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What Is Reflected Appraisal?

By Kaci Lane Hindman
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Reflected appraisal is a term used in psychology to describe a person's perception of how others see and evaluate him or her. The reflected appraisal process concludes that people come to think of themselves in the way they believe others think of them. This process has been deemed important to the development of a person's self-esteem, especially because it includes interaction with people outside oneself.

Charles H. Cooley was the first to describe the process of reflected appraisal when he discussed his concept of the "looking-glass self." He gave three steps by which people determine personal feelings of self-esteem. First, people imagine how others see them. Then, they imagine how others evaluate them. After such deliberation, people then feel good or bad about themselves based on their observation.

Several studies have been conducted on the way reflected appraisal affects various relationships in a person's life. The idea that a person's self-concept is related to what that person perceives as another's opinion usually holds more weight with significant others. Parents, teachers, and peers often have more influence than a stranger on a child's developing self-esteem. Study of this topic has lead to the realization that people sometimes tend to anticipate what will happen in the future based on a previous perception.

While some studies suggest that there is limited correspondence between one's reflected appraisal and the actual appraisal given by others, a series of a certain perception might trigger patterns of behavior. Once a person forms a self-concept, it affects how he or she absorbs new information from others and then decides to act on it. This may lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which a person's expectations further the behavior associated with those expectations. For instance, a teacher who thinks a particular student is exceptionally bright might challenge that student more. Then, the student could respond to the positive reinforcement by excelling above the rest of the class.

Another process that works in the development of self-esteem is social comparison. This is personal assessment by comparing one's own abilities and virtues to those of others. Competition commonly drives the standard for comparison in this theory. Sporting events and classroom settings tend to encourage comparison of oneself to peers from an early age. Comparing oneself to someone with more knowledge or skill in an area in order to learn and develop is known as upward social comparison; the opposite of this is downward social comparison, in which comparison might be made to someone of lesser skill in effort to strengthen self-image.

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Discussion Comments
By anon296785 — On Oct 12, 2012

People who dress well look like they are happier than those who dress badly. Go figure. Fake it till you make it.

I find it very hard to dress well; I am scruffy and generally pretty depressed. When I walk into a room I sense that no one is very impressed. I'm ashamed of myself because of what I look like and wish I had realized this 20 years ago.

No one can see the inner you, so we must go on what we look like. The world is but one big mirror. For some, it's like those you get in the circus!

By Oceana — On Oct 05, 2012

I think that reflected appraisal can sometimes have a positive effect. I didn't truly believe that I was a talented artist until people started to tell me that.

It seemed that everyone who saw my art came to view me in a new, more impressive light. I relished this, and it gave me the confidence to have an exhibit in a local museum.

Without acceptance of others' perceptions of me, I might not have excelled at art. I came to believe I had what it took to succeed because others believed in me first.

By feasting — On Oct 04, 2012

@wavy58 – I think that so many young people are held back by reflected appraisals. Luckily, I had people in my life that helped me rise above what others thought of me and its effect on my self-esteem.

I went to live with a foster family when I was thirteen. By this time, I had suffered significant mental and emotional damage by all the teasing I had received. It was no secret that everyone viewed me as an outcast and a rebel, and since no one dared be my friend, all I could do was agree with that perception.

My new foster parents both happened to be psychologists, and they helped me greatly. They taught me a whole new view of the world and my place in it. Their love and encouragement helped me rise above reflected appraisals and become who I truly wanted to be.

By wavy58 — On Oct 04, 2012

I relied a lot on reflected appraisals as a teenager. Since other kids in school viewed me as an awkward, quiet, smart kid, I had a lot of trouble believing I was anything more than that.

Just knowing that they perceived me as awkward made me so self-conscious of my every move that I actually became more awkward. I hated walking up to the front of the class for any reason, because I felt like my gait was being judged.

I didn't raise my hand in class to answer questions, because I knew that everyone already viewed me as an overachiever. I didn't want to promote that perception, so I stayed quiet.

By JackWhack — On Oct 03, 2012

Reflected appraisal sounds like a sad concept. If we only credit ourselves with as much worth as others give us, then we are likely robbing ourselves.

I understand that there is some truth to be found in the way others view us. However, I don't think that truth is absolute. I believe that what really defines us is how we perceive ourselves.

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