Symbolic interactionism, one of the most common theoretical perspectives adopted by sociologists, explains human behavior through the meanings we place on objects or symbols in our environment. These symbols can be material objects, but they can also be words, gestures, actions, events, as well as people and groups. The symbols’ meanings are not innate. They are created and applied through human relations and interactions. In other words, they are socially constructed. Consequently, our behaviors and relationships change as meanings are altered. Some social conflict is the result of different groups defining objects differently.

This extends to human cognition, as a previous post on cultural differences in susceptibility to optical illusions demonstrated.  Another example involves how we hear animal sounds, illustrated in this clip from the television show “Family Guy.” In this segment, we see Stewie playing with a European see and say, a toy designed to teach animal noises. He is frustrated because the animals are said to make sounds that do not ring true to his ear.

For a list of the various sounds animals make in different parts of the world, see this compilation by Derek Abbott at The University of Adelaide.


Deeb Kitchen is an assistant visiting professor at Drake University specializing social movements, the sociology of knowledge and poplar culture. He has done research on higher education, graduate labor unions, and the culture industry.