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Social referencing in infancy
Uppsala University, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
1998 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In a social referencing process, the infant uses interpretative information displayed by another person, often the infant's parent, to help determine how to handle novel events, persons, and objects. The prime aim of Study I was to examine natural infant-mother interaction behaviors in terms of social referencing, when 10-month-old infants encountered a stranger. Antecedents to infant and maternal behavior were sought in early maternal sensitivity and infant irritability. Infants, whose mothers had responded positively to their infant's referencing looks, showed positive responses to the stranger to a higher degree than infants who did not reference or who were not responded to. Infants who failed to reference had experienced less sensitive mothering 6 months earlier and had shown more irritability.

In Study II, social referencing and mood modification, a counterhypotheses to the social referencing predictions, were contrasted by looking for specificity in infant responses following different types of affective messages. A specific, vocally and facially delivered message about the toy directed the 12-month-old infants' behavior toward the toy exclusively (social referencing). The effects of a general message conveyed through the facial channel alone, were demonstrated in the infant`s overall activity level (mood modification). lt was concluded that vocal signals are important components in a social referencing message in order to regulate infant behavior in a certain direction.

Effects of maternal inattentiveness on infant responses to an uncertainty-provoking toy were examined. When mother did not provide guidance about the toy, the infants referenced another adult. When left alone with mother, infants referenced mother to a higher degree than infants who had received information, and also used behaviors other than looking to elicit guidance. Effects of failure to receive information were shown in infant avoidance of the toy and in decreased activity level. The results were discussed in terms of social referencing and attachment.

The findings suggest that infant social referencing should be studied within a developmental perspective, which takes into account individual differences in infant temperamental characteristics as well as variations in caregiver sensitivity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis , 1998. , 36 p.
Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 0282-7492 ; 80
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URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-933ISBN: 91-554-4346-XOAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-933DiVA: diva2:172680
Public defence
1998-12-18, sal 1022, Institutionen för psykologi, Trädgårdsgatan 18, Uppsala, Uppsala, 10:15
Available from: 1998-11-27 Created: 1998-11-27Bibliographically approved

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