Exploring Sociological Significance of Socialization and Cultural Norms

Socialization is a sociological approach that attempts to explain how people learn cultural morals and the responses and emotions that differentiate us from animals that are driven merely by the drive to survive and reproduce.

Socialization starts from the assumption that humans are more than animals that do whatever it takes to survive. Instead humans recognize that they are part of a group, and they observe other humans for guiding cues on how they should respond. When a baby is born it observes its mother to learn how emotions work and what the proper response to different events should be.

Gradually as the child learns that it is a separate being from its mother and other humans it learns to think about its own reactions and responses and how they differ from those of other people. In this stage the child may deliberately test things out by trying a different response than the one approved by other people. Eventually, the child settles into a pattern of being able to regulate their own responses and empathize with what others want and how they respond.

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In this way socialization is a careful dance in which the developing human learns to balance their own independent desires and responses with those of the people around them.

George Herbet Mead

Mead contributed to the concept of socialization by exploring how significant other people around a person affect that person. He showed socialization as a dialectical, or reasoning, process in which the human may have to decide between their own personal desires and those of the group around them.

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Mead also contributed greatly to the method of studying socialization by showing that verbal communication isn’t the only way people socialize each other. Instead nonverbal, symbolic communication is even more important.

Mead’s work in showing the importance of nonverbal, symbolic communication has tremendous application for sociologists and psychologists. Also once a person is conscience of the nonverbal communication that people use they are able to notice a lot of things that other people don’t. This can lead to them being better managers, leaders, etc.

Charles Cooley

Cooley contributed to the concept of socialization by developing the “looking glass self” theory. This theory explains socialization as a reflection process in which a person develops a self-image that is constructed based on how other people view him/her. In this way a person is socialized by trying to adjust their self-image.

Cooley’s work was probably the basis for labeling theory. It helps explain why in some cases people develop a negative self image that causes them to become worse, not better. Some people can’t reconcile their self-image with the desired self-image and once they label themselves as criminals, or drug users, etc they find it even harder to leave those patterns. The “looking glass self” theory could be used to help rehabilitate convicted felons and criminals by developing a better socialization process for such ones.

John Bowlby

Bowlby contributed greatly to the concept of socialization by exploring the manner in which children learn from their mothers. He described the early stages of socialization by analyzing the way mothers and babies communicated symbolically with eye dilations and facial expressions. The mother uses this symbolic communication to teach her child how to respond to threats and stresses by showing the emotion that the baby should and does imitate.

Bowlby’s work has practical application in showing why children should spend as much time as possible with their mothers or with a mother figure during their early years. It explains why orphaned babies often don’t do as well emotionally if they don’t have someone to pick them up and teach them these responses through interaction. Bowlby’s work is also important because it suggests that single parent families where the mother must go off to work are a major disadvantage for the children as they don’t get as much of a chance to interact with their mother and learn those responses as they should.

Symbolic interaction and the looking-glass self

In hypothesizing the framework for the looking glass self, Cooley said, "the mind is mental" because "the human mind is social." Beginning as children, humans begin to define themselves within the context of their socializations. The child learns that the symbol of his/her crying will elicit a response from his/her parents, not only when they are in need of necessities such as food, but also as a symbol to receive their attention. Schubert references in Cooley's On Self and Social Organization, "a growing solidarity between mother and child parallels the child's increasing competence in using significant symbols. This simultaneous development is itself a necessary prerequisite for the child's ability to adopt the perspectives of other participants in social relationships and, thus, for the child's capacity to develop a social self." The words "good" or "bad" only hold relevance after one learns the connotation and societal meaning of the words. George Herbert Mead described self as "taking the role of the other," the premise for which the self is actualized. Through interaction with others, we begin to develop an identity about who we are, as well as empathy for others. This is the notion of, 'Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.' In respect to this Cooley said, "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." (Cooley 1964) [edit] Three main components of the looking-glass self. There are three main components of the looking-glass self (Yeung, et al. 2003).

  1. We imagine how we must appear to others.
  2. We imagine the judgement of that appearance.
  3. We develop our self through the judgments of others.

Studies of the looking-glass self

The term "looking-glass self" was coined by Cooley after extensive psychological testing in 1902, although more recent studies have been published. In 1976 Arthur L Beaman, Edward Diener, and Soren Svanum (1979) performed an experiment on the Looking-Glass Self’s effect on children. Another study in the Journal of Family Psychology in 1998, measured the validity of the looking glass self and symbolic interaction in the context of familial relationships.

Self reflection study

On Halloween night, 363 children trick-or-treated at 18 different homes in Seattle, Washington. Each of these 18 homes was selected to take part in the experiment and was in turn arranged in similar ways. In a room near the entry way there was a low table and on it was a large bowl full of bite sized candy. A festive backdrop was also placed in sight of the candy bowl with a small hole for viewing; behind the backdrop was an observer who would record the results of the experiment. The experiment was conducted in the same way at each of the 18 different homes, with each home conducting two different conditions of the experiment, self-awareness manipulation and individuation manipulation. All of the homes conducted both conditions; half of the homes conducting self-awareness manipulation while the other half conducted individuation manipulation. In each of the conditions a woman would answer the door commenting on the children’s costumes and inviting them in. She would then instruct the children to take only one piece of candy from the bowl and excuse herself to another room.

Self-awareness manipulation

Self-awareness manipulation was the first of 2 conditions performed in Beaman, Diener, and Svanum’s experiment. The self-awareness manipulation condition was performed with a mirror placed at a ninety degree angle directly behind the entry-way table fifty percent of the time. The mirror was placed in such a way that the children could always see their reflection in the mirror when taking candy from the bowl; the other half of the time there was no mirror in place and the children were left anonymous.

Individuation manipulation

There was some concern that the children involved in the study would only see their Halloween costumes and not their own self reflections, so a second condition was performed in Beaman, Diener, and Svanum’s experiment. This second condition was called individuation manipulation. The individuation manipulation condition was performed in the same way as the self-awareness manipulation. After greeting the children the woman at the door would ask each of the children their name and where he or she lived. These questions were asked in such a way that the children would think nothing of it because many other homes asked the children their names on Halloween night; however, no effort was made to identify the children involved. Just as in the first condition, a mirror was used half of the time and was removed for the other half of the experiment.


The children involved in the experiment were split into several different categories based on the results of the experiment. The criteria consisted of age, group size, and gender. Out of the 363 children involved in the study, 70 children transgressed when instructed not to. Children who arrived in groups were more likely to transgress than those children who arrived alone; 20.4% to 10.3% respectively. Children arriving with adults were not included in the study.


The genders of those who participated in the study were recorded by the unobtrusive viewer from behind the festive backdrop. Out of the 363 children, only 326 children’s genders could be determined because they were wearing Halloween costumes. Of those children whose genders could be determined there were 190 boys and 136 girls. While Cooley suggests that girls have a far higher impressionable social sensibility it was not the case in this study, as boys transgressed more often than girls. More boys transgressed with the mirror present, than without; 35.8% to 15.6%. This was the same for girls; 13.2% to 8.4%.


While the exact age of each child could not be determined due to the children’s anonymity, approximate ages were given to each child by the unobtrusive observer. The average age of the children was eight years old. The results of the study were split up into different categories based on the approximate age given to each child. The age groups were as follows: ages 1-4, 5-8, 9-12 and 13 or older. The rate of transgression rose with the age of the child; the 1-4 year olds had a rate of transgression of only 6.5% while the 5-8 year olds transgressed 9.7% of the time. The two older age groups transgressed far more often than the younger groups; children aged
9-12 transgressed 23.6% of the time while the children aged 13 and older had a rate of transgression of 41.9%.

Family study of the looking glass self

The research article was included in the Journal of Family Psychology in 1998. The researchers, Cook and Douglas, measured the validity of the looking glass self and symbolic interaction in the context of familial relationships. The study analyzed the accuracy of a college student's and an adolescent's perceptions of how they are perceived by their parents. The 51 participants of this study included four family members (mother, father, college student and adolescent) who returned surveys. The families were primarily white and middle class. The college student and adolescent were paid ten dollars each, if each family member completed the survey. Three areas were investigated: assertiveness, firmness, and cooperation. In reference to the three areas respondents were asked the following: how they behave toward the target, how the target behaves toward them, and how they think they are viewed by the target. The study identified the looking glass self as a "metaperception" because it involves "perception of perceptions." One of the hypotheses tested in the study was: If "metaperceptions" cause self-perceptions they will necessarily be coordinated. The hypothesis was tested at the individual and relationship levels of analysis.

Findings of the familial study

The study determined that the hypothesis is strongly supported at the individual level for cooperation for both college students and adolescents, but is only partially supported for assertiveness for college students. Also for college students, at the relationship level with their mothers the study supported assertiveness. There was an irregular finding regarding firmness in the mother-adolescent relationship that indicated that the firmer adolescents were perceived by their mothers, the less firm they rated themselves in the relationship. While there was not strong support of the hypothesis on the relationship level, on the individual level the findings suggest that how college students and adolescents think about themselves is directly correlated to how they think they are perceived by their parents.

Looking glass self in contemporary society

Using computer technology, people can create an avatar, a customized symbol which represents the computer user. For example, in the virtual world Second Life the computer-user can create a humanlike avatar that reflects the user in regard to race, age, physical makeup, status and the like. By selecting certain physical characteristics or symbols, the avatar reflects how the creator seeks to be perceived in the virtual world and how the symbols used in the creation of the avatar influence others' actions toward the computer-user.

See also

Symbolic interactionism


The term is sometimes hyphenated in the literature, sometimes not. Compare, for example, the titles of Shaffer (2005) and Yeung & Martin (2003), below. From Charles Horton Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order, New York: Scribner's, 1902, pp. 152: "In a very large and interesting class of cases the social reference takes the form of a somewhat definite imagination of how one's self--that is any idea he appropriates--appears in a particular mind, and the kind of self-feeling one has is determined by the attitude toward this attributed to that other mind. A social self of this sort might be called the reflected or looking glass self: 'Each to each a looking-glass Reflects the other that doth pass.' As we see our face, figure, and dress in the glass, and are interested in them because they are ours, and pleased or otherwise with them according as they do or do not answer to what we should like them to be; so in imagination we perceive in another's mind some thought of our appearance, manners, aims, deeds, character, friends, and so on, and are variously affected by it."


  1. Beaman, Arthur L., Diener, Edward, and Klentz, Bonnel. "Self-Awareness and Transgression in Children: Two Field Studies." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37 (1979): 1835-1846.
  2. Cooley, Charles H. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribner's, 1902.
  3. Confer pp. 183-184 for first use of the term "looking glass self". Cooley, Charles H. On Self and Social Organization. Ed. Schubert Hans-Joachim. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  4. ISBN 0226115097. (pp. 20-22) Cook, William L., and Douglas, Emily M. "The Looking Glass Self in Family Context: A Social Relations Analysis." Journal of Family Psychology 12, no. 3 (1998): 299-309.
  5. Coser, Lewis A., Masters of Sociological Thought : Ideas in Historical and Social Context, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.
  6. ISB N0155551280. He has a http://web.archive.org/web/20070814013608/www2.pfeiffer.edu/~lridener/DSS/Cooley/COOLWRK.HTML chapter] on Cooley and the Looking Glass Self. Hensley, Wayne. "A Theory of the Valenced Other: The Intersection of the Looking-Glass-Self and Social Penetration." Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal 24, no. 3 (1996): 293-308.
  7. McIntyre, Lisa. The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in Sociology. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006. ISBN 0072885246. Shaffer, Leigh. "From Mirror Self-Recognition to the Looking-Glass Self: Exploring the Justification Hypothesis." Journal of Clinical Psychology 61 (January 2005): 47-65. Starks, Rodney. Sociology. 10th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007. ISBN 0495093440. (pp. 73-75) Yeung, King-To, and Martin, John Levi. "The Looking Glass Self: An Empirical Test and Elaboration." Social Forces 81, no. 3 (2003): 843-879. Sociology – Cooley's "The Looking Glass Self"
  8. Symbolic Interactionism, Sociological Theory, Charles Cooley Share Article | Jul 9, 2009 Nicholas Morine

The looking-glass self is a popular theory within the sociological field known as symbolic interactionism. It explains a formation of self-image via reflection.

Amongst prominent symbolic interaction sociologists, Charles Cooley stands out as an historic contributor to the field in the sense that he coined one of the largest theories applicable within it – the theory of "the looking glass self." What is meant by this statement is a notion that, even as infants, human beings form their very selves from the reflections and responses gained by their earliest behaviours visited upon the "other," or any participant in one's earliest socialization.

Three Main Components of The Looking Glass Self

The rudiments of Cooley's sociological theory can be reduced to three facets. One imagines how they appear to others.One imagines the judgment that others may be making regarding that appearance. One develops a self-image via their reflection; that is, the judgments or critique of others. There are not many among the general population who do not imagine how they must look to others, how their actions must look to those observing, and finally – changing themselves or perhaps rebelling against change due to the judgments of others they interact with. A large portion of personalities are determined by the reactions to appearance, speech, beliefs, actions, and so on. The reflections, or impressions, that people gain from other people in society are formative in nature – from the look on a doting mother's face to that of a stern father when one has stolen a cookie from the jar – human beings are influenced by the exchange of symbols, and from the reactions one gains from those exchanges, from early infancy.

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Understanding "The Looking Glass Self", Symbolic Interactionism The looking glass self is directly related to self-awareness; indeed, self-awareness may be said to be formed via the process of undergoing the process coined by Cooley. The concept is somewhat related to the psychological concept of projection; human beings interpret the reactions of others that they socialize with in regards to appearance, speech, mannerisms (all symbols) and project these interpretations unto themselves. One's self-awareness is thus heavily influenced by these social responses, and to some degree persons become reflections of what they see projected unto them by others – a summation of the symbolic interactions and exchanges between their selves and "the other." When people receive a negative or condescending response to their appearance from a variety of persons they might socialize with, they might begin to view themselves as less physically attractive or appealing. When they receive a positive or encouraging response to jokes or comedy, they become more apt to engage in these social behaviours or to take pride in their verbal skills. In this way, people are directly moulded, influenced, and in some cases entirely built up around the reflections of themselves that they see in others. The medium used to express these feelings, especially in the earliest stages of development, is the realm of symbolic interaction. Not all cues are verbal, but a simple frown, snort of disdain, or look of amusement are all symbols which bear greater social meanings. Consider Cooley's Words and Theory, "On Self and Social Organization" In order to understand this more deeply, one might lastly consider the following statement from Cooley's On Self and Social Organization : "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."

Read more at Suite101: Sociology – Cooley's "The Looking Glass Self": Symbolic Interactionism, Sociological Theory, Charles Cooley http://political-philosophy.suite101.com/article.cfm/sociology_cooleys_the_looking_glass_self#ixzz0lW6kCgkr

From Charles Horton Cooley, Human Nature and the SocialOrder. New York: Scribner's, 1902, pp. 179-185.

Charles Horton Cooley - The Looking-Glass Self

The social self is simply any idea, or system of ideas, drawn fromthe communicative life, that the mind cherishes as its own.Self-feeling has its chief scope within the general life, notoutside of it; the special endeavor or tendency of which it is theemotional aspect finds its principal field of exercise in a world ofpersonal forces, reflected in the mind by a world of personalimpressions. As connected with the thought of other persons the self idea isalways a consciousness of the peculiar or differentiated aspect ofone's life, because that is the aspect that has to be sustained bypurpose and endeavor, and its more aggressive forms tend to attachthemselves to whatever one finds to be at once congenial to one's owntendencies and at variance with those of others with whom one is inmental contact. It is here that they are most needed to serve theirfunction of stimulating characteristic activity, of fostering thosepersonal variations which the general plan of life seems to require.Heaven, says Shakespeare, doth divide "The state of man in divers functions, betting endeavor in continual motion," and self-feeling is one of the means by which this diversity isachieved. Agreeably to this view we find that the aggressive self manifestsitself most conspicuously in an appropriativeness of objects ofcommon desire, corresponding to the individuals need of power oversuch objects to secure his own peculiar development, and to thedanger of opposition from others who also need them. And this extendsfrom material objects to lay hold, in the same spirit, of theattentions and affections of other people, of all sorts of plans andambitions, including the noblest special purposes the mind canentertain, and indeed of any conceivable idea which may come to seema part of one's life and in need of assertion against some one else.The attempt to limit the word self and its derivatives to the loweraims of personality is quite arbitrary; at variance with common senseas expressed by the emphatic use of "I" in connection with the senseof duty and other high motives, and unphilosophical as ignoring thefunction of the self as the organ of specialized endeavor of higheras well as lower kinds. That the "I" of common speech has a meaning which includes somesort of reference to other persons is involved in the very fact thatthe word and the ideas it stands for are phenomena of language andthe communicative life. It is doubtful whether it is possible to uselanguage at all without thinking more or less distinctly of some oneelse, and certainly the things to which we give names and which havea large place in reflective thought are almost always those which areimpressed upon us by our contact with other people. Where there is nocommunication there can be no nomenclature and no developed thought.What we call "me," "mine," or "myself" is, then, not somethingseparate from the general life, but the most interesting part of it,a part whose interest arises from the very fact that it is bothgeneral and individual. That is, we care for it just because it isthat phase of the mind that is living and striving in the commonlife, trying to impress itself upon the minds of others. "I" is amilitant social tendency, working to hold and enlarge its place inthe general current of tendencies. So far as it can it waxes, as alllife does. To think of it as apart from society is a palpableabsurdity of which no one could be guilty who really saw it as a factof life. "Der Mensch erkennt sich nur im Menschen, nur Das Leben lehret jedem was er sei." *

If a thing has no relation to others of which one is conscious heis unlikely to think of it at all, and if he does think of it hecannot, it seems to me, regard it as emphatically his. Theappropriative sense is always the shadow, as it were, of the commonlife, and when we have it we have a sense of the latter in connectionwith it. Thus, if we think of a secluded part of the woods as "ours,"it is because we think, also, that others do not go there. As regardsthe body I doubt if we have a vivid my-feeling about any part of itwhich is not thought of, however vaguely, as having some actual orpossible reference to some one else. Intense self-consciousnessregarding it arises along with instincts or experiences which connectit with the thought of others. Internal organs, like the liver, arenot thought of as peculiarly ours unless we are trying to communicatesomething regarding them, as, for instance, when they are giving ustrouble and we are trying to get sympathy. "I," then, is not all of the mind, but a peculiarly central,vigorous, and well-knit portion of it, not separate from the rest butgradually merging into it, and yet having a certain practicaldistinctness, so that a man generally shows clearly enough by hislanguage and behavior what his "I" is as distinguished from thoughtshe does not appropriate. It may be thought of, as already suggested,under the analogy of a central colored area on a lighted wall. Itmight also, and perhaps more justly, be compared to the nucleus of aliving cell, not altogether separate from the surrounding matter, outof which indeed it is formed, but more active and definitelyorganized. The reference to other persons involved in the sense of self maybe distinct and particular, as when a boy is ashamed to have hismother catch him at something she has forbidden, or it may be vagueand general, as when one is ashamed to do something which only hisconscience, expressing his sense of social responsibility, detectsand disapproves; but it is always there. There is no sense of "I," asin pride or shame, without its correlative sense of you, or he, orthey. Even the miser gloating over his hidden gold can feel the"mine" only as he is aware of the world of men over whom he hassecret power; and the case is very similar with all kinds of hidtreasure. Many painters, sculptors, and writers have loved towithhold their work from the world, fondling it in seclusion untilthey were quite done with it; but the delight in this, as in allsecrets, depends upon a sense of the value of what is concealed. I remarked above that we think of the body as "I" when it comes tohave social function or significance, as when we say "I am lookingwell to-day," or "I am taller than you are." We bring it into thesocial world, for the time being, and for that reason put ourself-consciousness into it. Now it is curious, though natural, thatin precisely the same way we may call any inanimate object "I" withwhich we are identifying our will and purpose. This is notable ingames, like golf or croquet, where the ball is the embodiment of theplayer's fortunes. You will hear a man say, "I am in the long grassdown by the third tee," or "I am in position for the middle arch." Soa boy flying a kite will say "I am higher than you," or one shootingat a mark will declare that he is just below the bullseye. In a very large and interesting class of cases the socialreference takes the form of a somewhat definite imagination of howone's self--that is any idea he appropriates--appears in a particularmind, and the kind of self-feeling one has is determined by theattitude toward this attributed to that other mind. A social self ofthis sort might be called the reflected or looking glass self: "Each to each a looking-glass Reflects the other that doth pass."

As we see our face, figure, and dress in the glass, and areinterested in them because they are ours, and pleased or otherwisewith them according as they do or do not answer to what we shouldlike them to be; so in imagination we perceive in another's mind somethought of our appearance, manners, aims, deeds, character, friends,and so on, and are variously affected by it. A self-idea of this sort seems to have three principal element:the imagination of our appearance to the other person; theimagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort ofself-feeling, such as pride or mortification. The comparison with alooking-glass hardly suggests the second element, the imaginedjudgment, which is quite essential. The thing that moves us to prideor shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but animputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection uponanother's mind. This is evident from the fact that the character andfreight of that other, in whose mind we see ourselves, makes all thedifference with our feeling. We are ashamed to seem evasive in thepresence of a straightforward man, cowardly in the presence of abrave one, gross in the eyes of a refined one, and so on. We alwaysimagine, and in imagining share, the judgments of the other mind. Aman will boast to one person of an action--say some sharp transactionin trade--which he would be ashamed to own to another. It should be evident that the ideas that are associated withself-feeling and form the intellectual content of the self cannot becovered by any simple description, as by saying that the body hassuch a part in it, friends such a part, plans so much, etc., but willvary indefinitely with particular temperaments and environments. Thetendency of the self, like every aspect of personality, is expressiveof far-reaching hereditary and social factors, and is not to beunderstood or predicted except in connection with the general life.Although special, it is in no way separate--speciality andseparateness are not only different but contradictory, since theformer implies connection with a whole. The object of self-feeling isaffected by the general course of history, by the particulardevelopment of nations, classes, and professions, and otherconditions of this sort.

* "Only in man does man know himself; life alone teaches each onewhat he is." Goethe, Tasso, act 2, sc. 3. Charles Horton Cooley
The Work

"Self and society," wrote Cooley, "are twin-born." This emphasis onthe organic link and the indissoluble connection between self and society isthe theme of most of Cooley's writings and remains the crucial contributionhe made to modern social psychology and sociology. The Looking Glass Self Building upon the work of William James, Cooley opposed the Cartesiantradition that posited a sharp disjunction between the knowing, thinking sub-ject and the external world. The objects of the social world, Cooley taught, areconstitutive parts of the subject's mind and the self. Cooley wished to removethe conceptual barrier that Cartesian thought had erected between the indi-vidual and his society and to stress, instead, their interpenetration. "A separateindividual," he wrote, is an abstraction unknown to experience, and so likewise is society when re-garded as something apart from individuals. . . ." Society" and "individuals"do not denote separable phenomena but are simply collective and distributiveaspects of the same thing. . . When we speak of society, or use any othercollective term, we fix our minds upon some general view of the people con-cerned, while when we speak of individuals we disregard the general aspectand think of them as if they were separate Cooley argued that a person's self grows out of a person's commerce withothers. "The social origin of his life comes by the pathway of intercourse withother persons." The self, to Cooley, is not first individual and then social; itarises dialectically through communication. One's consciousness of himself isa reflection of the ideas about himself that he attributes to other minds; thus,there can be no isolated selves. "There is no sense of 'I' without its cor-relative sense of you, or he, or they. " In his attempt to illustrate the reflected character of the self, Cooleycompared it to a looking glass: Each to each a looking-glass Reflects the other that doth pass.

"As we see our face, figure, and dress in the glass, and are interested in thembecause they are ours, and pleased or otherwise with them according as theydo or do not answer to what we should like them to be, so in imagination weperceive in another's mind some thought of our appearance, manners, aims,deeds, character, friends, and so on, and are variously affected by it." The notion of the looking-glass self is composed of three principal ele-ments: "The imagination of our appearance to the other person, the imagina-tion of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such aspride or mortification." The self arises in a social process of communicativeinterchange as it is reflected in a person's consciousness. As George H. Meadput it when discussing Cooley's contribution, "By placing both phases of thissocial process in the same consciousness, by regarding the self as the ideasentertained by others of the self, and the other as the ideas entertained of himby the self, the action of the others upon the self and of the self upon theothers becomes simply the interaction of ideas upon each other within mind." This somewhat abstract notion can be illustrated by a delightful examplewhich Cooley gave himself when he imagined an encounter between Alice,who has a new hat, and Angela, who just bought a new dress. He argues thatwe then have, I) The real Alice, known only to her maker. 2) Her idea of herself; e.g. "I[Alice] look well in this hat." 3) Her idea of Angela's idea of her; e.g."Angela thinks I look well in this hat." 4) Her idea of what Angela thinksshe thinks of herself: e.g. "Angela thinks I am proud of my looks in thishat." 5) Angela's idea of what Alice thinks of herself; e.g. "Alice thinks sheis stunning in that hat." And of course six analogous phases of Angela andher dress. "Society," Cooley adds, "is an interweaving and interworking of mental selves.I imagine your mind, and especially what your mind thinks about my mind,and what your mind thinks about what my mind thinks about your mind. Idress my mind before yours and expect that you will dress yours before mine.Whoever cannot or will not perform these feats is not properly in the game."Multiple perspectives are brought into congruence through continued multi-lateral exchanges of impressions and evaluations between our minds and thoseof others. Society is internalized in the individual psyche; it becomes part ofthe individual self through the interaction of many; individuals, which linksand fuses them into an organic whole. From Coser, 1977:305-307.

Looking good, feeling fit: the relationship between body image and self-esteem This is a coursework site which you can investigate yourself but before you do, you need to be clear about some of the ideas around this topic. Some good links in left-hand margin, to help with the research for your coursework and hints for fieldwork here.

Self image - some exercises and suggestions for fieldwork, for your coursework Self esteem
Self Presentation

Hints for Unit 2 Coursework

Try the exercises below and keep your notes for your coursework.

Self image

  1. In order to gain an idea of your own self image, ask yourself the following questions: What do you do well?
  2. What do you do badly?
  3. What is your strongest feeling?
  4. What is your strongest belief?
  5. What is your strongest desire?
  6. What is your oldest memory?
  7. What is your most shameful lie?
  8. What has been your greatest triumph?
  9. What has been your most wretched disaster?
  10. Who do you love?
  11. Who do you hate?
  12. Who do you like?
  13. Who do you dislike?
  14. Are you too tall or too short?
  15. Are you too thin or too fat?
  16. Are you too clever or too stupid?
  17. Who would you like to be?

You will find that the responses to these questions fall into certain categories or aspects – emotional, physical and intellectual attributes (qualities or characteristics). These are the things that make up our self image.


Ideal Self

Look at your answers to the questions again. Depending on how truthfully you have answered, you may have a picture of your self which is realistic or possibly, your ideal self. Your ideal self is the perfect version of you, physically, intellectually and emotionally. We usually have three versions of ourselves in our heads at any one time, a realistic view of ourselves, an ideal version which we try to live up to and a looking glass self (Cooley) – this is a version of ourselves that we have reflected back at us by other people, in the way they react to us. For example, we could have an ideal self where we are very kind people but the way people react to us suggests that that is not how other people see us. ACTIVITY

Choose a recent digital photograph of yourself - a full length one, preferably. Use your picture editor to distort the picture as I have done below. Which one do you prefer? The third image is the true image. My ideal self would be picture three with slightly slimmer thighs! I have been all of these shapes but was a teenager when the very thin picture 2 - this was my natural shape then. Where do we get our mental image of what our ideal body shape should be? Listen to Sarah talking about the negative comments she gets about being naturally thin.

Sources range from our parents, our peers and the media. Here are some possible role models for males and females.

  • Females
  • Males


Suggestions for fieldwork

Collect some images of different people with different body shapes - both male and female. Show them to an equal number of males and females, in three different age brackets. 1. Ask them to choose an occupation for each person - give them a selection of high status occupations, middle-ranking occuptions and low status occupations e.g pop star, film star, surgeon, politician, teacher, shop assistant, student, housewife etc. 2. Ask them to match a set of personality characteristics to each picture - give them a range such as out-going, cheerful, mean, bad-tempered, boring etc. 3. Ask them to rank the pictures in order starting with the image they would most like to be like and ending with the one they would least like to be like themselves. Self Esteem

Self esteem is how we value ourselves or judge ourselves.
Try this exercise to see how you rate yourself. Give yourself a score out of 10 for the following qualities:

  • Patience
  • Honesty
  • Generosity
  • Attractiveness
  • Intelligence
  • Kindness
  • Popularity
  • Creativity
  • Wisdom
  • Maturity

Add up your scores and work out the average by dividing your total by 10. Compare your average score with other people in the group. Any surprises? Try this Internet on-line self esteem quiz


Can we recognise people with high or low self-esteem?
Make a table of possible outward signs or characteristics of levels of self esteem e.g not making eye-contact etc. Make a role play in a small group and have people take on characters with various levels of self esteem. Use the table of characteristics you have gathered to help you. Let other people in the class watch your role play and guess which characters in your role play have high and low self esteem. Feedback from others

Our self esteem can be affected in various ways by other people. Some groups of people have more effect on us than others. Three groups who are especially important are:

  • Significant Others
  • Reference Group
  • Role Models

Read this article about role models/heroes and listen to the radio programme/podcast. Self Presentation
Our self image and level of self esteem will affect the way we present ourselves to others. Erving Goffman, in his book "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" discusses how we play 'roles' to manage the impression other people have of us. He uses the analogy of the theatre, 'roles' are like a series of parts we play in life. Think of some of the parts you play - I'll get you started: Hints for Unit 2 Coursework

Some ideas you might explore for your coursework are:
Would you be a Size Zero? (Looking good, feeling fit)
How does being thin affect your self-identity and self-esteem? (look at the fieldwork examples above) How do we interpret the images we see in the press of fashionable young men and women? Do we identify with them? See them as role models? What do we do with the feedback of others (looking glass self)? (read this article in the Daily Mail) What are the self-maintenance strategies we use to maintain our sense of self-image? Do men and women react the same way to feedback and role models about body image? Pretty in Punk: Can you be a 'girl' in a subculture?

Traditional ideas of femininity - self image and feedback about being a 'normal' female? If you are not 'pretty' in the socially accepted definition - long hair, make-up, feminine clothing are you still attractive? Does it matter? How this is expressed in self-presentation through clothing, use of hairstyle, make-up, body shape etc. Good book by Laurain Leblanc Metrosexual Man: Are you one?

Is the term 'metrosexual' just a fashion statement or is it more of a lifestyle choice or ideology? How do you define your male identity? Is about your personality characteristics? Your attributes? Through the way you present yourself - in clothing, hair or possessions or body shape - muscular, slender? Look at a series of men who 'appear' to define their maleness in less stereotypical ways than in the past. Read the article Men in Skirts Metrosexual man is over!

Just what is it about moobs?
The number of men having breast reduction operations in the UK is rising dramatically, but is this really the result of the media spotlighting the physical flaws of male celebrities?


Sociology/Psychology 530
Lecture 1: DeLamater
Exercise 1: Who am I?
We have talked in class about how everyone is a “social object” for everyone else, and that each of us is also a social object to ourselves. In this exercise, we would like you first to take yourself as a social object and, looking at that object, to answer the question “Who am I?” ten times. That is, ask the question ten times and give ten discrete answers to it. Do it quickly, writing down words and phrases as they come into your mind without censoring them, until you have ten statements. Please do this without considering the other parts of the exercise.

After you have done that, “take the role of the other”, with that other being one of your parents (choose one), and repeat the task. In other words, taking yourself as a social object from your parent’s perspective, list how your parent would answer the question, “Who is your name here?” Again, assume that your parent was asked to do this task quickly, listing the words and phrases as they come to his or her mind, without censorship, he or she had completed a list of ten answers.

Finally, take the role of your best friend and do the same.

The Extra Mile
Ask one of the significant others themselves to answer the question “Who is your name here?” Compare his or her list to the list you made when you tried the same task while taking his or her role.

Before You Write:

Begin by examining your data (the lists you have generated). Consider some of the following:
-How are the three lists similar? What words and phrases do all three people (in your opinion, of course) use to describe you? How might you explain the similarities?
-How are the three lists different? How do you see yourself in ways that are different from the way you think these significant others see you? Again, how do you explain this? To what extent do you think the differences lie in
how you may act differently with them? To what extent is it their needs that lead them to see you differently from the way you see yourself, or from the ways different significant others see you? To what extent might the differences artifacts of your, and your significant others’, places in larger social structures and institutions?

Consider the data in light of available theoretical constructs and explanations:
-How do theories of the self discussed in Chapter 4 of the textbook and in lecture help you to understand the image of yourself that you hold? To what extent do you believe that your self-image is the result of direct personal experience? To what extent is it a “looking glass self,” as symbolic interaction would explain it? With how much of it were you born?

The Write-Up

Draw some conclusions about the relationship of your data to the explanations offered in the course material. Select one central point around which to write your essay. The essay should make references to specific points or concepts from the course material, as well as specific references to relevant points of data.

Updated: Mar 22, 2023
Cite this page

Exploring Sociological Significance of Socialization and Cultural Norms. (2016, Feb 20). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/looking-glass-essay

Exploring Sociological Significance of Socialization and Cultural Norms essay
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