What is the Concept of Reflected Appraisal in Psychology?

The term “reflected appraisal” refers to the perception of an individual of how people see and evaluate them. The term comes directly from social psychology and relates to the formation of self-concept. In short, the term means that we perceive ourselves the way we believe others perceive us. The process of reflected appraisal has a direct effect on the development of self-esteem in an individual.

History and Critique

The term “reflected appraisal” was first coined and described by Harry Stack Sullivan in 1953 in his book “The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry.” But Charles H. Cooley first related the concept to a similar concept of the “looking glass self.”

The concept of the “looking-glass self” is very similar to the concept of “reflected appraisal.” A looking-glass self is like an avatar people create of themselves based on what they believe people think of them. In this case, social interactions serve as a mirror for an individual to evaluate their own self-worth, values, and behavior.

Reflected Appraisal

Shrauger and Shoeneman, in 1979, found that it’s our perception of how others see us rather than how they see us that generates our self-concepts through reflected appraisal. In 1933, Felson found that individuals are not good at judging how others see them. He explained that people don’t generally express their views genuinely. They may reveal to us only favorable opinions rather than both favorable and unfavorable opinions. He also managed to confirm that we’re more accurate at judging how a group of people see us, instead of how a specific individual thinks of us.

Since the concept of reflected appraisal has more to do with sociology, it largely ignores the psychological constitution of an individual. We now understand that people are not created equal, thanks to advances in genetics. If a person is psychotic, he may have a distorted view of how others think of them. The same is true for paranoids, who may have difficulty appraising others’ positive views about them. On the other hand, altruistic people may find it hard to appraise others’ negative views about them. Moreover, psychopaths are known to have a clear idea of how people think of them. On the contrary, victims of psychopaths don’t usually know what others think of them.

Reflected Appraisal’s Impact

The impact of a reflected appraisal basically depends on the characteristics of the appraisal itself and the appraiser. Reflected appraisals have a great impact when:

  • The appraiser is highly credible
  • The appraiser has a personal interest in the one being appraised
  • The appraisal disagrees with an individual’s self-concept of the moment
  • The appraisal gains a lot of confirmation
  • Appraisals come from a broad range of sources and follow a consistent pattern
  • Appraisals support one’s own belief about themselves

We’re also aware that some people attach more weight to others’ opinions about them, while some are less likely to do so. If a person is image-conscious, he or she may give a high degree of importance to what others think of them. People that portray themselves as cultured, refined, and educated are more likely to suffer from others’ negative views about them.

In the end, the concept of reflected appraisal isn’t as trustworthy as the concepts of psychology backed by neuroscience. This concept relates more to sociology than any other discipline, and like other concepts of sociology, lacks comprehensive and authoritative research.


High Ranker is a self-taught psychologist and a freelance writer. He graduated in botany and likes to describe himself as a nature lover. He spends most of his time exploring different subjects and navigating existing academic research. He has a profound interest in health sciences and issues related to scientific research. When he's not writing something, you can find him talking to random people, reading a book, or gardening at home.

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