Socialized Self: Merton's self-fulfilling prophecy and Cooley's looking-glass self

(Robert Merton)
Robert Merton was an American sociologist who won the 1994 National Medal of Science for his founding of the sociology of science. He spent most of his career as a professor at Columbia University, where he developed the concepts of the "reference group," and "self-fulfilling prophecy." For the purposes of this post, I will only discuss the latter.

With this theory, Merton explained that within individuals or groups, there are always people who will make positive or negative statements about others. The receivers of these statements will tend to take these messages to heart and will behave according to what is said about them.

"The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come 'true'. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning." (Social Theory and Social Structure)
An example of this can be a group of non-white elementary students who are being treated differently by an English teacher. Every day this racist teacher will scour through the non-white students' work to look for errors (any single tiny error she can find), and harps on it when she hands it back. She ridicules the students and makes them feel stupid and useless. However, with the white students, she treats them as students should be treated. Because of what she says and how she treats these non-white students, they begin to believe that they are stupid and useless because this person of authority, this "educator," said so. This is a false notion becoming true because it evoked a new behaviour/belief in the message's receiver.

(Charles Cooley)
Charles Cooley was an American sociologist who taught sociology and economics at the University of Michigan. He is the founding father and eighth president of the American Sociological Association. During his career, he developed one of the most important sociological concepts, the "looking-glass self."

The "looking-glass self" explains that humans develop an identity through the process of how others socially perceive them. Cooley says in his book Human Nature and the Social Order that there are three steps to this concept.

"A self-idea of this sort seems to have three principal elements: the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification."

Do you agree with Merton and Cooley's concepts? What about my interpretation of them? Share your thoughts below.


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