Social Referencing in Infants: A Review of Historical and Current Research

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Social referencing, according to Bernstein, Penner, Clarke-Stewart, and Roy (2008), occurs in ambiguous social situations when cues are taken from other people to determine appropriate actions. This processes is important in the lives of developing and growing infants, as they are continuously confronted with new and strange situations in their new worlds. These infants often gain information about these situations from their primary care giver, historically the mother. This paper will provide a summary of research relating to social referencing in infants. The foundational work of Saul Feinman will be reviewed. Current research looking at how depression affects social referencing and how fathers are looked to for social cues will also…show more content…
It was theorized that this condition exists in depressed mothers. The researchers wanted to determine if training in social referencing could increase social referencing the infants. Forty-four 8-12 month old infants with mothers showing significant symptoms of depression participated in the study. All infant-mother pairs were divided into two groups, a control group and an experimental group. All pairs were observed interacting spontaneously in the pretest condition. In the posttest condition, the control group was again observed interacting spontaneously, but the experimental group received training in behavioral procedures referenced in social situations; in this research, these procedures included discrimination training reinforcement. The researchers found that training significantly increased the infants’ action of looking toward their mother and the appropriate behaviors in response, indicating that training improved social referencing in the infants.
This finding is important because it suggests the deficit in social learning experienced in infants with depressed mothers is reversible. However, the researchers noted several limitations. These included the highly artificial and experimental conditions, uncertainty of the level of depression in mothers, previous evidence of the tendency of depressed mothers to be more responsive in a laboratory setting than in a natural environment, possible emotional factors, and the

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