An example of a latent dysfunction is an action or a behavior that produces an unintended negative effect, such as the loss of retirement funds by thousands of employees as a result of the Enron collapse or, as another example, the inability of employees to commute to work because of transportation disruptions caused by a festival. Both are examples of unexpected and unintended results, also referred to as latent consequences, from an action that, because of its unforeseen negative outcome, can be termed a latent dysfunction. An effort made to improve a situation that instead results in a worsened state is a latent dysfunction.
A manifest dysfunction is one in which the negative results are anticipated. Like dysfunctions, functions can be manifest or latent. A latent function is one in which the intended result in not achieved, but some other form of good is obtained. An example would be a rain dance ceremony that produces no rain, but serves to develop a community spirit and sense of kinship among the participants.
Dysfunctions within a social system, particularly latent dysfunctions with their unforeseen negative consequences, place pressure on the system to change. The analysis and unearthing of latent functions and dysfunctions within a sociocultural system is considered one of the most important goals of sociology. The sociologist analyzes the interrelated functions within a society in the same manner as the physiologist studies the various organs of the human body acting as a complete system. This concept of viewing society as the balance of the interactions of its component parts is called functionalism. Its aim is to examine the dynamics of latent functions and dysfunctions and, when they are not working cohesively, devise the means to restore a functional balance which can best serve the common good.