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In this lesson, we will explore the sense of self, self-socialization, and the two social scientists who contributed to this field. We will examine Charles Cooley’s theory of the Looking-Glass Self and George Herbert Mead’s stages of play, game, and generalized other.

Charles Cooley and George Herbert Mead

The theories of Cooley and Mead focused on the socialization process
Charles Cooley George Herbert Mead

Are you smart, physically attractive, and talented? How do you know you are? Chances are because someone told you so, and you believed them.In this lesson, we will talk about two social scientists, Charles Cooley and George Herbert Mead, and their views on how the sense of self is developed. According to both Cooley and Mead, the self is developed through a socialization process.The sense of self is defined as a collection of beliefs that we hold, while self-socialization is defined as a developmental process that allows you to reflect upon yourself.This process begins in early childhood and has many influencing factors.

Some of the influences on self-socialization process include the family, peers, teachers, and the media.

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The Looking-Glass Self

In 1902, Charles Cooley published his theory called the Looking-Glass Self in order to explain how people develop a sense of self. The Looking-Glass Self has three elements. The first element is how we imagine we appear to others.

The second element is the judgment we imagine that other people may be making about us, and the third element is our self-image based upon the evaluations of others.

A child playing dress up is in the play stage
Meads Play Stage

How do you know you look good today? Because when you wear your favorite outfit, you feel confident and radiant, and thus, every time you wear your favorite outfit, everyone always tells you how good you look in it.

George Herbert Mead’s Stages

Like Cooley, George Herbert Mead believed that the sense of self is developed through social interaction, and in the early twentieth century, Mead identified three sequential stages that led the child to develop a sense of self. These stages are play, game, and generalized other.

Play Stage

The first stage is the play stage in which pre-kindergarten children think and act like the people they frequently see. For example, imagine a three-year-old girl playing dress up by putting on her mother’s shoes and lipstick. The girl is actively assuming the role of the mother and viewing her world as her mother does.

Game Stage

Learning the expectation to not litter is part of the generalized other stage
Meads Generalized Other

The second phase is the game stage in which children between the ages of five and eight begin to take account of their own actions and the actions of others.

For example, imagine a group of second graders wanting to start a kick ball game. In order for the game to be fair, the players will have to know the rules of the game, be held accountable for their position, and hold all the other players accountable for their participation.

Generalized Other

The third stage is called generalized other. In this stage, children and young adults interact with society and adopt the expectations of that group. For example, children learn not to litter and to put their trash in the correct recycling containers.

Lesson Summary

In summary, both Cooley and Mead believed that the self was developed through the process of self-socialization.

Self-socialization allows us to reflect and argue with ourselves, which helps to develop an accurate self-image. For example, have you ever talked yourself out of wearing your pajamas to a job interview? Your self-image is one of hard work and dedication, and you don’t want to be perceived as being lazy.The self is a changing but enduring aspect of personality that is a collection of beliefs that we hold about ourselves. We formulate these beliefs based upon our social interactions with others.

Cooley held high regard for other people’s opinions and thought that the opinions of society shape the individual into becoming who they are. Likewise, Mead also held society in esteem in its ability to show the developing self the social cues of what is right and wrong.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define sense of self and self-socialization
  • Identify Charles Cooley and the three elements of his Looking-Glass Self theory
  • List and paraphrase George Herbert Mead’s three stages of developing a sense of self

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