As the child matures, others will also give a reaction which may differ from that of its parents, for the social looking glass is one which is constantly before us.
We note that it is the perception of the judgments of others which is the active factor in the self-image forming~process. We may misjudge the reactions of others. It may be that the compliment which we take at face value is mere flattery; a scolding may have been caused by the boss's headache rather than by our 'own errors. Thus the looking glass image which we perceive may easily differ from the image others have actually formed of us. Several research efforts have sought empirical evidence of the correlation between a person's perception of the judgments of others and the actual judgments they have made of the person. These studies find considerable variation between the individual's perception of how others picture him or her and the picture they actually hold.
and not their actual judgments which shapes our self-image, and these perceptions are sometimes inaccurate.