Mead and Role-Taking
George Herbert Mead (1863- 1931) extended Cooley's insights by linking the idea of self-concept to role-taldng-the process by which a person mentally assumes the role of another person or group in order to understand the world from that person's or group's point of view. Role-taking often occurs through playand games.as children try out different roles(such asbeingmommy.daddy.doctor,or teacher) and gain an appreciation of them. First, people come to take the roleof the other (role-taking). Bytaking the roles of others, the individual hopes to ascertain the Intention or direction of the acts of others. 'Thenthe person begins to construct his or her own roles (role-making) and to anticipate other individuals' responses. Finally, the person playsat her or his particular role (role-playing).
According to Mead (1934), in the early months of life, children do not realize that they are separate from others. However, they do begin early on to see a mirrored image of themselves in others. Shortly after birth, infants start to notice the faces of those around them, especially the Significant others, whose faces start to have meaning because they are associated with experiences such as feeding and cuddling. Significant others are those persons whose care, affection, and approval are especially desired and who are most important in the development of the self. Gradually,we distinguish ourselves from our caregivers and begin to perceive ourselves in contrast to them. As we
develop language skills and learn to understand symbols, we begin to develop a self-concept. When we can represent ourselves in our minds as objects distinct from everything else, our self has been formed.
Mead (1934) divided the self into the "I" and the "me." The -I" is the subjective element of the self and represents the spontaneous and unique traits of each person. TIle "me" is the objective element of the self, which is composed of the internalized attitudes and demands of other members of society and the individual's awareness of those demands. Both the KI" and the "me" are needed to form the social self The unity of the two constitutes the full development of the individual.
According to Mead. the "I" develops first, and the "me" takes form during the three stages of self development:
1. During the preparatory stoat. up to about age three. interactions lack meaning, and children largely imitate the people Arouse It' much are preparing for role-taking.
2. III the play stage, from about age three to five, children learn to use language and other symbols, thus enabling them to pretend to take the roles of specific people. At this stage, they begin to SL~ themselves in relation to others, but they do not see role-taking as something they have to do.
3. During the game stage. which begins in the early school years, children understand not only their own social position but also the positions of others around them. In contrast to play, games are structured by rules, are often competitive, and involve a number of other "players" At this time, children become concerned about the demands and expectations of others and of the larger society. Mead used the example of a baseball game to describe this stage because children, like baseball players, must take into account the roles of all the other players at the same time.
Mead's concept of the generalized other refers to the child's aware of the. demands and expectations to tile a whole or of the child's subculture.