Social Referencing

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Social referencing is the seeking and use of information from another individual to evaluate a situation. It generally occurs in situations of high ambiguity, when infants are presented with novel and unfamiliar occurrences. As early as 6 months of age, human infants begin looking at their caregivers for cues about how to respond to various situations, persons, and stimuli. By the end of the first year, they start to regulate their behavior towards the referent in accordance with emotional information from their caregivers to form their own emotional understanding. This ability appears to depend on infants’ understanding that people have emotional orientations to the referent. Social referencing has also been observed in young nursery reared chimpanzees. However, it is still unclear whether social referencing occurs in the same fashion in chimpanzees as it does in humans. The adaptive advantage of social referencing may be that it enables an individual to learn about the environment independent of direct experience: a hypothesis that awaits new significant observations from future field research.

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