Reflected Appraisal Process and Self Concept

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In social psychology, the reflected appraisal process is considered one of the influences on the development of self-concept. The term refers to a process where we imagine how other people see us. In many instances, the way we believe others perceive us is the way we perceive ourselves.

We all make judgments about the people, objects, and events in the world around us. We are also aware that other people make judgments about us. Think about the last time you went to a party. You probably spent quite a bit of time getting ready, selecting the clothes you would wear as well as other aspects of your physical appearance. Once you are at the party, you immediately become aware that other people are taking in your presence and making judgments about not only how you look, but how you present yourself, your personality, and even your preferences.

It was sociologist Charles H. Cooley who first described how the reflected appraisal process works in his concept of the looking-glass self. Cooley suggested that a person's sense of self emerges based upon their understanding of how they are perceived by others. According to this concept, social interactions play a central role in the development of a sense of self. Psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan was the first to use the term reflected appraisal in his 1953 book, The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry.

How This Practice Affects You

There are a number of different factors that can influence how strongly this reflected appraisal can impact an individual's self-assessment. For example, people tend to be more affected by judgments delivered by someone deemed highly credible. Imagine that you are an aspiring artist and that you are having your first gallery show at a local university. One of your most esteemed mentors looks at your work and delivers a glowing review. Since you see this individual as a highly credible source, the compliment will carry much more weight than if it was delivered by a random stranger off the street.

Receiving similar appraisals from a variety of sources can also play a role in how strongly the individual is affected by the process. If you receive compliments from an acclaimed local artist, from several art professors at the university and a local art critic, the sum of all these appraisals will likely carry more weight and have a greater impact on your self-concept.

Family relationships can also play a role in how reflected appraisal influences feelings about the self. For example, children who grow up with parents who consistently offer positive and supportive appraisals will be more likely to experience a stronger sense of self and better self-esteem as they grow up. In such instances, credibility continues to play a role in how these appraisals are viewed. A positive judgment from a parent will carry greater weight than an appraisal from a younger sibling.

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4 Sources
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