Symbolic Interactionism Examples in Everyday Life

, Staff Writer
Updated May 8, 2020
Symbolic experience with a dog
    Symbolic experience with a dog
    Group photo: South_agency / E+ / Getty, mean dog: Piter1977, snuggle dog: kellyyllek21

The way you perceive the world is unique. Based on your interactions with words, ideas, and events, different objects, or words, can have different meanings to you. Explore different examples of symbolic interactionism at play in society.

What Is Symbolic Interactionism?

While it might seem like a big name, symbolic interactionism is how your experiences add subjective meanings to symbols and letters. For example, the word ‘dog’ is just a series of letters. Through your interactions with the letters ‘dog’, you see this as a furry, four-legged canine.

But it doesn’t just stop there. Depending on your experiences with dogs, this arrangement of letters could hold negative or positive meanings. For example, if you were bitten by a dog as a child, then the letters ‘dog’ could make you afraid. However, if a dog was your best friend growing up, then ‘dog’ might hold a positive connotation.

While everyone knows what the letters ‘dog’ means, a canine animal, the meaning the word holds for you is subjective. Therefore, your interactions color the symbolic meanings assigned to words, objects, thoughts, events, and people. Explore some other examples of symbolic interactionism.


Simple Symbolic Interactionism Examples in Everyday Life

When looking at a complex theory, it’s always best to start simply. Some symbols are easy to recognize and hold concrete meanings within societies. While some can be subjective, a few symbols you recognize through your interactions with them are:

  • An image of a stick figure with a dress means woman.
  • An image of a stick figure without a dress means man.
  • A drawing of a heart means love.
  • A bald eagle means freedom and America.
  • A stick figure sitting in a chair with a large wheel means handicapped.
  • Putting your thumb up means yes.
  • Putting your thumb down means no.
  • Skull and crossbones mean danger.
  • A balance symbolizes justice.
  • The lone t shape symbolizes a cross, spirituality, or religion.
  • Water holds the meaning of rebirth, vitality, or cleansing.

Examples of Symbolic Interactionism in Society

Societies are full of symbolic interactionism. And your interactions are different based on the society in which you live. Additionally, many symbolic interactionism examples seen throughout society can be subjective, based on your experiences with that particular symbol. Check out a few different society examples of symbolic interactionism.

American Flag

The American flag to some is a symbol of freedom, hope, and pride. However, for others, the American flag can be seen as a symbol of oppression. Depending on your interaction with the American flag, the meaning behind it will be different.


Gender can be understood through symbolic interactionism because gender is a sociological construct. For example, for the symbols attached to “males” and “females”, actions and looks are based on what is believed is true from your interactions rather than what is objectively true. For example, women might be seen as weaker than men. A man wearing a dress might be seen as feminine. These problematic attributes lead to inequality and biases such as women getting paid less than men in the workforce.



Race and ethnicity is another area where symbolic interactionism comes into play. This can definitely be seen through the issue of colorism. In colorism, people of the same racial identification are treated differently based on the lightness or darkness of their skin. For example, a study by Lance Hannon on colorism demonstrated lighter-skinned Latinos "looked" smarter according to Caucasians.

Relationship Roles

Symbolic interactionism plays a big role in family and relationships. Your understanding of a word or event changes based on interactions with it. For example, if you have a great relationship with your wife, the word wife will be positive. However, if your relationship with your wife is rocky, the meaning behind the word and what a wife symbolizes changes.



Societies’ meanings behind symbols can change and morph with time. One example of this is the meaning of a rainbow. The rainbow has been seen as a Christian symbol of hope but another meaning of rainbow is now associated with the LGBTQ community.

Meaning Behind Symbolic Interaction

The way you see the world colors your understanding of it. Look no further than symbolic interactionism to see how this is true. Interested to explore more about behaviors, check out operant conditioning examples.