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Explanation of Reflected Appraisal with Examples

Explanation of Reflected Appraisal with Examples

Reflected appraisal is a very important concept in psychology that we all live by for our entire lives. If you are curious to know what it means, then this PsycholoGenie write-up provides a detailed explanation of the same, along with some examples.
Priyanka Athavale
"If you want to study yourself - look into the hearts of other people. If you want to study other people - look into your own heart."
Friedrich von Schiller

Reflected appraisal is a term in psychology that can be defined as the self-image/self-concept created by a person based on his/her perception of how others see and evaluate him/her. This phenomenon was introduced by Charles Cooley in 1902, through his concept called the looking glass self, which of course deals with how people look at themselves. This is discussed in detail in the coming paragraphs. However, the term 'reflected appraisal' was not coined until the 1950s by Harry Stack Sullivan.

Reflected appraisal is a concept which means that people form an opinion about themselves, based on what they perceive other people's opinion about them to be. The catch here is that most of the time, there is not much congruence between the actual opinions and evaluations of outsiders, and the perception of the same by an individual. It means that our self-concept is mostly formed on the basis of what we think others think of us.

For example, a high school kid may feel that everyone thinks he is dumb or stupid, when in reality, the truth is far from that and his peers think that he is actually quite smart. On the contrary, a child who scores well in school will keep thinking he is a good student even if he has been lagging behind in class lately.

The Looking Glass Concept

This concept was introduced by renowned psychologist Charles H. Cooley in 1902. Here, he laid down the three steps that go into forming the self-concept of an individual. This is something every person undergoes, and is the most basic way to describe reflected appraisal.

Step 1
The individual determines how he/she 'looks' to others around. These 'others' are usually the people who's opinion matters greatly to the individual.

Step 2
The individual then determines whether these opinions are good or bad.

Step 3
Based on these perceived 'findings', the individual forms a self-concept, which can be either positive or negative.

Social Comparison

This is one of the most common human tendencies; as we all live in a society, we are constantly interacting with each other. We invariably end up comparing ourselves to those around us. This is also a key factor in the formation of our self-image. According to studies, there is always a type or group of people that we hold in regard when evaluating ourselves. If an individual happens to consider a wrong group for comparison, then it can seriously harm his/her self-concept. For example, teenagers imitating models or movie stars.

Such comparisons can bring about a sense of worthlessness or low self-esteem in a person, which is detrimental to their self-image. There are two types of social comparisons - upward and downward. The former means comparing oneself to someone who is perceived to be slightly better, which can prove to be an inspiration for improvement. The latter entails comparing oneself to someone who possess lesser talent or knowledge, which works as a booster for the self-image. Thus, reflected appraisal also depends on how much we compare ourselves to others, and who those others are.

The Participating Folks

As we are social beings, we are constantly around people, be it our family, friends, colleagues, or even strangers. We knowingly and unknowingly compare ourselves to them, and are perceiving their opinion of us. Studies performed on various people have shown that even among all these folks, there are some whose opinion matters more to us than others. Let us see these different groups of people.

Compared to outsiders, family members are more open about expressing their views and opinions about each other. Hence, it does not affect a person's self-image every time. If the matter which is being appraised is not a sensitive subject for the individual, then it will not tend to have a drastic effect. It also depends on who the 'appraiser' or opinion provider is. Studies on children have shown that the views of the parents matter more to them than those of a sibling. Parental influence, encouragement, importance and responses to a child's emotional and mental needs, and support, go a long way in building a child's self-esteem, either positive or negative.

These are some of the most influential people when it comes to forming a self-image. Kids, especially teenagers, are always trying to 'fit in'. Everybody wants to be accepted, and this leads some to make unreasonable comparisons between themselves and others. Being accepted as a part of the group, and being liked, does go a long way in forming a person's self-concept. It will be negative if a person is treated badly by others or feels unaccepted, and will be positive in a contrary situation. This is not applicable only to teenagers, but to children of all ages.

Among married couples, especially newlyweds, social status plays a major role in determining the reflected appraisal of both parties. Social status includes income level, educational degree, family status, and the occupation that the person is engaged in. According to research, the spouse with the higher social status has a greater influence on the other's self-image, and also on the image the other spouse has about this spouse. Conversely, the other spouse does not have such a great influence.


According to psychologists, there are certain norms that we create for ourselves when interacting with others in society. These are known as identity scripts. Scripts are a set of behavior patterns that we follow, which includes speech, actions, and even gestures, which are believed to be 'acceptable'. We regularly use these in interpersonal communication. Sometimes, scripts can even predict future incidents, and what our reactions will be to them!

Self-fulfilling prophecies

Self-fulfilling prophecies are events that come to manifest themselves solely because of our belief that they will. For example, a child saying, "I'll never score well in a math test.", or a teenager saying, "They'll never accept me into their group.". Although the happening of these events is not set in stone, the belief of the respective individuals makes it so. Hence, the child will never score in the math test because he believes so; same goes for the teenager. Reflected appraisal drives people to make self-fulfilling prophecies.

Another factor to be considered is filtered appraisal. This means that our acquaintances may not give us an honest answer about their opinions of us. Some people tend to filter out the negative feedback and give only the positive one. This may confuse the person receiving the appraisal, thereby creating a different self-image than what would have been if a true appraisal was provided. We keep evaluating ourselves right from the time we begin socializing to the time we die. But remember, everyone is unique and special, and nobody deserves to change just because someone else feels otherwise.