The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept created by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902. It states that a person's self grows out of society's interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. The term refers to people shaping their identity based on the perception of others, which leads the people to reinforce other people's perspectives on themselves. People shape themselves based on what other people perceive and confirm other people's opinion of themselves.
There are three main components of the looking-glass self:
- First, we imagine how we must appear to others.
- Second, we imagine the judgment of that appearance.
- Finally, we develop our self through the judgments of others.
In hypothesizing the framework for the looking glass self, Cooley said, "the mind is mental" because "the human mind is social. " In other words, the mind's mental ability is a direct result of human social interaction. 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. George Herbert Mead described the 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.
An example of the looking-self concept is computer technology. Using computer technology, people can create an avatar, a customized symbol that represents the computer user. For example, in the virtual world Second Life, the computer-user can create a human-like 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.