Social referencing is the observation of emotional reactions in others for the purpose of helping us determine how to respond. When we modify our words or behaviors to more closely match the person we are interacting with, we are engaged in coregulation. Both social referencing and coregulation are essential elements in experience sharing. Successful social interactions and friendships involve each person observing one another and reacting to what the other person has to say, how he feels, what he thinks, and how he behaves. The process is ongoing, where each child shapes what he says and does in reaction to what his friend just said and did.
Social referencing and coregulation are typically done without having to purposely think about it. If our friend is in a great mood and laughing and telling funny stories, we are likely to join him in laughter and maybe even tell some of our own funny stories. There are times, however, when we make a very conscious choice to coregulate in response to our social referencing. If our friend is sad, then we don’t laugh and tell jokes even if we are in a good mood. Instead we regulate our words, emotions, and behavior to fit closer to his so he feels comfortable.