ESL 91
SPRING, 2002


Natalya Shmay
ESL 91
Spring, 2002

Project Topic: Discuss "The Looking-Glass Self" theory proposed by Charles Horton Cooley. Describe the theory and its features. Explain how this theory relates to the influence of the various agents of socialization in the development of an individual's self- concept.

"Each to each a looking- glass
Reflect the other that doth pass."

Charles Horton Cooley

Social interaction has a powerful effect on our behavior because it is the process by which we act and react to those around us. Through our interaction with other people we learn the rules and norms of society, fulfill our personal and professional wants and also create a social reality.

Sociologists and psychologists are interested in how the individual develops the sense of self as a result of social interaction. In the early 1900s Charles Horton Cooley developed the image of the looking- glass self. He explained how people see themselves through the perception of other people. Cooley argued that a person's self grows out of that person's communication with society. " The social origin of his life comes by the pathway of intercourse with other person."(Cooley). In this quote Cooley described that the self is not first individual and then social. Self and society are inseparable from each other, and that unity comes up through communication. Selves cannot be isolated from society because self builds society and society forms a mind of self. Cooley said, " There is no sense of I without its correlative sense of you, or he, or they."

Charles Horton Cooley proposed the theory of the"Looking-Glass Self" that is composed of three principal phases.

  1. I imagine how my personality and appearance will look to other people.
  2. I imagine how other people judge the appearance and personality that I think I present.
  3. I develop a self- concept.

By interaction with others we learn what society wants from us. Then we select our behavior that is the most appropriate to our culture.

Charles Horton Cooley illustrated and compared the analogy of the self-looking through the glass. I can see my face, figure, and my dress in the glass. I imagine how I appear to others. I imagine how others judge or evaluate that appearance. Then I form my own feeling about myself, based on that imagined judgment.

We pay attention and react to the opinion of friends, family and furthermore rules of culture where we live because all these factors can dictate our behavior and style of life. For example, in some cultures women cannot dress up in a short dress because their society has different rules and norms about clothing. But who knows, maybe these women dream that their society will change its rules. In imagination we understand another's mind through our appearance, manners, aims, and actions, character. But who are we, a part of society, or its creation?

According to sociology research we know that the family is the most important agent of socialization for a child's development because the family helps the child to understand the world better. Also, the family puts basic knowledge in the child's head that the child will use in the future. When the child becomes an adult, he or she adds to the foundation provided by the family through his experience in school or by communication with peers or from mass media.

So, the family forms children's behavior and attitude. Children always act and react to their parents' behavior. Children copy their parents. For example, when a child plays with other children, he tries to repeat the same actions or words as the mother or father makes in his family. But how else can the family influence the child, and what behavior can they provide in his or her life according to Cooley's theory of the " Looking- glass self"?

The child feels everything that happens in his family, and everything can influence the child's brain as positive as negative for his life health and whole being. The child may react to the parents' criticism and make wrong conclusions about him. For example, the child does his homework. He asks his mother to help him. His mother explains some exercise to him. But child does not understand his mother's explanation. The mother tells her child that he is stupid. As a result, he can develop his-identity based on an incorrect perception. This misperception can turn to negative self-identity that follows the process of the "Looking -Glass Self" of Charles Horton Cooley:

    1. the parent comments on the child' behavior
    2. the parent thinks that his child is stupid
    3. the child believes that he is stupid

So, self-identity is changed. In contrast, a positive process occurs, when the parents approve of their child, this has the opposite reaction.

My Response

I am thankful to my English teacher for giving me that interesting topic in the essay about the interaction of self and society in terms of the theory expressed by Charles Horton Cooley. When I began to write my project, I had no idea who Charles Horton Cooley was and what his theory was. At first it was so difficult to find necessary information among others. Furthermore, it was my first project.

I did research on the Internet because the Internet has a lot of useful information about everything. Also I had a chance to save my time for productive work. I could read about other sociologists who worked under science developing sociology as a science; for example the work of George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), a philosopher teaching at the University of Chicago, had an important influence on the development of sociological thought, in particular through a perspective called symbolic interactionism. I added my knowledge, and also I tried to improve my writing skill. I learned how make my work on computer useful and how select information for my project.

I hope that my project about Cooley's theory on the "Looking Glass Self" will be interesting for the reader as it is interesting for me. Also, I guess my project helps the reader to understand better his role in the society and help him to find his self there.


Each person's imagination is designed to act as a mirror to somehow allow us to see what we are, and what we might look like to others. Charles Horton Cooley concludes in his theory that the self belongs to society and society belongs to the self. " Self and society," wrote Cooley, " are twin-born." The social self is simply any idea, or system of ideas, drawn from the communicative life, that the mind cherishes as its own. Also, the society is internalized in the individual psyche. It becomes part of the individual self through the interaction of many. So, the idea of Charles Horton Cooley's theory of the " Looking Glass Self" is that a person is not born with an understanding about self. But he lives and interacts with others to answer his question, "Who am I?"

" Only in man does man know himself; life alone teaches each one what he is." Goethe


Cooley, Charles Horton -"The Work-Looking Glass Self." (n.d.)

Charles Horton Cooley. [Online]

Schaefer, Richard T. (2000). SOCIOLOGY: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION (third education). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

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Olesya Glebova
ESL 91
Spring, 2002

Project topic: Discuss “The Looking-Glass Self” theory proposed by Charles Horton Cooley. Describe the theory and its features. Explain how this theory relates to the influence of the various agents of socialization in the development of an individual’s self-concept.

                                                                    “ Only in man does man know himself;

                                                                      Life alone teaches each one what he is.”

                                                                                            Goethe, Tasso, act2, sc.3.

As we know, psychologists and sociologists are both interested in how the individual develops the mental power of self as a result of social interaction. That social interaction describes people and their interrelating with each other day by day, and explains how their behavior is affected by the presence and activities of others. Charles Horton Cooley was one of the philosophers who based his theory on the individual or person that is basically a part of a larger individual. Additionally, Cooley believed that our point of view of ourselves comes not only from reflection and observation of our personal individuality but also comes from imitations of how particular individuals recognize others. Charles Horton Cooley called this theory “The Looking-Glass Self.”

            We, as humans, tend to have different feelings. What we feel is given to us by nature, but society dictates rules that we are not aware of. Charles Horton Cooley based his theory “The Looking-Glass Self” on three principle elements: “the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance; and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification.” (Cooley). According to the theory we can conclude that our identity is formed by observing the behavior of others. We often face the judgment we put on others, but we never realize that we see something that we do not see in ourselves. We often catch ourselves judging or lathing at people’s mistakes but when we think about that we realize that we have the identical problems.

            Additionally, Cooley argued that a person’s identity grows out of a person’s communication with others. The personality is not first an individual and then social; our personality comes up through communication. One’s realization of himself is a reflection of the ideas about himself, those characteristics to the other minds; thus, there cannot be isolated selves. “There is no sense of “I,” as in pride or shame, without its correlative sense of you, or he, or they.” (Cooley).

            Charles Horton Cooley also believed that “in the essential similarity of groups of the family, the playground, and the neighborhood is to be found the basis, in experience, for similar ideas and sentiments in the human mind. In these, everywhere, human nature comes into existence: Man does not have it at birth; he cannot acquire it except through fellowship, and it decays in isolation.” (Jandy). In this part of Cooley’s theory he is trying to say that if we reject the chance for an individual to grow, we reject our society to grow and join together.


            In my response I would like to say that the theory of “The Looking-Glass Self” by Charles Horton Cooley gave me more knowledge about communication of society and self. Also, this was my first research paper and on the first moment, when I finished reading the Cooley’s theory I thought that I could not handle this work. But on the other hand, I thought that nothing can be easy and I should look optimistically.  Step by step, my research paper was done and this paper helped to learn how to combine all information regarding of this particular theory. I believe that my research paper about Cooley’s theory “The Looking-Glass Self” can give the reader the basic knowledge about this hypothesis. Also, I would like to add that I agree with this theory because our society is based on individuals. In that aspect changing people and their principles has changed society and their principles. You cannot change one without changing the other. Now with that into reflection, to change society you would just have to change the individuals’ ideas, but they get their ideas from society. Cooley said that “…society and individuals are inseparable phases of a common whole, so that wherever we find an individual fact we may look for a social fact to go with it. If there is a universal nature in persons there must be something universal in association to correspond to it.”(Jandy). In this part of the theory he is trying to say that dividing too far into the relationships of an individual and society is just impossible. We, as individuals, cannot exist without others. Society helps us to communicate, to grow, to define ourselves. We cannot be separated from our society because this is how we live in this world.


As I mention before, sociological and psychological aspects are linked together and by looking at this theory “The Looking-Glass Self”, I think, that it proved. Psychologically, we never realized that we make the identical mistakes so the rest of people. But we frequently see how other people make these mistakes. We can be more cautious with ourselves and we learn from own mistakes and mistakes from others. Sociologically, we depend on other people because that we how we see develop the sense of independence and quality of life.


Cooley, Charles Horton- Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribner’s, 1902. (Online)

Jandy, Edward C.: Charles Horton Cooley: His Life and His Social Theory. New York: Dryden, 1942. (Online)

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Juna Lucas
ESL 91
Spring, 2002

Project Topic: Discuss "The Looking-Glass Self" theory proposed by Charles Horton Cooley. Describe the theory and its features. Explain how this theory relates to the influence of the various agents of socialization in the development of an individual’s self-concept.

The "Looking Glass Self" Theory

What is a looking glass? It’s an object, a mirror that we look into to see how we look. It gives us a reflection of ourselves. In Charles Horton Cooley’s "The Looking Glass Self" he discusses his theory of how people judge themselves by the way the society sees them. He believes that people have the desire to be part of a group and fit in. He also discusses how we feel when the society judges us on our appearance. This theory shows the relation of self -influence of the various agents of socialization in the development of an individual’s self-concept.

Cooley explained that everything that surrounds us has some sort of relation to us. Although they might not be seen, they are like a "shadow"(Cooley). He compared intense self-consciousness to organs like the liver in our body. When we talk about these organs or if we know that there is something wrong with them and we share that with others in order to seek help, we consciously know that the organs is there. It would be just the same as breathing. We are not conscious of how much per minute we breathe; it is just something that happens on an automatic basis.

The "me, myself and I" concept has been adopted by most people everywhere in the world. It is the concept where one tends to think about himself or herself much more than to care about other people or to interact with each other. It is also the concept where one becomes very selfish. According to Cooley’s theory the "me", "mine" or "myself" concept is both general and individual. With the use of communication people conform to one another. They choose their words carefully in order to make the good impression on others. And because of that matter they try to look their best to interact and fit in. So the I concept is not all an individualistic point of view where one becomes selfish and centered. Rather in general before interacting with others people try to see if a part of their personality can be depicted in that person.

The self is in our mind by how we compare our self to another person. We always want to be higher when compared against someone else and want to the best one in the group. For example "I" think that I ‘m taller and better looking than you just because "I" want to express that self-feeling. Cooley also refers to the fact that when it comes to the social world and our ways of interacting with one another; we tend to put ourselves in the things that we do. It is as if the thing or place is us this happens as long as we see a use of power or superiority in what we are doing. That is why when we are doing something we give human attributes to that particular thing as if the act were a human representing us. We become so absorbed in that object that we put our self-consciousness into it to express our will to power. Cooley also pointed out the fact, that we become friends with someone because we see our image through that person, and we tend to have some sense of pride toward that particular person.

When it comes to associating with self-idea the three principal elements according to Cooley are "the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride and mortification." The fact that we take our time to look at ourselves in a glass shows that we want a judgement to be made on how we look by other people. We are waiting for someone to mention what we have noticed about ourselves while looking in a glass or to mention something positive we have not noticed. Once we have that sentiment in someone else’s mind, then we become content with the fact that we made a difference. We are also the one who makes the decision on whose mind we would like to be judged.

All of this really has to do with conformity. We try hard to conform to a certain group. We think that as long as we do something that would catch this group’s attention then that is all we need to fit in this group. Sometimes we view ourselves in the wrong kind of group because of the schema we have in our mind of that group. We think that it is an "OK" group, so we try our best and do whatever it takes to really fit in this group.

I can relate Horton’s idea of the "Looking Glass Self" theory with this movie entitled "The New Guy". This movie shows this guy who is trying so hard to conform to a group that he thinks is cool because of the way they act. At the end he had tried so hard that he had become just like them to the point that even his way of thinking was the same as that group.

My response

One of the main things that I learned while doing this essay is that people change their characters the second they meet someone. If ever they feel the need to conform themselves to a new group, a change will occur. Also people have a sense of pride when it comes to making friends, or should I say the tendency of being shallow. They also have a sense of pride towards their accomplishments, which is I speculate normal for any human being. Also people can become very self-centered and selfish because of the "I" concept. They tend to think about themselves and their achievements.

I think the looking self-glass concept is important not only to me but to every one in general. It is important to me because with it I will learn to make certain comparisons to my behavior, and my choices in life. It will also help me to understand my reaction to new experiences in life and other people’s behaviors.

Do I personally agree with Horton’s theory? I would say yes, because I find myself sometimes as an immigrant trying hard to fit in this new area. And I make sure that I behave to the expectation of others. I try to bring out the schema that I could be just like them. I also found an interesting point in his theory, where, "I" myself, before I become friends with someone, I make sure that I judge him or her according to my expectation. If I see my image in them, then it’s a wrap; I would probably like to accommodate myself to their standards, to become like them and associate myself with them.

In my future classes I will try to adapt the concept of Cooley to the point of the way I will conform myself to another group. Maybe if there is going to be another group of people that I will work with, then I know that I will always try my best to come up with new ways to impress them with ideas.

The research process has helped me a great deal where I know if I need some facts about certain topics, I need to do research to built my knowledge to learn more. Doing a lot of research will help me to assimilate new facts and build ideas and also gives me time to reflect. In fact, this project makes me feel like I am really in college now. Before I used to write essays related to immigrant people, and I don’t like to talk about that. Doing research is not easy; it takes a lot of time to synthesize information.

I also learned a lot as writer that in order to write a paper you need to make it come out of you. That way my ideas learn to flow a little bit more easily, and I will always have something to say or to write.


This theory the "Looking Glass self " by Cooley explains how we feel when the society judges us in our appearance. As Cooley explained, we always want to be a part of the society and fit in. We also want to be the centered in the group we want to be part of. In other words everything has to be "I" so that I am the best.

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