Original Paper

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 42, Issue 12, pp 2611-2621

First online:

Atypical Social Referencing in Infant Siblings of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Lauren CornewAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of California, San DiegoChildren’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • , Karen R. DobkinsAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of California, San Diego
  • , Natacha AkshoomoffAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego
  • , Joseph P. McCleeryAffiliated withSchool of Psychology, University of Birmingham
  • , Leslie J. CarverAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology and Program in Human Development, University of California, San Diego Email author 

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Social referencing was investigated in 18-month-old siblings of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD; “high-risk infants”). Infants were exposed to novel toys, which were emotionally tagged via adults’ facial and vocal signals. Infants’ information seeking (initiation of joint attention with an adult) and their approach/withdrawal behavior toward the toys before versus after the adults’ emotional signals was measured. Compared to both typically developing infants and high-risk infants without ASD, infants later diagnosed with ASD engaged in slower information seeking, suggesting that this aspect of referencing may be an early indicator of ASD. High-risk infants, both those who were and those who were not later diagnosed with ASD, exhibited impairments in regulating their behavior based on the adults’ emotional signals, suggesting that this aspect of social referencing may reflect an endophenotype for ASD.


Autism Social referencing Joint attention Behavior regulation