Parental reflective functioning: an introduction

Attach Hum Dev. 2005 Sep;7(3):269-81. doi: 10.1080/14616730500245906.


Reflective functioning refers to the essential human capacity to understand behavior in light of underlying mental states and intentions. The construct, introduced by Fonagy, Steele, Steele, Moran, and Higgitt in 1991, and elaborated by Fonagy and his colleagues over the course of the next decade, has had an enormous impact on developmental theory and clinical practice. This paper introduces the construct of parental reflective functioning, which refers to the parent's capacity to hold the child's mental states in mind, and begins with a review of Fonagy and his colleagues' essential ideas regarding the reflective function. Next, the applicability of this construct to parental representations of the child and the parent-child relationship is considered. A system for coding parental reflective functioning, which will serve as the organizing framework for this special issue, is described. Finally, the three papers that make up this special section are introduced.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Mental Processes*
  • Object Attachment*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Research