7 Examples of Thomas Theorem


By the words of American sociologist William Isaac Thomas, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (Thomas and Thomas 1928). Human behavior depends not on the objective reality of a situation but our subjective interpretation of reality. This forms the basis of what is known today as The Thomas Theorem in sociology.

Thomas Theory explains that if people define situations as accurate, they are real in their consequences. A person’s definition of reality is your subjective interpretation, not what is actually true.

This blog post discusses the Thomas Theorem with elaborate examples .As you follow along, remember that our qualified writers are always ready to help in any of your nursing assignments. All you need to do is place an order with us!

The Thomas Theorem

“If men define situations as real, they are real in their implications,” according to a sociological concept introduced in 1928 by sociologists William Isaac and Dorothy Thomas. In layman’s terms, the theory asserts that the interpretation of a circumstance is what causes action. In a given situation, one’s subjective point of view has an impact on the resultant action. Thomas argued that the opinion or analysis of a problem, regardless of the situation, causes the action. It matters not whether the interpretation itself is right or wrong.

Through this theorem, Thomas made us aware of a group’s potential to transform imaginary conditions into real situations by modifying their behavior in response to them. The authors expressed their theory in the context of their research on social stigma and deviance.

Any definition of a situation, according to Thomas, has an impact on the present. In other words, individual decisions have a progressive impact on the individual’s entire life policy and personality. As a result, the theory asserts that intimacy, education, and family, all of which are well-known societal issues, are crucial basics in determining the roles of situations, particularly when detecting a social environment. The subjective perceptions that can be projected onto a human life to become real projectors are referred to as societal difficulties. In the discipline of sociology, Thomas’ statement describes how people have different perspectives on things. Individuals who misinterpret events have real-life repercussions, just as if the scenario had been accurately interpreted.

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Thomas Theorem Principle

Several principles that are inherent in the application of the Thomas Theorem have been gathered from various sources.

The agency of the human being –People have the ability to act independently in order to achieve their goals.

Symbolization – As an object, concept, or event accumulates meaning, the significance of the meaning eventually outweighs the value of the thing, concept, or event itself.

Abstract vs. concrete – The Thomas Theorem bolsters the notion that abstract conceptions have as much, if not more, influence on behavior than actual occurrences.

Thomas Theorem Examples

Uniform Workers example

When emergency workers, such as police officers, are on duty in the United States, one common expectation is that they wear distinguishable uniforms. At an accident site, an officer dressed casually may find that people will not obey someone who purports to be a police officer but is not wearing a uniform. It’s possible that the officer will have trouble keeping onlookers at bay or diverting traffic away from the incident. Members of the public will not respond as respectfully as they would if the officer were in uniform if the background assumption is not met, and the officer will struggle to perform required responsibilities.

Bank Bankruptcy Example

Even if this is not the case, a group of depositors is concerned that the bank where their funds are held is about to go bankrupt. As a consequence, everyone wants a refund of all their deposits at the exact moment. Because the bank, like any other bank, has allocated the funds in loans and investments, it cannot refund all of the funds to all customers. As a result, the bank declares bankruptcy, “confirming” the initial assumption in the facts. This is the typical self-fulfilling prophesy scenario, which has been cited numerous times.

This situation may be examined in two ways: first, in terms of causes, and second, in terms of effects. The first entails looking into the motivations that caused people to believe in a reality that does not exist. The other is the examination of the ramifications of such a collective assumption, which, in some situations, transforms the incorrect assumption into reality. To put it another way, the first is a historical (or causal) inquiry, whereas the second is a functional study. That is how the Thomas theorem aided the growth of functionalism in sociology, which has since proven to be far more productive than its detractors ever claimed. I’ll give some instances without getting too technical.

Teenager Stereotype Example

A teenager may stand out from the crowd if, for example, he likes skating to math and skips classes frequently to spend time on his skateboard. Society doesn’t like him because he isn’t your typical adolescent. Slowly, he begins to be labeled as a deviant and a rebel. The adolescent has been fighting the label for a long time. However, as he bases his behavior on his belief and vision, he gradually begins to act like a rebel and a deviant. Like the rest of society, he sees his image as rebellious, and his actions start to reflect that, even though he isn’t a deviant in reality. He’s just a little different.

The killing of Trayvon Martin Example

Most sociology lecturers use the infamous killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 as an example. In Florida, a neighborhood watch coordinator (George Zimmerman) fatally shot Trayvon Martin because he “looked suspicious and up to no good.” Martin, in reality, had just returned home from a neighboring store where he had purchased something and was entirely unarmed. Zimmerman had already determined that the 17-year-old posed a threat to the neighborhood and had shot him without thoroughly assessing the scenario. He took action based on his personal opinion of Martin, not on reality. As a result, he categorized the scenario as threatening and behaved appropriately, with disastrous results.

Child and Darkness Example

When a child is told that monsters lurk in the dark or under his bed, he will develop a dread of whatever lurks beneath his bed or in the darkness. It will make little difference if the “monsters” do not exist and there is nothing under his bed in reality. The child’s mind strongly feels that something is waiting to harm him in the dark and thus begins to fear the dark or his bed. As a result, the situation is only real for him, and the consequences are also only real for him. Regardless of the truth, the child will continue to be terrified of whatever he believes lurks under his bed.

Racial Discrimination Example

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Discrimination based on race is a man-made phenomenon. Human beings are virtually indistinguishable from one another, with the exception of outward appearances. So, where did the idea of racial discrimination originate? However, as history has tragically demonstrated, racial prejudice has occurred in its most heinous forms throughout the world. A man decided that one skin color was better than the others or that one skin color had to be regarded as inferior to the others. As a result, discrimination began to take on an ugly face—racial discrimination results from a misunderstanding of something untrue. However, the ramifications of that notion have existed for millennia.

Oil Shortage and Toilet Paper Shortage Example

Another well-known use of the Thomas theory is the 1973 oil shortage, which was followed by toilet paper scarcity. There was a rumor going around that a toilet paper scarcity was on the way. Panic spread, and people began stockpiling up on toilet paper to prepare for the impending shortage. The demand for toilet paper far outstripped the supply, resulting in a real crisis as supplies ran out. The story was false, and a toilet paper shortage was not anticipated. People’s perceptions of the rumor, on the other hand, were enough to trigger the effects.

The Thomas Theorem’s Importance in Business

Consequences are more accurate and significant in business than facts. Effects are more accurate than reality since they use the same meaning.

In business, the primary argument of Thomas Theorem is that consequences are more common than truth. In this regard, managers’ interpretations of reality and conduct are more essential than factual truths about nature.

The facts reveal that the outcomes differ depending on the location and time. On the other hand, realists demonstrate their behavior in different places and eras since repercussions are more common than truth or facts about natural knowledge.

Limits of Thomas Theorem

In the real world, psychological biases and heuristic decision-making drastically skew how individuals generate meaning compared to the average. The subsequent behavior can also be distorted by incomplete or inconsistent information within the contact. The Thomas Theorem, and symbolic interactionism in general, has been criticized for being too abstract to be helpful and for being more of an aphorism than a theory. This is due to its inability to be tested and the difficulties in making forecasts.


Thomas theory states that if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. Bank bankruptcy example and the oil shortage example give a clear picture of how non-proven facts can lead to actual consequences that were not true at the start but become true after actions lead to consequences. The given examples provide good illustrations that support the Thomas Theorem.