Thomas Theorem and Interpretation of Situations

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Thomas Theorem is a sociological perspective that explains the way people perceive and interpret reality. The theorem states that “If individuals define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (Bornmann & Marx, 2020; Sack, 2022). The main idea of this concept is that facts are not the same; rather, they differ significantly depending on the individuals who observe and interpret them. Therefore, what a person or a group of individuals may interpret as reality may be different from other people depending on such factors as, their beliefs and experience. Bornmann and Marx (2020) indicate that Thomas Theorem emphasizes a subjective definition of situations, which can determine their behavior instead of the objective reality. Additionally, if a situation is “successfully defined” by groups of individuals or a society, it creates social norms and moral codes.

People start behaving in a certain way based on how they interpret a particular situation.

An Example of Thomas’s Theorem in My Life

I almost lose my best friends whom we have been so close with for several years, always supporting each on in everything. One day, they suggested that we go to one of the best hotels in the town to enjoy our favorite meal. I was surprised to find several other classmates in the hotel, but my friends seemed to have expected to meet them. Everything was going well as we enjoyed our food and beverages until when one of my best friends requested me to the counter and order more drinks because there was no waiter around. While at the counter I noticed my classmates were seriously discussing something with low voices and they could glance at me and then continue. “Could they be discussing me and the problems I am facing?” I thought. The worst happened when they all stopped what they were doing and seem to have changed the topic when they saw me approaching the table with the drinks.

At that point, I did not doubt that they were talking about me. I believed they were negatively discussing me in my absence and that is why they kept. The thought that my friends, whom I had trusted with my secrets could discuss me with other people made me angry. I was no longer enjoying their company and my favorite drink become tasteless. I stood up quietly and went out of the hotel ready to find a cab to take me home. I was about to switch off my phone when I saw a message from one of my friends. The message indicated that my problems will be resolved since the classmates offered unconditional financial support even without demanding to know what I was experiencing. I realized that I interpreted the situation based on past experiences where friends and even relatives discussed and exposed my secrets to the public.

We were walking down the street when a pretty-looking girl blocked our way requesting our help. She indicated that two boys have stolen her small carrying her essential documents, including her phone and they want to harm her. At a distance, we could see the boys approaching us and they were armed with crude weapons. My friend grabbed my hand and told me we should run away because we are in danger since that is the trick street gangs use to steal property from innocent people. Were it for my friend, I would have offered to help the girl and found myself in trouble. Our different interpretation of the situation was due to our experience and perception of women. While my friend’s experience with street gangs made him believe we were in danger, my belief that women cannot involve themselves with such criminal activities made me interpret the girl needed help.


Bornmann, L., & Marx, W. (2020). Thomas theorem in research evaluation. Scientometrics, 123(1), 553–555.

Sack, H. (2022). William Isaac Thomas and the Thomas theorem. SciHi.

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