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1. Sociology – Cooley’s “The Looking Glass Self”
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.
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 this process popularized 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.”
2. The Historical Roots of Symbolic Interactionism
Symbolic interactionism, especially the work of George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), traces its roots to two intellectual traditions: pragmatism and psychological behaviorism. Mead adopted from the pragmatists three important themes: (1) a focus on the interaction between actors and the social world, (2) a view of both actors and the social world as dynamic processes, and (3) the centrality of actors’ ability to interpret the social world. In sum, both pragmatism and symbolic interactionism view thinking as a process.
Mead recognized the importance of overt, observable behavior, but expanded the understanding of mental capacities of most psychological behaviorists by stressing the importance of covert behavior. Unlike the radical behaviorists, Mead believed that there were significant differences between human beings and animals, particularly the human capacity to use language and dynamically created social reality.
The Ideas of Mead
Mead’s most widely read work, Mind, Self and Society, gives priority to society over the mind and highlights the idea that the social leads to the development of mental states. To Mead, the mind is a process, not a thing, and is found in social phenomena rather than within individuals. The act is the fundamental union in Mead’s theory, and it is represented by four stages: impulse, perception, manipulation, and consummation. The basic mechanism of the social act, according to Mead, is the gesture. Mead pays particular attention to one kind of gesture, significant symbols, which make it possible for humans to think, to communicate, and to be stimulators of their own actions.
The self occupies a central place in Mead’s theory. Mead defines the self as the ability to take oneself as an object and identifies the basic mechanism of the development of the self as reflexivity – the ability to put ourselves into the place of others and act as they act. Mead makes it clear that a self can arise only through social experiences, and he traces its development to two stages in childhood: the play stage and the game stage. During the play stage, children learn how to take the attitude of particular others to themselves, but it is only during the game stage that children learn how to take the roles of many others and the attitude of the generalized other. Mead also discussed the difference between the “I” and the “me” in his theory of the self. The “I” is the immediate response of an individual to the other; it is the unpredictable and creative aspect of the self. The “me” is the organized set of attitude of others that an individual assumes; it is how society dominates the individual and is a source of social control.
The Basic Principles of Symbolic Interactionism
The basic principles of symbolic interactionism include the following: (1) human beings possess the capacity for thought, which is shaped by social interaction; (2) people learn meanings and symbols through social interaction; and (3) people are able to modify or alter the meanings and symbols they use in interactions by interpreting the situations they are engaged in. Socialization is one way individuals learn to think, interact with one another, and understand how to use meanings and symbols. Defining the situation is another way that individuals actively engage in creating the social world. Finally, developing a “looking-glass” self helps individuals to perceive and judge the impressions we make on others we interact with.
The self refers to the conscious, reflective personality of an individual. It is the entity the person envisions when he/she thinks about who they are. In order to understand the concept of self, it is important to understand that the development of self is only possible through role-taking. In order to look upon your self, you have to be able to take the role of another, which, in turn, allows you to reflect upon your self. Because role-taking is a necessary part of self-development, it is concurrent with the development of self. According to Mead (1967), the self develops in a series of three stages: preparatory stage – meaningless imitation by the infant
play stage – actual playing of roles occurs; but no unified conception of self develops game stage – this is the completion stage of self-development; the child finds who he or she is; the child also must respond to simultaneous roles; the individual can act with a certain amount of consistency in a variety of situations because he/she acts in accordance with a generalized set of expectations and definitions he/she has internalized The self consists of two parts, the I and the Me. The I is the impulsive tendency of the individual (similar to Freud’s notion of the Id). The I is the spontaneous, unorganized aspect of human existence. The Me is the incorporated other (see generalized other) within the individual.
The incorporated or generalized other supplies an organized set of attitudes and definitions, understandings and expectations (or meanings) that are common to the group to which the individual belongs (similar to Freud’s concept of the superego). According to Mead’s presentation of the I and the Me, action begins in the form of the I and ends in the form of the Me; the I gives propulsion while the Me gives direction. Additionally, the I, being creative and spontaneous, provides for change in society. The Me, being regulatory, works to maintain society. Thus, in the concept of self is a powerful and comprehensive understanding of how humans function in society and, in turn, how society functions (by both changing and remaining constant). The concept also depicts the relationship between the individual and society (Meltzer 1978).
3. Freud’s Structural and Topographical Models of Personality
Sigmund Freud’s Theory is quite complex and although his writings on psychosexual development set the groundwork for how our personalities developed, it was only one of five parts to his overall theory of personality. He also believed that different driving forces develop during these stages which play an important role in how we interact with the world.
Structural Model (id, ego, superego)
According to Freud, we are born with our Id. The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle. In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation. When a child is hungry, the id wants food, and therefore the child cries. When the child needs to be changed, the id cries. When the child is uncomfortable, in pain, too hot, too cold, or just wants attention, the id speaks up until his or her needs are met.
The id doesn’t care about reality, about the needs of anyone else, only its own satisfaction. If you think about it, babies are not real considerate of their parents’ wishes. They have no care for time, whether their parents are sleeping, relaxing, eating dinner, or bathing. When the id wants something, nothing else is important.
Within the next three years, as the child interacts more and more with the world, the second part of the personality begins to develop. Freud called this part theEgo. The ego is based on the reality principle. The ego understands that other people have needs and desires and that sometimes being impulsive or selfish can hurt us in the long run. Its the ego’s job to meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality of the situation.
By the age of five, or the end of the phallic stage of development, the Superego develops. The Superego is the moral part of us and develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our caregivers. Many equate the superego with the conscience as it dictates our belief of right and wrong.
In a healthy person, according to Freud, the ego is the strongest so that it can satisfy the needs of the id, not upset the superego, and still take into consideration the reality of every situation. Not an easy job by any means, but if the id gets too strong, impulses and self gratification take over the person’s life. If the superego becomes to strong, the person would be driven by rigid morals, would be judgmental and unbending in his or her interactions with the world. You’ll learn how the ego maintains control as you continue to read.