There are there important theories to explain the development of self. These theories have been propounded by Cooley, Mead and Freud. A brief description to these theories is given below.

1. Cooley’s Theory:

Cooley’s concept of self development has been termed “looking-glass self concept. According to him, man develops the concept of self with the help of others. Man does not come to form opinions about himself unless and until he comes into contact with other people and knows their opinions about himself.

He forms the concept of himself on the basis of opinions held by others about him.Thus when our associates call us intelligent or average, tall or short, fat or thin we react to their opinion and form the same opinion about ourselves as they have formed. In other words, just as the picture in the mirror gives an image of the physical self, so the perception of others gives an image of the social self.


The knowledge about ourselves comes to us from the reaction of other persons. These other comprise our social looking-glass through which we form the image of ourselves.

There are three principal elements of the looking-glass concept: (1) Our perception of how we look to others: (2) Our perception of their judgment of how we look; and (3) Our feelings about these judgments. Take an example. Suppose that whenever you enter a room and approach a small group of people conversing together, the members promptly leave the room with lame excuses.

This has taken place several times. Would it not affect your feelings about yourself? or, if whenever you appear, a group quickly forms around you, how would this attention affect your self-feelings? Thus, we discover ourselves through the reactions of others about us.

This self knowledge is first gained from parents and is modified later by the reactions of other individuals. It may also be referred that the reactions of the people about us are not similar or we may misjudge their reactions. An ego-boosting remark may be a mere flattery. Thus, the looking-glass self which the individual perceives may differ from the image others have actually formed. There is often a significant variation between the individual’s perception of how others picture him and the views they actually hold.


2. Mead’s Theory:

G.H. Mead has given a sociological analysis of the process of socialization. According to him the self develops out of the child’s communicative contact with others. The newborn infant has needs like those for food and clothing that press for satisfaction.

The mother satisfies these needs and the child comes to depend upon her and identifies himself with her emotionally. But in course of time the child differentiates himself from his mother and then he has to integrate himself and mother into a new social system, a two-person, tow role system, with the child taking a subordinate role to the superior role of the mother. Then the child repeats the process for his father.

He differentiates his father from his mother and then integrates him into the social system. In this way the number of ‘significant others’ increases for the child; and the child internalizes the role of these others. He puts himself in the role of the others and then responds to his own words and act in terms of the meaning they would convey to the other person.


In this way the self develops and grows. An essential characteristic of the self is its reflexive character. By this Mead, George H. means that the self can be both subject and object to itself. It can reflect upon itself, or in other words, it can be self-conscious.

Man can do so only through assuming the role of other persons and looking at himself through assuming the role of other persons and looking at himself through their eyes.

He learns to imagine how he appears to others and how do they judge this appearance. Then he reacts himself to this judgment as he imagines it. Thus by adopting towards himself the attitude that others take towards him, he comes to treat himself as an object as well as subject.

But acquiring the attitudes of others towards himself is not sufficient for the individual. He explores and finds out others’ attitudes toward him. This is very necessary for him, otherwise he could not predict or control what happens to him.


The child learns at an early age that one of the most important ways of controlling his destiny is to influence the feelings of others towards himself. The attitudes can be known only through the mechanism of symbolic communication.

He must learn to utilize the symbols by which attitudes are communicated, so that he can conjure up the attitudes of others in his own imagination and in turn communicate his own reaction to others in the light of what he imagines to be their attitudes. Once he has acquired the attitude of others as part of himself, he can judge how another person will respond or how he himself responds to the words he utters.

The individual thus speaks to himself. What he says or thinks, calls out a certain reply in himself. He takes the role of others. “No sharp line can be drawn between our own selves and the selves of others, since our own selves function in our experience only in so far as the selves of others function in our experience also.”

“The self is not something that exists first and then enters into relationship with others. It is something that develops out of social interaction and is constantly changing, constantly adjusting as new situations and conflicts arise. It assumes the prior existence of a social order and yet is the vessel in which and through which the order continues.


3. Freud’s Theory:

The theories of Cooley and Mead presume a basic harmony between the self and society. According to Cooley, society and individuals are not separate phenomena but are simply collective and distributive aspects of the same thing. Sigmund Freud, the father of psycho-analysis, does not agree with this concept of self and society. According to himself and society are not identical. He has explained the process of socialization in terms of his concept of Id, Ego and Superego which constitute the three systems of mind. The id is the organ of untamed passions and represents instinctive desires.

The ego acts with reason while the super ego acts with ideal and norms. There is found a conflict between id and ego. The id is usually repressed, but at times it breaks through in open defiance of the super ego. Sometimes it finds expression in disguised forms e.g., when a father relieves his aggression by beating the child.

The ego in such a case is not aware of the basis of its actions. Freud has compared the id with the horse and the ego with its rider. He says, “The function of the ego is that of the rider guiding the horse, which is the id. But like the rider, the ego something is unable to guide the horse as it wishes and perforce must guide the id in the direction it is determined to go, or in a slightly different direction.”…. It is out of this conflict between the ego and the id that psychosis develops.”