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The Looking-Glass Self is a sociological concept that has three major components and is unique to humans (Shaffer 2005). According to Lisa McIntyre’s The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in Sociology, in the Looking-Glass Self a person views himself or herself through others' social perceptions and in turn gains identity. Identity, or self, is the result of the concept in which we learn to see ourselves as others do (Yeung, et. al. 2003). The Looking-Glass Self begins at an early age and continues throughout the entirety of a person’s life as one will never stop modifying their self unless all social interactions are ceased. The concept was developed by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 (McIntyre 2006). Some sociologists believe that the concept wanes over time due to the fact that only a few studies have been conducted with a large number of subjects in natural settings (Hensley 2006).

Three Main Components of Looking Glass SelfEdit

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 judgment of that appearance.

3.We develop our self through the judgments of others.

Study of the Looking-Glass Self Edit

The term Looking-Glass Self was coined by Cooley after extensive sociological 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. 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 Edit

Self-awareness manipulation was the first of two conditions performed in Beaman’s, Diener’s, 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. There was some concern that the children would see only their Halloween costumes and not their own self reflection.


Individuation Manipulation Edit

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’s, Diener’s, 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.


Results Edit

The children involved in the experiment were split into several different categories based on the results of the experiment. The groups consisted of age, group size, and gender. Out of the 363 children involved in the study, 70 children transgressed 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.

Gender Edit

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 due to the fact that they were wearing Haloween 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; 15.6% to 35.8%. This was the same for girls; 8.4% to 13.2%.

Age Edit

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 an astonishing rate of transgression of 41.9%.

See alsoEdit

External Links Edit

  • Beaman, Arthur L., Diener, Edward, and Klentz, Bonnel. "Self-Awareness and Trangression in Children: Two Field Studies." Journal of Personality and Social Pschology 37(1979): 1835-1846.
  • McIntyre, Lisa. The Practicle Skeptic Core Concepts in Sociology . 3. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006.
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