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01-10-2014 | Original Paper | Uitgave 7/2014

Journal of Child and Family Studies 7/2014

Social Referencing and Child Anxiety: The Evolutionary Based Role of Fathers’ Versus Mothers’ Signals

Tijdschrift:
Journal of Child and Family Studies > Uitgave 7/2014
Auteurs:
Eline L. Möller, Mirjana Majdandžić, Noortje Vriends, Susan M. Bögels

Abstract

Children use signals from others to guide their behavior when confronted with potentially dangerous situations, so called social referencing. Due to evolutionary based different expertise of fathers and mothers, parents might be different social references for their children. The present study tested the influence of paternal and maternal social referencing signals on child anxiety. We expected that (1) children would show different social reference processing towards fathers’ and mothers’ signals; (2) in male-specific situations children would be more influenced by paternal signals, and in female-specific situations by maternal signals; (3) boys would respond with more anxiety to female-specific situations, and girls to male-specific situations; (4) high anxious children would be more susceptible to parental, and specifically paternal, social referencing signals than low anxious children. Children aged 8–13 read scripts of ambiguous situations in which the mother/father signaled anxious/confident behavior, and indicated how anxious they would feel. Experiment 1 (n = 129) concerned non-social situations, and Experiment 2 (n = 124) social situations. As expected, children responded with more anxiety to scripts in which their parent acted anxious than to scripts in which their parent acted confident. Children, also high-anxious children, were not differently affected by signals of fathers and mothers. Girls responded with more anxiety than boys in male-typical non-social situations. Congruence between the parent signaling and his/her evolutionary expertise did in general not affect social referencing. In conclusion, independent from parental evolutionary based expertise or from children’s level of anxiety, fathers’ signals have as much influence on their children’s anxiety as mothers’.

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