Comparing the Main Theories of Personality Development

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The following paper will include the uniqueness of how an individual perceives themselves, such as their feeling, perceptions, as well as their beliefs. A brief definition of what perception, feeling, as well as interactions in the sociological context will also be mentioned. In addition, this text will reveal as well as compare sociological approaches to the self by three different theorists, Charles Cooley, George Mead, and Erving Goffman. This paper will also explore the notion of whether or not a person is truly capable of changing their views over a course of time.

Comparing the Main Theories of Personality Development

When you look in the mirror, whom do you see? What factors contributed to your opinion of yourself? Do you feel the same way about yourself, compared to ten years ago? As individual people, we each see ourselves in a different light, per se. Through our life experiences and interactions with others, we develop and are constantly changing ourselves accordingly, but why? Three theorists Charles Cooley, George Mead, and Erving Goffman have explored these issues as well as provide theories to further explain this phenomenon.

Before we dive into the approaches of how we see and develop who we are, first we must understand the concept of perception, feeling, and interaction on a sociological level. In the sociological context of one self, perception defines the process of gathering information by observing something or someone, where one would form their own opinion and cognitively associate or apply it to personal future events. For example if you watched a bartender use humor to convince an intoxicated customer to keep calm, leave his car as well as call a cab, and thought it seemed like she handle it really well. Months later, you are at a party and your belligerently drunk friend wants to drive home, and even though everyone else is showing concern and begging him not to leave, you recall how the bartender handled a similar situation and applied it to the current one. Based on your perception of the past event, you formed a personal opinion or feeling of how the bartender handled a serious situation, stored it in your long-term memory, and applied it to your personal life experiences. As far as interaction goes, even though you did not interact with the bartender, the event left an imprint in your brain on how to deal with future interactions or process of reciprocating direct influence in your own life. Another form of perception that is extremely relevant to how we develop is how others perceive us or how we think others might see us.

Charles Cooley's take on approaching the development of the sociological self is divided up into three phases and are based on the thought that we form our self through interaction as well as our perception of others and how we feel they perceive us. Cooley coined the phrase looking-glass self, which is the process we feel others see us, through interactions as well as the impressions we get from others through these interactions. The three phases are how we imagine others see us, than we come up with an opinion they may have of us, and lastly we decide through our interaction how we feel about ourselves. (Schaefer, 2009, p. 83) For example, a young man likes to sing, his family and friends says he sings wonderful as well as are always asking him to sing at parties and so forth. Therefore, this young man decides he has a good chance of becoming the next American Idol. At this point, this young man believes from his interaction with others that he is an amazing singer. Can this young man's opinion of himself change through the course of time? Certainly, if in his first audition, the judges told him to go home and stop wasting their time; he would then form a low opinion of his singing abilities.

George Herbert Mead also had a similar approach to the sociological self; he also developed three stages except these three stages are referred to as the preparatory stage, the play stage, and the game stage. These stages also are based on human interaction except that they are not based just on how one imagines they are seen but more on the fact of how one takes in the world around them. (Schaefer, 2009, p. 84) Whereas in the preparatory stage, a person will imitate another, such as when a child sees his mom reading a lot, although he himself doesn't know how to read he sits next to her, picks up a book and mirrors her by turning pages. In the play stage of the process, the person takes imitation a bit further where they form the type of person they want to become by pretending to be that as well as try to figure out the line of thinking of the chosen role-model. For example, a young boy wants to be just like his daddy, where he dresses like him, watches sports with him and repeats things his dad says. The boy also notices that during the game his dad rather not be bothered with trivial things, so the boy will wait for commercial, or when the game is over to ask his dad for anything. Lastly, the game stage is when a person realizes their role in society, others role, and how others perceive them. For example, a child sees that his mother is always working to provide food and shelter, his role is to be a good student and do his chores, he knows his mom sees him as a good kid because he has good grades and takes on household responsibilities. In addition, Mead believes through time a person's perspective on society, other's and themselves change throughout time, where when we are young we are the center of our universe per se, and as we get older we are more conscious of others feelings and perceptions as well as the impact it may have on ourselves. (Schaefer, p. 84)

Erving Goffamn's theory takes both Cooley's and Mead's approach a step further, where he takes a more Dramaturgical approach or by dissecting the theatrical dimensions of human interactions to define the development of the sociological self. (Freie, 1997) This employs that a person is like an actor performing for an audience to create some sort of response or coined by Goffman, impression management. For example, there are a bunch of guys hanging out in front of a corner store and an attractive woman who wants to enter the store. The woman rather not be bothered if they decided to hit on her, nor does she want it to escalate if they don't appreciate a cold shoulder; so she pretends to talk on her cell phone as she enters the store. In her own way the woman managed how she will be perceived by acting as if she had a valid reason for not paying attention to any potential cat calls. Goffman also brought some light to the fact that instead of someone facing rejection and or a embarrassment a person would come up with an excuse to be dismissed from an uncomfortable crowd, also coined face-work. An example of this is let's say kids are picking people for their team in a backyard football game and one of the potential players thinks he is going to be picked last. Instead of waiting, he excuses himself by proclaiming he forgot he had to be somewhere else to avoid the shame of being picked last.

In conclusion, there are many underlying factors that contribute to the development of the sociological self, but most importantly our desire of what we want others to see us as. In the work of Cooley, Mead and Goffman these process where defined by observing how people interact with one another as well as when they are applied to numerous situations. In the end, we learned that how we perceive the world around us, greatly affects the way we see ourselves in the end. We also now realize that through time our perspectives and feelings of our self are subject to change according to how conscious we are to the results of our current interactions.


Freie, J. (1997). A dramaturgical approach to teaching political science. Science & Politics, 30(4), 728-732.

Schaefer, R. T. (2009). Socialization and the life course. In M. Ryan (Ed.), Sociology: A brief introduction (Eighth ed., p. 84). New York, NY: The McGraw Hill Companies.

Schaefer, R. T. (2009). Socialization and the life course. In M. Ryan (Ed.), Sociology: A brief introduction (Eighth ed., p. 83). New York, NY: The McGraw Hill Companies.

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