Symbolic interactionism is one of three main classes of sociological thought and is the view that people react to other people and objects based on the personal views they've given that object. The way people interact with each other can change a person's views so that the object has a different meaning to them. The term comes from Herbert Blumer who explained the theory of symbolic interactionism and drew from the work of George Mead, Charles Cooley, and John Dewey. The theory states that people assign everything a symbolic meaning and alter this meaning to fit with current social norms. They then react to different situations based on what specific meaning that situation holds for them.
Herbert Blumer drew on a number of important theories to create symbolic interactionism. He looked at the work of John Dewey who felt that people's actions can be better understood if we look at their environment and the type of people they interact with. George Mead felt that language is made entirely of symbols and people create new words so they can assign meaning to an object. This also played a role in Blumer's theory along with the work of Charles Cooley who is one of the major contributors to the theory of symbolic interactionsim.
The theory of symbolic interactionism draws on three important parts: meaning, language, and thought. People assign different meanings to objects or people they come into contact with and act differently depending on the specific meaning they've given that person or thing. To express themselves to each other, people create language as a set of symbols to give names to the different meanings we find in the world. Finally, people use thought to examine their beliefs and change their interpretation of things based on new information they've learned about the object or person.
For example, if Mary is attracted to Paul but Paul does not share these feelings, the two will act differently toward each other. Mary will interpret Paul's actions as possible signs that he likes her since she has assigned him the symbolic meaning of being a potential boyfriend. Paul still sees Mary as only a friend and acts this way toward her. If Mary were to admit her feelings to Paul, he might see her differently and she would have affected the symbolic meaning he has given her. This is a prime example of symbolic interactionism at work in everyday life.