Cooley, Charles Horton. 1902. "The Looking-Glass Self" (189).

Cooley, living from 1864 to 1929, attended the University of Michigan. His other works include: Human Nature and Social Order (1902), Social Organization (1909), as well as Social Process (1918).

Cooley’s concept of a “looking-glass self” is both compelling and very straightforward. He describes that one’s perception of self is dependent on the thoughts of others. He suggests that one formulates an idea of one’s self based upon information gathered from the reactions of and interactions with others.

Cooley beings by explaining that the objects in which people refer to with “I” statements are objects in which the particular individual has instilled a sense of self-consciousness within, such as one’s body or even inanimate objects.

After establishing what one considers to be their “self,” one must commit to perceiving that self somehow. Cooley describes that individuals look to others to create the understanding of self, stating that one’s definition of self includes “definite imagination of how one’s self appears in a particular mind” (Cooley 1902, 189)—particular minds of others. So, essentially, we as people imagine someone else’s perception of us, and subsequently we are affected by the conclusions we have imagined; this is the creation of self via a “looking-glass.”

Finally, Cooley describes the construction of one’s “looking-glass self” to occur in three definitive steps. The first step, according to Cooley is, “the imagination of our appearance to the other person” (Cooley 1902, 189). In other words, we, to the best of our abilities, put ourselves in the heads of others and try to evaluate our appearance from an external perspective. Second, we imagine “his judgment of that appearance” (Cooley 189). So, after we first imagine our appearance from another individual’s perspective, we imagine what that individual thinks about what we imagine they have concluded. Based upon what we think of the judgments of the external individual, we experience the third step: “some sort of feeling such as pride or mortification” (Cooley 1902, 189).


  1. Anything we bring self-consciousness into is often described with an “I” statement, like our bodies or inanimate objects.
  2. Reflected (“looking-glass self”) includes “definite imagination of how one’s self appears in a particular mind” (Cooley 1902, 189).
  3. We imagine someone else’s perception of us and are affected by conclusions we imagine.
  4. Step one: “the imagination of our appearance to the other person” (Cooley 1902, 189).
  5. Step two: “the imagination of his judgment of that appearance’ (Cooley 1902, 189).
  6. Step three: “some sort of feeling, such as pride or mortification” (Cooley 1902, 189).
  7. Self-dependent on what other people think. We don’t have an idea of self unless we can gather information from others.


COOLEY, CHARLES HORTON. 1902. “The Looking-Glass Self.” Pp. 189 in Social Theory: The Multicultural Readings (2010) edited by C. Lemert. Philadelphia: Westview Press.

Original source: CHARLES HORTON. 1902. Human Nature and the Social Order New York: Scribner, 1901, 1922 (Reprinted: 1902, 1930).

(See Lemert 2010, 189 for “original source” citation*)


See also Wikipedia articles on looking glass self, Cooley.

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