Sociology Index


The looking-glass self theory constitutes the cornerstone of the sociological theory of socialization. Looking-Glass Self was developed by Charles Horton Cooley to describe the social nature of the self and the link between society and individual. Cooley coined the term “looking-glass self” which states that the self is created out of social interactions and through how we perceive others to be reflecting about us.

In “The Looking-Glass Self”, Cooley explains how we think about the social self. Cooley provides the example of sports where a piece of equipment reflects the players position. It is through this we understand how we reflect our self onto an object. In Looking Glass Self formulation social interaction is like a mirror, it allows us to see ourselves as others see us.

Looking-Glass Self was an early formulation of symbolic interactionism but less influential than that of George Herbert Mead. Self-feeling has its chief scope within the general life, not outside of it. The term "looking-glass self" was coined by Charles Horton Cooley in his work, Human Nature and the Social Order in 1902. The Journal of Family Psychology in 1998, measured the validity of the looking-glass self and symbolic interaction in the context of familial relationships.

Cooley's Construction Of Looking-Glass Self In Three Steps

Charles Horton Cooley describes the construction of one’s “looking-glass self” to occur in three steps.

The first step, according to Cooley is, “the imagination of our appearance to the other person.”

Second step, we imagine “his judgment of that appearance.” After we first imagine our appearance from another individual’s perspective, we imagine what that individual thinks about what we imagine they have concluded.

Based upon what we think of the judgments of the external individual, we experience the third step: “some sort of feeling such as pride or mortification” (Cooley 1902, 189).

Looking-glass self comprises three main components (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, and

we develop our self through the judgments of others.

The comparison with a looking-glass self hardly suggests the second element, the imagined judgment, which is quite essential. The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another's mind.

The concept of the looking-glass self describes the development of one's self through one's interpersonal interactions within the context of society. We are ashamed to seem evasive in the presence of a straightforward person, cowardly in the presence of a brave person, gross in the eyes of a refined person.

Marginalized through the Looking Glass Self. The development of Stereotypes and Labeling Theory.
Emad Rahim. Abstract: The looking-glass self, a concept created by Charles Cooley supported the theory that individuals learn to see themselves based on how society views them.

The looking-glass self presented the idea that all of us take on characteristics that are predominately influenced by what we believe society perceives of us to be. This article will explore terminology and concepts essential for understanding the notion of the looking glass self with comparison to that of how social stereotypes and labelling can influence behavior, attitudes and belief of marginalised groups of people as described by Adams, Bell and Griffin (2007).

The Looking-Glass Self: An Examination of Self-Awareness
John V. Canfield. A thorough study of the self and self-consciousness from the point of view of contemporary Looking-Glass Self philosophy. Taking as his starting point Wittgenstein's views on the nature of the self, Canfield explains Wittgenstein's approach to philosophy and his way of looking at language. Canfield begins by examining traditional theories that take the self to be a fiction of some sort. Canfield demonstrates that the I of gut-level belief is categorically heterogeneous and, in part, fictional.

The Looking-Glass Self - Charles Horton Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribner's, 1902.