Social Referencing: A Constant Learning Method

It’s a wonder that something so simple as looking at another’s face, we are able to learn for ourselves of what is happening in the world around us. Even as adults, people are able to use this simple concept to figure out what is socially acceptable among our peers, prevent a possible negative outcome, or even display a show of concern for the benefit of a loved one.

Social Referencing is defined as: relying on another person’s emotional reaction to appraise an uncertain situation. As early as 8-10 months this referencing occurs as soon as an infant encounters unfamiliar objects, people, or even animals (Child Development Text). It’s really quite interesting that something so simple as looking at a parent or other caregiver’s facial expression, a young child is able to learn new information that could be either potentially harmful or pleasant. For example, if a child is about to approach a hot kettle or stove a parent might react with a look of immediate shock or surprise. This in turn would become a sure sign to the infant that there is danger present or that their current behavior is troubling towards the caregiver. I’m pretty curious now of how my parents and other family members emotionally reacted towards me at that time. Even now as a grown adult I’m still using this concept to understand a diverse society in which I take play in.

As adults we do this quite frequently in order to receive feedback on the world that surrounds us. Differing from infants, adults rely on the tone of another’s voice as well as facial expressions ( For example, one is able to decipher that a sarcastic remark towards something or someone might be a key to obtaining information. When it comes to relying on another’s tone of voice, personally, I’ve learned things from people when they were at a state of emotional high (happiness, anger, sadness, etc.)

Social Referencing is a phenomena that will still continue to influence how we live our lives and encounter new situations. Honestly I can tell you that I believe that that this concept has effected all of us at one time or another during our earliest stages, and that it will always continue to shape our development as a people.

-James Frost


~ by kersey3 on October 18, 2009.

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