Reflective Functioning and Dyadic Interactive Behavior

Does mentalization impact maternal sensitivity?

  • Lindsey Myers The New School for Social Research


Based on the accumulation of interactions with their caregivers, children are assumed to develop expectations regarding interactions between themselves and their attachment figures. Tied to these expectations are emotions that regulate behavior and eventually come to organize behavior in all significant relationships. Reflective Functioning (RF) is defined as the capacity to understand and interpret one’s own and other’s behavior as an expression of mental states (Fongay et al., 2002). There have been numerous papers linking RF to attachment and parent-child interaction. Here, we seek to extend our knowledge of RF and its link to attachment by investigating its role in maternal behaviors such as acknowledging and overall parent supportive presence. The current study examined 20 mother’s Adult Attachment Interviews (AAIs) using the RF scale and parent-child dyadic interactive behavior, utilizing the Coding Interactive Behavior (CIB) manual. We predicted mother’s RF scores (M=2.90, SD=.87) would be significantly correlated to mother’s acknowledging scores (M=2.23, SD=1.01), which they were r (20) = .57, p< .01. We also predicted that mothers acknowledging scores (M=2.23, SD=1.01) would be significantly inter-correlated with parent supportive presence (M=2.60, SD= .85), child alertness (M=3.08, SD=.94), and dyadic reciprocity (M=2.33, SD=.92), and they were r (20) = .77, p <.001, r (20) = .62, p <.01, and r (20) = .78, p <.001, respectively. We then examined the link between child’s alertness (M=3.08, SD= .94) and maternal RF (M=2.90, SD=.87), which were significant r (20) = .51, p<.05 and dyadic reciprocity (M=2.33, SD=.92) and maternal RF (M=2.90, SD=.87), which were also correlated r(20) = .45, p<.05.

Keywords: reflective functioning, mentalization, attachment, adult attachment interview, coding interactive behavior

Author Biography

Lindsey Myers, The New School for Social Research
Psychology, MA