Manifest functions are meant to occur and meant to be recognized, while latent functions are unrecognized and unintended. Manifest functions can be thought of as specific and direct actions taken with a certain purpose or end goal in mind. By contrast, latent functions are the unintended, unpredicted or unseen consequences that might arise as a result of certain manifest functions that have taken place.
According to Sociology Guide.com, people and organizations can engage in actions defined as either manifest or latent functions from a sociological point of view. When someone makes a choice with purpose and has an idea of what should arise from it, he is engaging in manifest functions. This includes the community expectations of certain groups, organizations and businesses and the actions they take to fulfill their expectations. These institutions can also have latent functions, such as the unintended consequences of certain actions. For example, schools are meant to educate children; this is a manifest function. However, schools also often entertain children, which is a latent function. Not all latent functions are necessarily relevant to the specific manifest functions from which they are derived. Sometimes the connections between latent and manifest functions can be difficult to perceive.