Social Referencing: Callie’s trip to the park

Around the age of one, children take cues from their parents on how to react in uncertain situations. The parent’s voice either alone or combined with facial expression is more effective than facial expression alone (Mumme, Fernald, & Herrera, 1996; Vaish & Striano, 2004). In this blog we’ll look at a couple of hypothetical situations during Callie and her mom’s visit to the park and how Callie reacts to novel situations by social referencing.

1-      Callie trips and falls down. No physical injuries occur. She will turn to her mom and scan her reaction to the incident. Callie will use social referencing to gage her own response. If mom overreacts by jumping up and reacting with panic maybe with a loud gasp, then Callie will start crying and screaming loudly. She might be difficult to console. If her mom has a measured response and tries to comfort her, then chances are there will be less crying, and Callie can be comforted more easily.

2-      A dog walks towards the playground. If Callie sees that her mom is reacting with alarm to the presence of the dog, then she will fear the dog and might retreat to her secure base. On the other hand, if mom says something like what a cute dog with a gentle tone, then Callie will most likely be unphased by the event and might even reach to pet the dog.

3-      An adult not known to Callie walks to the park where she is playing. She turns to look at her mom for a cue on how to react to this new situation. If mom doesn’t talk to the stranger, or look alarmed, then, again, Callie will probably walk back to her secure base and might display fear of the stranger. If mom greets and smiles and starts talking to the stranger, then Callie will not show stress or fear and will probably not go back to the secure base.

Behzad Moaddeli

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~ by Behzad on October 12, 2009.

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