21 Jul 2022


Socialization and Development of the Self

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Socialization can be defined as a process by which individuals begin to acquire the skills that are required to perform as a functioning member of the community. It involves the long process of acquiring and disseminating norms and customs of society. This ensures that the social and cultural continuity of the society is attained. Various theorists have explained the process by which a person’s self-image grows in society. The looking- glass self-concept was a concept developed by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 to explain that a person’s self-image develops from the interaction and perception of others. The social behaviorism theory developed by George Herbert Mead explains how social experience helps in the development of a person’s personality with the central concept being on the growth of self. Ervin Goffman on the other explains the way people present the self in every day’s life in his article, “the presentation of self in the everyday life.” 

Charles Horton Cooley on Development of Self 

Cooley in his theory of looking-glass self-concept explains how society and interaction play a significant role in the way people see themselves. An individual’s self-image develops out of the interpersonal interaction and perception of other people ( Shibutani, 2017 ). The way people view themselves comes from social interaction with others. The contemplation of personal qualities and the impression of how others perceive us play a major role on the creation of self. The way people see themselves does not come from who truly they are, but rather from how they believe others see them. The self-image is therefore developed as a result of the reflection and evaluations of other people from the environment. For example, parents have different ways of treating their children. If a parent looks at a child as smart and they raise him seeing him as a smart child, the child will believe that he is smart because of how others see him. As people grow up from childhood to adulthood, the particular way the people around perceive them to be is what determines how they form the self-concept. 

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The looking-glass theory of self-image makes the cornerstone of the sociological theory of socialization. The key point is that people in the environment close to us serve as mirrors that reflect the images of ourselves ( Shibutani, 2017 ). The reflection of self is not based on the true reality of what people think they are, but rather on a perception of what people hold about us. The process of the formation of the self-image formation has three processes according to Cooley. In the first step, people imagine how they must appear to others, which is then followed with the imagination of the judgment of the appearance to others ( Martindale, 2013 ). Thirdly, individuals create the self out of the judgment from others. The construction of the self-image occurs unintentionally. People are usually not aware that they are trying to conform to the opinion of others about them rather than their own opinions. All individuals prefer to be appreciated and be perceived as talented. But when people develop a weak self-image, it can lead them to a life where the opinion of others seems more important than their own opinions. Cooley argues that “the mind if mental because the human mind is social.” The human social interaction plays a key role in determining the mental ability of the mind. Starting from their childhood, individuals define themselves within the context of their social interaction. The children learn that the symbols they portray will not only help them to receive the attention of the parents but also to get the necessities such as food. 

The implication of Cooley theory is therefore that the parents should try to help their children develop a positive self-image of themselves as they grow. It can be done by encouraging them and labeling them with positive opinions. Telling children that they are smart, good or even determined will help them develop a positive self-image about themselves. However, negative opinions about children can have detrimental effects on children. If a parent or other close family members refer to a child as lazy, such a child will grow up believing that he/she is lazy and this can lead to low self-esteem. The opinion of others plays a key role in the formation of how people see themselves. Negative opinions, therefore,make people form negative self-concept. 

Mead’s Theory on Development of Self 

Mead is one of the known theorists of self in the field of sociology. Like Cooley, Mead’s theory of self-concept maintains that the creation of the concept of self-concept result from the social interaction with others. It refutes the argument that biological factors play a key role in determining the construction of the self-concept. Self-image does not exist initially at birth or the start of the social interaction ( Fonagy, 2018 ). It is constructed and reconstructed in the process as people interact with others in society. According to Mead, people create self-images through their interaction with other people. Self is part of an individual’s personality which is made up of the self-image and self-awareness, both which he argues are a product of social interaction with other people. According to Mead, the self is made up of “I and Me” where “me” symbolizes the attitude and expectations of others put together in a social self. The definition of an individual’s self is based on the general attitude of the social group where they belong. The self-consciousness is mainly attained when an individual defines himself/herself from the viewpoint of others. “Me” is therefore considered to be the social aspect of an individual. It represents the behaviors that are learned and the attitudes as well as the expectations of others in society. It is developed by the interaction with society and what people learn from this interaction. “I” on the other hand is a response to me and is considered to be the future phase of the self. The community social group, therefore, plays a key role in determining the way people behave and how they view themselves. 

Observing and interacting with others, internalizing the external opinion and the feelings about oneself determine the way people form their self. While some psychologists such as Feud saw the concept of self as a biological factor acquired from birth, Mead differed, instead of viewing the self as a process of interaction. In his book “Mind, Self,and Society,” Mead discusses the idea that mind arises out of the social act of communication ( Fonagy, 2018 ). He mentions three activities that are involved in the formation of self. The first activity involved is language. The development of language occurs when an individual is allowed to respond to each other through gestures, words, symbols,and sound ( Fonagy, 2018 ). Language plays a key role in the conveyance of attitudes and opinions towards a subject. Through the interaction using language, people can learn to develop the self-concept from what they see out of the social interaction process. Language is what is used to interact with the other members of the social group. As a child is born and gets into the social interaction stage, he/she relies on the language to understand the norms and nature of the society. Various emotions such as happiness are all conveyed through language. 

Another activity involved in the development of self-concept according to Mead is the play. Play develops self when an individual is allowed to take up various roles and then express their expectations of other people. As a person plays a certain role in the society, he/she gets an opportunity to interact with others and understand what others perceive of them thus helping in the formation of the self-conscious ( Fonagy, 2018 ). Once individuals understand the way other people perceive them, they can use that perception to form an opinion about themselves. The third activity involved in the formation of self is games. Games require an individual to internalize the roles of other people in the social system and adhere to the rules. Mead’s theory is based on the symbolic interaction theory which analyzes the meanings that people impose on objects. He argues that the behaviors of an individual are determined by what the person believes and not on what is true. The society is socially constructed based on the way people interact. What people see from a social group determines their behavior and thus form how they create the self-concept. 

Mead makes four major conclusions about the formation of the self-concept. He argues that self is developed solely through the existence of social experience. He rejects the idea that the self is partly determined by the biological process. Social experience involves the exchange of symbols in society. As people interact, they exchange symbols and gestures,and this is what forms social experience ( Stets & Serpe, 2013 ). For a clear understanding of the intentions of individuals, it is important to imagine the situation in their perspectives. As people understand the roles of others, they get to form self-awareness about themselves. Social interaction process begins after birth, the moment one starts to interact,and it develops throughout the life of an individual to adulthood. Throughout this process, individuals learn to interact and understand what role others play and how social groups perceive them. 

Ervin Goffman on the Presentation of Self 

According to Goffman, the most effective method to understand the actions of human beings it to view people as actors in the social environment who are in the process of developing an impression to benefit themselves and the audience. When people act in the social environment, they display an impression to project a certain image of themselves, what is known as social identity ( Manning, 2013 ). The management of impression involves the projection of idealized images of ourselves. People put on various impressions depending on the social situation that people find themselves. While making an impression to create a certain image, people need to use expressive control while on the social stage. The symbolic interaction that takes place in the social environment plays a role in determining how people develop the self-concept. The symbolic interactions involvethe use of gestures, words and other forms of communication to make exchange information and create a certain impression of ourselves. As long as given impression will benefit and help in the formation of an image of self, actors will always display an impression. 


The three theorists play a key role in understanding the whole process of socialization and how it helps in the formation of the self-concept. Cooley notes that the way people view themselves is not based on the true reflection of themselves, but rather on the opinion that other people hold about them. Other people’s perception about an individual is what determines how that person form the self-image. Mead also agrees with Cooley that the development of self-image is not biological, but rather a product of social interaction in the society. The symbolic interaction forms the basis of how people develop their self-image. Both the theorists link the self-concept to the whole process of socialization of an individual at different stages of life. 


Fonagy, P. (2018).  Affect regulation, mentalization and the development of the self . Routledge. 

Manning, P. (2013).  Erving Goffman and modern sociology . John Wiley & Sons. 

Martindale, D. (2013).  The nature and types of sociological theory . Routledge. 

Shibutani, T. (2017).  Society and Personality: Interactionist Approach to Social Psychology . Routledge. 

Stets, J. E., & Serpe, R. T. (2013). Identity theory. In  Handbook of social psychology  (pp. 31-60). Springer, Dordrecht. 

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