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.