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Social Referencing

Social referencing is a process of social influence whereby one’s interpretation of a novel event is inferred from others’ reactions to it. Although social referencing occurs among adults, researchers have paid considerable attention to infants given their broad social naïveté, meaning most situations are new to them and they must determine how to respond. Through social referencing, the emotional signals of others provide important interpretive guidance to infants, especially when confronted with new or ambiguous situations. This is one of the first behavioral and affective self-regulation strategies available to infants. In addition to providing them with important information about novel situations, it reveals infants’ sensitivity to the behavior and affect of others and serves as a cornerstone of social and cognitive development.

Using social referencing, infants ...

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